Varsity Cup – The Testing Ground For Changes To Rugby

A mate of mine recently showed me the thrilling end of the Varsity Cup final in South Africa. This is the rugby tournament for the premier university teams, and seems to be the testing ground for the latest and greatest rule changes for rugby union. Investigating the Varsity Cup, I think the new Australian Rugby Championship can learn a lot, and implement some rules to make the ARC the viewing spectacle Bill Pulver so desires.

The final in question was between the University of Cape Town and NWU-Pukke. Heading into the final stages, NWU looked set to wrap up their first ever title, but three tries from UCT in the final five minutes saw them win 39-33 in a thrilling finish. Look it up on YouTube – it’s worth it!

Watching this ending, what appealed to me most was that conversions for a try were worth 3 points, whilst penalty goals and drop goals were only worth 2 points. In a nation renowned for scoring in increments of 3, this inspired an incredible display of running rugby. Down by 2 points, UCT would’ve only assured extra time with a drop goal, so instead threw the ball around and chanced themselves to score, which they eventually did. The idea of the rule is to promote running rugby, which is much more enjoyable for the spectators and allows players to win via skill, rather than just being able to kick a ball 60m, which many South African sides have relied upon to snatch victory.

There is an argument that making penalties only worth 2 points would encourage intentional infringements close to the line by defending teams. Copping 2 points compared to a potential 8 would seem appealing to a side, especially if defending on their line. There is potential for this to happen, but hasn’t been very apparent in what I have seen of the Varsity Cup. If this were to be implemented, there would have to be discussion concerning strong refereeing for deliberate infringements close to the line, but this would be a minor issue in relation to the benefits the different points would bring.

Another change implemented which can only be good for the game has been the inclusion of special “scrumming panels” on the jerseys of props. Much has been made of the difficulty props experience in binding on the tight unyielding jerseys of the present time, which has led to a jersey being produced which will be easier for props to bind onto and easier for referees to ensure that props are binding in the right place. Special grip material allows secure binding, which is important at a time when the collapsed scrum has become a blight on the game, and a source of serious concern to rugby authorities and law-makers. This should at least be looked at for school boy level rugby, to ensure safety and proper technique.

It is highly unlikely that these changes will be implemented in the Rugby Championship, certainly not in its inaugural year, but they really should be. Firstly the difference in points will encourage rugby which will promote skills, and be appealing for viewers, something which is very important in the thinking behind the revamped competition. Secondly the scrumming panels will greatly aid refereeing the scrum, which will quicken the game, and reduce the minutes wasted on scrums, a gripe for any rugby fan. I for one would be greatly enthused if these, or similar changes, were implemented as they would promote rugby entertainment for fans, and really create a premier rugby competition to breed the future of our nation’s rugby players.