Competition News: Mitre 10 Cup Referees

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Bryce Lawrence for On the Mark     28 Sep 2016     Getty Images

New Zealand Rugby’s Mitre 10 Cup referee squad is no different. We have our new Valspar colours of bright orange proudly on display and our seven professional referees are joined by Kane McBride, Shane McDermott, Angus Mabey, Brett Johnson, Richard Kelly, Cam Stone, Mike Lash and James Doleman.  It will be a particularly exciting time for James, who debuted at Mitre 10 Cup level in 2016 and we thank the Otago and Auckland Referees Associations for assisting New Zealand Rugby develop James to this new level.

The new tackle/breakdown laws being trialled in Mitre 10 Cup has drawn much attention as they represent a significant change for players, coaches and referees. Nine Provincial Unions played under the trial law in their club competitions but five Unions (including Canterbury, Auckland and Wellington) did not, so their players are on a quick learning programme in competition.  The professional referees coming off Super Rugby duty in July have also had to adjust quickly to the new laws.

What I’ve noticed so far in the competition;

•    A lot more height at breakdown;
•    Teams counter rucking in wide channels (5m to touch line), when they make a dominant tackle and when they tackle from a high kick/chase. In all these examples they feel they have more numbers and more forward momentum so they then target a counter ruck;
•    Very fast defensive line speed – the breakdown depth is shallow so defensive lines are flying up quickly to shut down space;
•    Referees having to adjust their position as some non-contested breakdowns still have an offside line and super quick ball, so referees can’t get caught flat footed in channel 1 or 2;
•    Referees needing to widen their view so they can judge midpoint of breakdown and offside lines; and
•    Referees being very strong on players diving off feet onto bodies on ground.

Like the teams, referees are learning ‘on the job’ and week to week. At the end of the Mitre 10 Cup, NZR will conduct a full review of trial laws and then provide feedback to World Rugby. All teams will have input to this report and the main ‘goals of the trials’ will be assessed, including asking whether the trials make the game:

•    Safer for players;
•    Easier to understand for spectators;
•    Easier to referee; and
•    has more space been created on the field by getting more players involved in breakdown area?

Time will tell! Happy viewing.