News24.com | SA Rugby looks to ‘speed up play’ in preparation series

Bulls captain Duane Vermeulen getting the attention of the referee during their Super Rugby Unlocked match against the Lions in Johannesburg on 7 November 2020. (Photo by Christiaan Kotze/AFP)

Bulls captain Duane Vermeulen getting the attention of the referee during their Super Rugby Unlocked match against the Lions in Johannesburg on 7 November 2020. (Photo by Christiaan Kotze/AFP)

Speeding up play to ensure more action on the field will be key ahead of this weekend’s preparation series between the eight provincial sides.

The preparation series will feature a countdown clock for kicks and a focus on speeding up set pieces from match officials.

Speaking to coaches and referees, SA Rugby’s director of rugby Rassie Erasmus addressed issues raised after the 2020 season, which saw the Bulls seal their first Currie Cup title since 2009.

“We are certainly not blaming anyone for what happened and we know there were many mitigating factors as we tried to resurrect the local game in the face of the Covid-pandemic,” Erasmus said.

“It just wasn’t a high-performance environment; there was lack of proper training time; certain law directives which increased the penalty count and slowed play while the weather conditions were far from ideal.

“But we’ve done our research and made a few plans that will hopefully enhance the game that people will see on their TV screens.

“We have a big year looming and apart from hopefully delivering better rugby matches, we have to prepare our top players for Tests and entry into exciting new competitions in Europe. By creating more action on the field and less ‘ball out of play’, it will also help to increase the conditioning and fitness of our players.”

The first change is a 10-day turn-around between matches to “ensure better prepared teams and conditioned players”. This was done with Covid-19 testing protocols taken into consideration.

Erasmus said teams and referees have also been asked to speed up play when it comes to taking lineouts, completing scrums and lining up kicks at goal, all of which lagged in comparison to international standards.

“We want to see a change in mentality from our players in terms of speeding up the game,” said Erasmus. “We are working with the teams, referees and SuperSport to ensure this happens.

“Skill errors will happen and we understand that. We also don’t want to interfere with how teams approach the game and their plans, but we know by tightening up in certain areas, it will make a big difference in the end.

“We want to see less ‘ball out of play’ and more action, because it will not only make for a better product, it will create better competition between teams, that will lead to better players and ultimately the Springboks will benefit.”

Teams have been urged to make quicker decisions when awarded penalties, and kickers must ensure they take their kicks within the allotted 60 seconds (for penalty goals) and 90 seconds (for conversions).

A countdown clock is to be introduced as part of the broadcast to ensure compliance for penalty and conversion kicks at goal.

Furthermore, restart kicks have to be taken in less than 30 seconds from either the 22-metre or halfway lines.

At scrum time, the two packs of forwards must be formed and ready for the “crouch” call within 30 seconds after the referee has given the mark, while referees will be able to stop the clock if they feel too much time is taken up with reset scrums.

The first round of matches kicks off on Friday at 19:00, when the Lions host the Pumas in Johannesburg.

The Stormers take on the Cheetahs at Cape Town Stadium on Saturday at 17:15, and Sunday’s two matches are between the Bulls and Eastern Province in Pretoria (15:00), followed by the Sharks against Griquas (17:15).

Meanwhile, SuperSport will also be enhancing its coverage by showing a rare perspective into team tactics.

These include sideline commentary by players, audio comments from the coaches’ box, and new on-screen visual references.

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