• Dr Wilbur Kraak // PhD Sport Science

The Laws They are Changin': Understanding The 2016 Varsity Cup

The Varsity Cup (VC), the annual inter-university rugby competition involving the top 8 South African university teams, is no stranger to experimentation. The organising committee changed the value of points awarded for specific modes of scoring during the 2012–2015 tournaments and then again for the 2016 tournament; with special permission from World Rugby for the trial. The intention of the trial is to develop a culture of attacking rugby (scoring tries) at university level rugby in South Africa.

If I was part of the organising committee, my own suggestions would be along the lines of a change to the bonus point system for number of tries (Table 2) and limiting the number of times a team is allowed to kick the ball to touch for a line-out and maul.


Scrum cadence will change from Crouch, Bind & Set to Crouch, Bind & Slide.

Following the initial crouch, props will bind onto each other, without being allowed to bind onto an armpit or below the middle of the rib area. Once the props have a solid grip, the referee will decide that their bind positions have been established and they will not be allowed to change or adjust those. Props will also have to line up ear to ear and not be allowed to line up head to head.

Finally, the Slide call will replace Set, a better word than aggressive Hit, but the change to Slide suggests a change in process. On Slide the players will firm up their contact but without smashing into each other. It is more like the folding in of olden times. The front rows are lined up properly and bound fully and unchangeably, and now they come together. Then, once the referee has decided that the scrum is stable, he will instruct the scrumhalf to feed the ball into the scrum and do so in the manner prescribed by law (straight for one thing!). It is hoped that in this way the scrum will be safer, less likely to collapse and encouraging a fair contest for the ball.


If a maul stops moving, or moves sideways or backwards, the referee will call for the maul to move forward. The team in possession will be given five seconds to get the maul moving forwards. If they fail to get the maul moving forwards the referee will allow three seconds, counted aloud, for the team with the ball to produce the ball and play it. Failing to produce the ball and play it, the referee will stop play and award a scrum to the team not in possession.

White card

The White Card review system, introduced in 2015, to allow teams a limited opportunity to ask the referee to review a decision or non-decision, will be used only in the semi-finals and the final in 2016. The teams are limited to one review per half.


The 2016 tournament will only make use of the 1 on field referee where in the past the 2 referee system was used. 2 extra referees will be appointed to each match and will be called Point of Origination Referees (POR) their role is to indicate point of origin where team came in possession of the ball.

Strength and conditioning:

With teams opting to run from their own half of the field these players need to be conditioned to meet these demands, thus conditioning coaches will be tasked to get these players running fit. Then, a decrease in the number of rucks subsequently leading to an increase in the number of ball carries and tackles. The risk is an increase in the number of injuries, as research has shown that these two match activities contribute most of the injuries in rugby union. Another challenge for strength and conditioning coaches is get players completely recovered before the next match, taking in consideration that these players are also full time students. Players need to practice ball carrying and tackling technique under fatigue in order for them to meet the demands.

Technical and tactical coaching:

The attacking team’s focus will shift to more ball retention as the team aims to keep possession in their own half of the field, subsequently forming more rucks. By following this approach teams will kick less in their own half of the field or when forced to kick, these will be contestable kicks. I believe the defending teams will contest the breakdown more as it will force the attacking team to commit more numbers to retain possession. Decision-making will also play a huge role on defence on when to contest the breakdown or to move into the defensive line. If I were a VC coach, I wouldn’t change a lot to my approach, only if we’re chasing the game and need to score a certain amount of points in a certain amount of time. I’m glad the value for a penalty kick returned to normal, because kicking forms an integral part of the game and sometimes the difference between a win and a loss might be a penalty kick.


  • Coaches should make use of conditioning and small sided games in order to improve players conditioning and skills, these game will force players to make more decisions under pressure which will help them during games.

  • Due to the attacking approach we need to move away from “bigger players are better” philosophy as these players might not be able to last the full 80 minutes.

  • Players need to be conditioned to tackle for 80minutes, as the number of tackles will increase due to the increase in the number of rucks.

  • Coaches will need to teach proper contact and tackling techniques to their players.

  • Recovery protocols after matches are important as we need to take in mind these players are full time students with full time academic responsibilities.

  • Planning will form an integral part in a team’s success in this tournament.

#Rugby #Coaching


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