North and South agree on rugby laws

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Northern and southern hemisphere rugby unions put aside their differences today to support a raft of reforms aimed at making the sport a better spectacle.

Northern and southern hemisphere rugby unions put aside their differences today to support a raft of reforms aimed at making the sport a better spectacle.

The five-day International Rugby Board conference on the "Playing of the Game" agreed on major recommendations to the IRB including the introduction of sin bins and video referees.

Other ideas included extending the "use it or lose it" principle to scrums, barring players from entering play from the opposition's side and player interchanges for tactical and injury reasons.

Among the delegates were national coaches Rod Macqueen (Australia), Nick Mallett (South Africa), Graham Henry (Wales), Ian McGeechan (Scotland), Warren Gatland (Ireland) and Clive Woodward (England).

All of the South Africa New Zealand Australian Rugby (SANZAR) proposals revealed last week received support from the conference, except a move to increase substitutes from seven to eight.

The IRB executive council will not meet until next April, but SANZAR officials hope to receive clearance to experiment with some of the proposed changes for the Super 12 competition starting in February 2000.

IRB game development manager Lee Smith said a special meeting could be convened to fast-track the procedure, but repeated his view from last week that he was not confident changes would be made in time for the Super 12.

"It will initially be difficult because of the established procedures that do exist there and are there for a good purpose, to make sure decisions aren't made prematurely," Smith said.

He said that while unions normally loathed mid-competition changes of law, some of the southern hemisphere bodies had suggested they would be happy to make an exception this time.

Mallett said he hoped the proposals would lead to a more expansive game but felt it would still depend on the relative strength of the two teams.

"The top coaches were very very honest in this conference and they said 'they get near our line and they look like getting seven (points), we will give three (points) away just like that'," Smith said.

"So that's where the sin bin is coming in as opposed to the points differential as being a means to deterring that.

Smith said the "use it or lose it" principle for scrums would operate when they became stationary or moved beyond 90 degrees.

Regarding the contentious tackle area, Smith said players entering from the opposition side was a relatively new phenomenon and was contributing to a litter of bodies on the ground with players in a vulnerable position where their backs were exposed and they could be hit very hard.

Mallett was not surprised by the agreement of traditionally conflicting northern and southern hemisphere unions.

"While SANZAR had a meeting before the event and went public on what they wanted, I felt it was as much the support that the northern hemisphere sides gave the proposals that made it a successful conference," Mallett said.

"The fact we've just come through a World Cup has been a very good thing, we're at the end of a cycle and a start of a new one."