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Super Rugby tweaks offside rule to end 'kick tennis'

NEWS: A change in the Super Rugby Pacific offside rule has been approved to encourage teams to run the ball instead of engaging in a tedious game of “kick tennis”.

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Officials on Tuesday revealed a law variation that they think will close a “loophole” and encourage counterattacking rugby when the competition begins next Friday.

Traditionally, defenders in front of the kicker are put onside when a kick receiver either passes the ball or runs five metres with the ball.

But Super Rugby Pacific’s innovation will throw out those two clauses.

Instead, defenders will remain offside until they have been put onside by a teammate who has come from behind the kicker, or the kicker themself.

Now a long kick will be tougher to defend, with a fullback or wing able to glide past any would-be tacklers isolated in front of the kicker and chasers.

The law has been sanctioned by World Rugby as a trial and follows various tweaks in recent seasons designed to increase ball-in-play time.

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“Fans have been vocal in recent times about teams exploiting a loophole that’s seen a large number of players standing still while kicks go over their heads in what some people have called ‘kick tennis’,” Super Rugby Pacific Chair Kevin Malloy said.

“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.

“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.”

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Meanwhile, Queensland Reds fullback Campbell said discouraging the tactic, employed by the Crusaders and France in particular, would improve the spectacle.

“I’m stoked, I think it’s great,” he said after experiencing it in trial games against the Western Force and Waratahs in the last fortnight.

“When I played France [in 2022] we made a mention of it and it’s tough to play against it.

“If done well it really stifles you, because they can leave a line of defenders up there knowing they’re going to kick it back.

“Catching a lot of balls in the backfield; it’s silly having someone just waiting to tackle you once you’ve run five metres.

“It opens up the game. I think it was an old rule anyway. Who wants to see more kicking?”

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