Super Rugby law variations – Super Innovative or designed to Confuse

Super Rugby law variations - Super Innovative or designed to Confuse

To make it even more inventive, 2021 see’s new Super Rugby law variations that are designed to draw on many innovations that observers and fans have often invited.

On trial here, they are a mix of introduced rulings and interpretations across both Super Rugby Australia and in New Zealand’s Aotearoa competitions. All approved by the World Rugby executive committee, some will be seen as truly innovative, yet others could be so intuitive they may just be designed to confuse.

Australia introduces the majority of alterations, New Zealand with only a couple that will significantly create a little confusion for the uninitiated follower. The highly fancied ‘Goal Line Drop Out’ is the leading news story, with more freekicks, a variation on the Golden Point rule all in aid of engaging the rugby public; yet it is important to remember that none of these are new Laws.

So realizing that, these Super Rugby law variations are both designed to speed up play and, to increase ball-in-play time. Each are critical for everyday fans to stick with rugby when so many other codes are wanting their patronage.

Super Rugby law variations – Super Innovative or designed to Confuse

For those who are well-established followers, familiarity now will assist from the season start. All the variations should improve the spectacle for the fans who study up. An important point because these recent seasons, changes have been employed more often than traditionalists would want.

To promote them, Sanzaar boss Brendan Morris stated, “Super Rugby has always prided itself on being an innovative rugby tournament and this will continue with Super Rugby AU and Super Rugby Aotearoa in 2021.

“With the aim to improve the game for players and spectators alike we are excited by the introduction of some fresh ideas and the continuation of the law variations that last year proved very popular.”

The crucial part is that all parties promote the new Super Rugby law variations. Both nations and, all broadcasters. That means SkySport NZ and; a new player in the Australian sports market, STAN. They have to educate the initiated and, the uninitiated.

With a variance between what the New Zealand Rugby competition will employ, and what Rugby Australia has implemented, the Ozzie fans will have more to adapt to. For them, the list is quite long. Yet the above graphic shows that only one shared ruling will be introduced across both competitions. A rugby league inspired Goal Line Drop Out.

A goal line drop out will occur when an attacking player carrying the ball is held up in the in-goal or knocks the ball on in the in-goal area, or when an attacking kick, other than a penalty or drop goal attempt, is grounded by the defending team in their in-goal area.

To be used in effect to benefit the attacking team, it will replace those ruling in-goal, relative to the defending team forcing the ball dead either inside the in-goal, or by directing the ball over the dead-ball line. The correlation with rugby league is obvious, and in terms of some interpretations, league will offer guidance and inspiration for both defence and attack.

While that will gain a lot of attention, t might confuse a few who think the change from a five meter scrum takes away from the power-based rules different from League.

Rugby AU aim to ‘speed up the play’

Encouraging players to ‘use the ball’ more is a key ideal for the Australian competition. To avoid rucks that take an age to clear, or those boring scrum resets that blight the game. So here, Super Rugby AU will this year also adopt sevens-style free kicks for restart errors such as an offside player, a kick out on the full. It’ll be encouraging for many – especially quick-minded scrumhalves or eager backlines, hoping to catch out paused defences.

Other innovations long talked about – the 50/22 and 22/50 kick variation (used only by Australia) can also help see tedious kicks down the train lines now patented to bounce inside the 22 or 50 meter area, to good effect. While it can eliminate some of the Ping-Pong tactics, by rewarding a pivot for a well-placed kick, that is bound to continue to create more positive play in the Ozzie competition.

Rugby Australia director of rugby Scott Johnson said “these variations have the capacity to enhance the capabilities of our players, and the general entertainment value in the game as well. There were some terrific, robust discussions that were had, and some great left-field ideas proposed, but we believe we have struck a great balance in preserving the integrity of the competition, developing our players for the Test arena later this year and enhancing the spectacle of the game.

“The variations were all unanimously agreed, and everyone also indicated a desire for referees to ‘speed up the game’ with a general reduction in scrum resets, and a greater onus on the attacking team to use the ball from a ruck when available,” Johnson said.

Captain’s hold more sway, provided interpretation ‘helps’

Last season, new law variations to increase ruck speed was an abject failure. Failure on the player’s and coach’s parts to stay on track with referee interpretations. Flankers were called offside, some for techniques honed over multiple seasons, and it took many weeks for the two sides to realign.

The hope in 2021 is that altered laws can be agreed to earlier, with less room for interpretation. Meetings have already been held, and the coaching staff would have had seminars that have been followed-up by clinics and sessions focused on re-training the way attacking teams enter the in-goal. Expect more balls to land behind the goal line – forcing mistakes, and creating contentious scenarios.

And it is here that the use of any Captain’s Referral must be utilized wisely. So look for a wise player like Sam Whitelock to adapt more easily than say Patrick Tuipulotu. The experience and ‘smarts’ picked up from the likes of Richie McCaw and Kieran Read will help the Crusaders’ leadership to more naturally hold more sway with any desire for referrals. Meanwhile, Tuipulotu could find that frustration dictates his desire to use it.

It might lead to frustrations coming through. The influence that others sometimes place onto their skippers could see Sam Cane or Ardie Savea question a call, with plenty of verbal support from the ‘thinkers of the game’ chiming in from the backline.

  • Captains will have 10 seconds to make their referral after a try has been awarded
  • The TMO will be able to go back to the last stoppage in play, regardless of how many phases have been played
  • Foul play referrals can be made after any stoppage in play if the captain believes foul play has been missed by the match officials
  • Captain’s must reference ‘specific’ incidents or infringements
  • Footage must be ‘clear and obvious’ for a referral to be upheld
  • The scrum and lineout are not included in the referral process.

If the referring captain is correct, they will retain their referral, but if the referee’s original decision stands, or the TMO footage is not ‘clear and obvious’, the captain loses their referral.


NZR national referee’s manager Bryce Lawrence says, “We think the captain’s referral is a no-brainer. Nobody wants to see a match decided on a wrong call, particularly in the final minutes, and especially in a competition as fiercely and closely contested as Super Rugby Aotearoa was in 2020.

“When a match goes down the wire and hangs on a referee’s decision, everyone wants to make sure we get a positive outcome.

Fans will be fascinated to see if 2021 brings fresh ideas on how to take advantage of this innovation. One imagines that Richie Mo’unga will be keen to try a unique method of taking a drop out [the kick must go five meters], while some fans will be excited by a lanky blindside flanker, returning a long kick ‘with interest’.

All changes must be clear; for player and fan’s understanding

NZR head of high-performance Mike Anthony said the aim of the law variations was to make the game more attractive for both players and fans. “We’re constantly looking at how we can make the game faster and fairer for players, and a better spectacle for fans and we’re hopeful the goal line drop-out and captain’s referral will go some way to achieving those objectives in 2021.

“The rationale for introducing the goal line drop-out was to reward attacking teams by allowing them to build pressure and to encourage defending teams to clear the ball from their in-goal area”, Anthony said. Fans will hope that any early confusion is matched by clarity in the interpretation.

If that occurs on both sides of the Tasman, then rugby fans around the Globe may find these newest Super Rugby law variations signal some form of change in official Rugby Laws in the future.


All the new Super Rugby law variations are to be incorporated into remaining preseason matches.

2021 Super Rugby kicks off:

  • Australia season start, March 19

  • Aotearoa season start, March 26


“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images

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