allblacks.com 06.Aug.2012Getty Images
The introduction of eight new laws for New Zealand's domestic competitions was announced at the official launch of the ITM Cup 2012 season held in Auckland with Coaches from all 14 ITM Cup teams today.
The new laws - part of a suite of laws being trialled around the world - include a five-second time limit on playing the ball once it is available at the back of a ruck, a time limit on when conversion kicks must be completed after a try is scored, the positioning of a quick throw-in, expanding the short arm penalty options for teams benefitting from a knock-on or throw forward into touch and teams awarded a penalty or free kick at a line-out may choose another line-out without first having to kick for touch.
The changes also include a new scrum engagement call which will see referees call "Crouch, Touch, Set". To view all the laws being trialed in New Zealand click here.
The laws, effective from today, will get their first real test when the ITM Cup kicks off on Thursday 23 August, when new ITM Premiership entrants the Hawke's Bay Magpies host Auckland at Napier's McLean Park.
New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) General Manager Professional Rugby Neil Sorensen said this year's ITM Cup was another opportunity for fans to wear their provincial colours with pride.
"It's been a remarkable year for rugby on the back of a hugely successful Rugby World Cup tournament. Investec Super Rugby has re-ignited a level of excitement among fans with increased numbers going to the games and increased viewers and we're hoping this carries through to the provincial competition.
"The ITM Cup is a different competition that is steeped in tradition, and good old fashioned provincial rivalry.
"We're very excited about this year's competition particularly with the new laws which will add even more pace to the modern game and hopefully making it more enjoyable to play and watch," Sorensen said.
This year's 15-round ITM Cup runs over 10 weeks including seven mid-week rounds.
Having locked away the Ranfurly Shield for the summer, and fended off pre-season challenges from Heartland teams King Country and Wanganui, Taranaki will look to ward off the season's first challenge from the Tasman Makos in Round 3 on 7 September.
The competition retains the Premiership (top seven teams) and Championship (bottom seven) format with teams playing every other province within their Premiership / Championship as well as four 'crossover' matches for full competition points. For each team, that means 10 matches (five home, five away) during the regular season.
The ITM Cup Premiership and Championship semifinals are scheduled for 19 and 20 October, with the Finals to be held on 26 and 27 October. The Women's Competition Final will be played as a curtain raiser to the Premiership Final.