Is VC becoming a gimmick?
In 2008, the inaugural Varsity Cup competition took South Africa by storm and has, over the years, been a breeding ground for future international stars.
In terms of laws, the competition has been an experimental laboratory before – two referees, changed points system and the white card. The changed points system and the two referees is now going universal and will be used in Australia, New Zealand, and Wales and in four World Rugby tournaments – Nations Cup, Pacific Nations Cup, Tbilisi Cup and Under-20 Trophy.
Surprisingly though, despite it's major success, the organisers of the competition have opted to revert back to having just one referee on the field.
The implementation of white cards, which allow teams to challenge the referee during a break in play if they feel a wrong call has been made, was successfully introduced in 2008 and made a brief disappearance before re-emerging in 2015.
The only downside to this though is the time it takes out of the game, which can disrupt the flow of the game.
In 2016, the organisers of the competition have once again tweaked the laws to continue pushing the limits of innovation. Scrum time will see the commands changed to "crouch, bind, slide" from the usual "crouch, bind, set" while there have been minor changes to the maul situation.
However, the new points system is making me believe that the competition is drifting away from innovation and heading in the direction of becoming a gimmick.
Initially, the change in points system was intended to promote running rugby by offering more points for a conversion and less points for a penalty kicked at goal. That was a brilliant thought and the teams certainly provided some impressive performances – who could ever forget the dramatic comeback by UCT in the 2014 Final.
Varsity Cup has become so fixated on seeing more tries scored that they have now attached bonus points to a try, depending where on the field the attacking team initiated their attack. This means that the attacking team can earn up to four bonus points by simply launching an attack from inside their half of the field – provided they remain in possession throughout the attack.
When this new bonus point system was announced, I sat there thinking, good luck to the person recording the scores. Now I am all for innovation and attracting more spectators to the fields, but if this "innovation" trend is to continue, who knows what will be next.
More points for scoring closer to the poles? Penalty points for a missed conversion? Right now, the possibilities of turning the pure form of this game into a showboaters dream is highly likely.
Yes, running rugby is attractive and very eye-catching but if you are a first time viewer of this game and someone has just explained the basic laws to you, you will be left more confused with the Varsity Cup scoring and it could possibly drive you away from watching the sport altogether.
In essence, innovation is good and certain laws should be bent for the sake of attracting new spectators to the game but not at the sake of turning this competition into the laughing stock of the rugby world.
By Tauriq Ebrahim