Super Rugby Pacific organisers have announced law changes designed to kill “kick tennis” and force ball receivers to run at the opposing defence.
Per the sport’s current law (10.7), players in front of the kicker can be on-side once the kick receiver has passed the ball or run five metres with it.
Those caveats will be scrapped, meaning defenders will remain off-side until they have been put on-side by a teammate who comes from behind the kicker or the kick themselves.
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“We want to create a game that’s exciting for our fans and enjoyable for our players,” said Super Rugby Pacific chair Kevin Malloy.
“Part of that is seeing our players running the ball rather than trading multiple kicks in a battle for territory.
“We’re listening to our fans and with the full support of New Zealand Rugby, Rugby Australia, and our coaches we’ve responded with a small change we think could make a big difference.”
Malloy said fans had been left frustrated by the existing law that resulted in a back-and-forth kicking contest.
The issue has been particularly prominent in the Northern Hemisphere’s Six Nations with the loophole known as the “Dupont Law” – named after French scrum-half Antoine Dupont.
The tactic leads to lengthy periods of downtime for players. Receivers often opt to stand still before firing the ball back across the field, rather than running forward into the defensive line.
The worst instance in recent memory was in a club match between Bath and Gloucester when two kickers went back-and-forth at each other on 12 occasions for over a minute – leaving players wandering aimlessly in the middle as the ball roared over their head.
It’s possible the law could be introduced globally with World Rugby using the forthcoming Super Rugby Pacific season as a trial.
“Fans have been vocal in recent times about teams exploiting a loophole that’s seen large number of players standing still while kicks go over their heads in what some people have called kick tennis,” he explained.
“We don’t believe that’s the spectacle our fans want to see in Super Rugby Pacific. We want to open up the opportunity for teams to counterattack with the ball in hand and we’re confident this tweak to the law will encourage that trend and encourage exciting, attacking rugby.
“We were really happy with the spectacle last year and hence we have only made one tweak to the laws for 2024. We want to keep building an exciting, fast moving brand of rugby that our fans want to watch.”
The Super Rugby Pacific season launches on Wednesday with the season beginning in earnest on February 23 when the Chiefs host last year’s title-winning Crusaders.