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[OPINION] Varsity Rugby will evolve international rugby

The Varsity Rugby tournament is one that captures the attention of university students around the country and given the party atmosphere and promotions that sponsors throw into the tournament, it is clear why there is such a huge interest on the ground.

However, every sporting code has its off-field entertainment based on the target market that the organisers are aiming for. so the circle hasn’t been reinvented over there.

The action that takes place on the field of play is what will take South African rugby – and perhaps world rugby – forward considering the rules that have been trialled throughout the season.

The 2018 Varsity Cup season saw the presence of the White Card Review System in the knockout stages of the tournament.

Once again, like all review systems, it is all about ensuring the correct decision is reached without disrespect being shown to the officials – not that rugby players ever show blatant disrespect for referees.

The White Card Review system explained:

  • The White Card can be used by either the coach or captain to review a decision by the referee. Each team is allowed one White Card review per half.

  • Each team will receive two cards marked “Half 1” and Half 2”.

  • If the captain wants to review an incident, he will request that the referee shows the White Card.

  • However, the review must be specific, and no general reviews will be allowed.

  • Should a coach review an incident, he will ask the TMO to inform the referee of the White Card request.

  • The coach will then convey his specific referral to the TMO via radio contact.

  • Afterwards, the TMO will inform the referee of the challenge, and the referee will then, at the next stoppage of play, raise a white card to indicate that a request for a review was lodged.

This allows the team to clearly explain what they want a referee to review without the disrespectful chaos we often see on football fields (cue: Gianluigi Buffon).

The power-play is a regulation that almost guarantees back-line rugby from the opposing team.

The Power-Play explained:

The rule enables a captain to remove any two backline players from the opposition for three minutes if the team calling the power play is inside its own half.

The defending side will be awarded two extra points should it score a try while down to 13 men.

The reason for the power-play is for extra drama, extra entertainment and is a move that may only work at varsity rugby level.

I don’t see a 50-year-old purist embracing a change like this to franchise (or international) rugby – I know I wouldn’t.

This season, we also saw the presence of the seven-point try, which encourages entertaining, running rugby that young rugby fans love to see.

Seven points are awarded for a try that originated from inside the team’s 22m area.

Varsity Cup hit a sweet spot to bring an element of extra drama to a match considering that a seven-point lead is no longer enough to guarantee a win in the final moments of the game.

The trialling of these rules – especially the White Card Review System – will go a long way in determining the evolution of rugby in the country and whether these rules can be implemented into franchise rugby - and perhaps international rugby.

We saw VAR in football being trialled in the lower leagues of England a few years ago and, come June, we will now see it in the biggest footballing tournament in the world.

By 2023 we may be seeing a White Card being used in the Rugby World Cup final. Who knows?

Ahmed Kajee is an intern sports reporter at Eyewitness News.

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