Andrew hails Guinness Premiership changes

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The Independent Online

England's elite rugby director Rob Andrew is looking forward to an exciting climax to the Guinness Premiership season after urgent action was taken to encourage more attacking rugby.

The average number of tries being scored had dropped by a staggering 38% this season from nearly four per match to under three.



The issue topped the agenda when the Rugby Football Union and Premier Rugby met on February 24 and it was agreed immediate changes were necessary to free up the tackle area.



Premier Rugby chief executive Mark McCafferty said: "There was a determination that we couldn't let things go on as they were."



Starting from the weekend just passed, England's elite referees were instructed to be stricter on teams illegally slowing the ball.



And Andrew is confident the interpretation changes will improve the game going forward.



"We have always said that the quality of the game on the field is a collective responsibility between referees, coaches and players," he said.



"In our most recent meeting Premier Rugby raised concerns about the impact the breakdown was having on the state of the game.



"Last week we had a very positive meeting with all directors of rugby and had a working session with all our referees to ensure that space is created at the breakdown and that tacklers release the tackled player and roll away immediately within the existing laws.



"That means that if teams come wanting to play they should be able to find more space to do so.



"And to the credit of the clubs that message seems to have reached the players and last weekend's games started to show some of that in action."



Saracens, the most dogged and conservative of Premiership teams, ran in seven tries in their 58-15 victory over Newcastle on Sunday. They had only scored 16 in their previous 16 matches.



There are other variables that must be taken into account for any improvements, most notably the weather and the drying pitches and, in Saracens' case, a revitalising break to Brighton.



Premier Rugby recognised the urgent need to act to keep their growing fan-based interested. In spite of the quality of rugby being played and England's troubles at Test level, the Premiership viewing figures and average attendances are both up.



The average Premiership crowd is now 13,608, higher than in France and closer than ever to the Super 14 thanks to Saracens attracting gates of over 40,000 to Wembley and over 76,000 watching Harlequins v Wasps at Twickenham on December 27.



Premier Rugby have plans for a similar spectacular in Newcastle next season and they want to stage a west country double-header. Their target is to post average attendances of 20,000 - higher than the Coca Cola Championship - by 2015.



Premier Rugby are currently discussing the thorny issue of where to set the salary cap for the 2011-12 season.



The French clubs boast greater spending power than their English rivals, and will continue to next season even with a new £7million limit.



Harlequins chief executive Mark Evans recently revealed Ugo Monye was offered double his money to move to France and the club failed to hold on to David Strettle because of the £4million salary cap constraints.



McCafferty agreed there is an argument for increasing the cap as revenue grows but he is not prepared to break the current model, which bases salary costs on 50% of an average club's income.



A decision will be taken on May 5.



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