Improvement of Super Rugby Pacific R1 ball in game time in 2022

The move to speed up Super Rugby Pacific and increase ball time in the game is off to a promising start, with Round 1 numbers now confirmed to be improved on those from 2022.

The trial laws, which prohibit talking before line-outs and set a fixed time limit for setting up scrums and goal kicks, were generally accepted by players, coaches and fans throughout the weekend, as the refs issued multiple hurries and the Rebels’ Ryan Louwrens was even pinged for taking too long to clear the ball from the ruck’s base.

The TMO’s ability to intervene has also been reduced in Super Rugby Pacific.

And the numbers provided to ESPN have now confirmed the widespread perception that fans saw more action over the weekend compared to the first round last year.

According to Oval Insights, the average ball in play for Round 1 was 1:54 longer than this 2022 season. The average for 2023 was 31.21 compared to 29.27 last year.

The Crusaders-Chiefs game topped the Round 1 fixtures with a ball time per game of 38.15, while the Waratahs-Brumbies match in Sydney was at the other end of the scale at 26.29. However, that figure on Friday night in Sydney was an impressive 4:32 improvement on the lowest game since Round 1 in 2022.

While it’s only one weekend of data, Super Rugby Pacific managers will be encouraged by the results. It also comes on the heels of similarly positive progress in the Six Nations, where many of the same tweaks have also been implemented to avoid time wastage.

The Ireland-France clash in Week 2 of the tournament saw an astonishing 46:12 minutes of ball in game time. There have clearly been other less attractive cases, but if the ball-in-play trend continues upwards, then World Rugby will be under pressure to implement the laws permanently around the world.

Brumbies lock Nick Frost, who was awarded the 2022 Wallabies Rookie of the Year award on Wednesday, said it was still early days but already the players knew they had to adapt.

“Obviously it’s a bit of a trial period for every team and obviously the referees have to get used to it and so do the players,” he said.

“But still us [the Brumbies] anyway the time of ourselves from a line standpoint, we’re talking about getting in and keeping the ball in play. As I said, the whole thing is, first and foremost, about security in scrum, so obviously we have a shock clock there.

“But I think overall the whole thing is a bit balanced, we have to protect a bit of the integrity of the game around our scrum and our line, that’s what makes us different compared to other sports. But it’s good that we have a bit of acceleration up there.

“But the TMO is probably the biggest thing that the players are really happy about; obviously we don’t have full court hearings on the pitch, we just make a quick decision and then move on.”

While Frost played in the Round 1 game with the least amount of ball time in the game, it was noticeable after halftime how he opened up as fatigue began to take its toll. The first half also saw plenty of turnovers and penalties as the two forward packs struggled with timing and involvement under referee Nic Berry.

The Brumbies were also forced into a late bench change when hooker Lachie Lonergan was ruled out, the scrum contest then further affected by Connal McInerney’s early concussion, which brought veteran John Ulugia and Waratahs prop John Ulugia’s toe injury Angus Bell, who has Now likely ruled out the Wallabies’ top spot for the remainder of NSW’s Super Rugby Pacific campaign.

While Frost said he hadn’t noticed a huge difference on Friday night, he said time could be saved especially in the scrum.

“We’ve had a few test games in preseason and it’s just going to be pretty prevalent that it’s at the front of the referee’s mind, it’s at the front of our mind,” he said.

“We’ve been training it for a couple of weeks. It’s not very quick, it’s just sometimes around the scrum. If the ball is there, let’s play footy. It’s better for both teams instead of seeing two or three rebounds, isn’t great for us, not great for the game, not great for the crowd.

“So if the ball is available for play, let’s play some footy.”

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