Rugby Union: Sin-bins set up for new season

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The Independent Online
English club rugby will take another significant step into the world of professionalism when the new season kicks off on Saturday week, with the introduction of sin-bins and a proper half-time break.

The experiment with sin-bins, which are used in rugby league, was requested by all 24 club chairmen in the top two English divisions, but will apply only to Allied Dunbar Premiership fixtures.

"We view the sin-bin idea as a positive step forward," said Donald Kerr, chairman of the English Rugby Partnership. "Yellow cards will continue to be used, but the 10-minute sin-bin system is aimed at giving referees an opportunity to punish players who deliberately prevent a try being scored. This could be either through deliberate offside or killing the ball at a ruck, for instance."

However, the yellow card system will still apply, with the sin-bin only applying to specific offences. "The sin-bin experiment is not set in concrete. If it doesn't work, then we can always scrap it," Kim Deshayes, the ERP chief executive, said. The sin-bin system has been tried in Wales, but was scrapped.

Other innovations for the new club season include a 10-minute break for half-time when both teams will leave the field, the use of up to six substitutes, and home and away relegation play-offs next May.

Deshayes insisted that ERP will do everything it can to prevent a repeat of the club versus country disputes which scarred the first fully professional season. Clubs who have five players on international duty can request a postponement, but must give ERP at least 10 days' notice.

"Clearly, we cannot have the situation where a club postponed a match at, say, 48 hours notice. We can't afford to let something like that happen again," Deshayes said. "We have extended the season, starting earlier than usual, so we have done everything we can to try and stave off fixture problems."

Under Allied Dunbar's pounds 12m sponsorship, the champions will receive pounds 60,000 and the runners-up pounds 30,000. BSkyB will screen matches live throughout the season and may feature more than one match each weekend as the campaign progresses.