- World Rugby introduced new law variations that are stricter on the breakdown for attacking and defensive play.
- Ball-carriers are no longer allowed multiple movements once they hit the deck but one "dynamic movement" is allowed after the tackle is completed.
- Poachers who attempt turnovers cannot merely survive the breakdown but must make a genuine attempt at the ball.
- Richie Gray was the Springbok skills and breakdown coach under Heyneke Meyer and also worked with Neil Powell’s Blitzboks for three years.
Former Springbok skills and breakdown coach, Richie Gray, said everyone was delighted with the new law variations currently being applied during Super Rugby Aotearoa.
World Rugby released a moratorium in March this year with about four new alterations to how the breakdown was governed, with an aim to increase game fluidity and limit players who compete at the ruck.
There were no significant changes to the existing breakdown laws, according to World Rugby, but the new variations were in place to enforce the pre-existing ones.
One such variation has had an impact on the steal. While the law rewards the first arriving player at the breakdown, it is harsh on players competing to either strip the ball or "jacklers" that crouch over the breakdown to survive a cleanout rather than compete genuinely for possession.
What it means is that specialist breakdown operators in the mould of former Springbok fetcher Heinrich Brussow, would see their stock in the game rise again.
"I spoke to a few New Zealand coaches in the week and they are saying, 'You know what? It’s up to us to adapt'," said Gray, speaking to John Fletcher and Russell Earnshaw on The Magic Academy podcast.
"I think everybody is genuinely delighted that these changes have been made. But it’s now down to adaptation by coaches and players.
"New Zealand have a great chance because they are going to have two months before anybody else gets to play. They are going to be well down the road when the Test matches begin, hopefully, later on in the year."
Gray and Earnshaw were part of World Rugby’s specialist breakdown group that advised the global governing body’s rugby and law review committees. Advisors also included All Blacks head coach Ian Foster and former Ireland mentor Joe Schmidt, as well as officials Wayne Barnes and Jaco Peyper.
Part of the changes include stricter policing of the ball-carrier, who previously was allowed to make multiple movements or rolling before placing the ball and preventing an attempt at a turnover.
Now, when the tackled player hits the ground or has a knee on the ground, they are allowed only one "dynamic movement" and must place the ball immediately. Again, it means that specialist poachers that time their attempts accurately will be in the money.
"What we were trying to get away from was the elbow crawl or double roll, with the ball-carrier buying themselves extra seconds," said Gray, who also coached skills with the Blitzboks between 2013 and 2016.
"We’re now looking at one dynamic movement and presentation. If you hit the ground as a ball-carrier with some momentum, you can still put a roll in dynamically and present.
"But when you fall, roll and add another slow movement or put the ball through your legs, it’s all too slow. The whole area is going to have to be far faster on the grass.
"I've said to players, 'Land, bounce, present'. Or, land, dynamic movement, present. Let’s get it in our heads."
According to Fox Sports Australia, there were 61 penalties in 160 minutes of Super Rugby Aotearoa during the first weekend's matches between the Highlanders and the Chiefs as well as the Blues and the Hurricanes.
It's estimated that there was a 40% jump in breakdown penalties in the past two weeks, compared to the same matches from a year ago.
On Sunday the Crusaders also battled to adjust to the new law variations on their return to action, although it didn’t stop then from meting out a five-try, bonus point, 39-25 lashing upon the Hurricanes.
"Until everybody gets on the same page, there’s going to be quite a few penalties," Gray said.
"We’re also trying to get away from the supporting player entering the ruck and sealing off. This is a huge change.
"In some countries, it's been accepted that incoming players just drop down into the ruck. You have to try and stay on your feet."
- Compiled by Sibusiso Mjikeliso