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Nine-a-side rugby – a game for boofy blokes

by Bruce Ross, CEO, MyoQuip Pty Ltd (November 2009)

For many rugby aficionados the sevens version of the game is deeply unsatisfying; a skim milk, decaffeinated, lukewarm concoction. At the same time there are aspects of the fifteen-a-side game that currently make it a very boring spectacle; in particular the time wasting and over-emphasis on kicking.

What I want to propose is a shortened form of the game designed for knockout carnivals which would retain most of the elements that make rugby so distinctive. There would be strong emphasis on physical engagement and the scoring of tries.

Essential elements of nines rugby

The Laws of the Game would apply to the nine-a-side game, subject to the following variations:

Playing field The field of play is narrowed from not more than 70 metres to not more than 40 metres. There is no need for goal posts and crossbars.

Player numbers At any time each team has no more than nine players on the field. Teams also have to have at least two replacements/substitutes suitably trained and experienced to play in the front row. The total number of replacements/substitutes nominated cannot exceed five of whom only three can be used in a match.

Method of scoring Tries are the only method of scoring.

Duration of matches A match consists of two halves of not more than ten minutes playing time plus lost time and extra time. However, the two halves of a competition final match may last no longer than fifteen minutes plus lost time and extra time. There will be an interval of not more than one minute at half-time, or two minutes during a competition final.

When scores are tied at full-time, extra time is played in periods of five minutes. After each period, the teams change ends without an interval. In extra time, the team that scores points first is immediately declared the winner, without any further play.

Replacement of front row players If a front row forward leaves the field and the team cannot provide a suitably trained replacement, a penalty try will be awarded against the team and the match will be continued with three-man scrums.

If the referee has signalled for a scrum to take place and a front row forward is unable to take part in the scrum without delay the referee may require that that player be temporarily replaced.

Foul play Temporary suspension of a player will be for a period of three minutes.

Mark Marks may be claimed anywhere within the field of play or in the team’s own in-goal.

Throw-in When a player anywhere in the field of play kicks directly into touch other than from a penalty, there is no gain in ground.

Five-man scrum A scrum must have five players from each team.

Lineout The player throwing the ball into the lineout shall have a maximum of twenty seconds from when the lineout begins to form to throw the ball in.

With these variations to the Laws we would have a game which is played with minimum time wasting and delays. Features which make rugby so distinctive, namely serious scrums, lineouts, rucks and mauls, are retained. And importantly the only method of winning games is to score tries.

The amount of kicking would be reduced, firstly because teams gain no advantage from kicking out on the full from their own 22, and secondly the use of the up-and-under is largely negated by the defending side being able to claim a mark anywhere on the field. At the same time teams would continue to be rewarded for accurate kicking where the ball bounces in the field of play before going into touch.

Narrowing the field of play is appropriate because the number of backline players is effectively reduced from seven to four.

Reduction in player numbers is likely to be of benefit to the fifteen-a-side game because players will have to focus on correct technique at the breakdown with referees having a much clearer view of what is going on. Spectators and viewers will also be better able to see the intricacies of scrums, lineouts and breakdown contests, which may have the effect of winning new supporters for the code.

Nine-a-side rugby will be a fast-moving, physically demanding and entertaining form of rugby which is complementary to sevens but likely to appeal to a different player and supporter base.