Super Rugby Aotearoa mirrors NRL with introduction of 'exciting innovations' for upcoming season

Super Rugby Aotearoa has mirrored the NRL with the introduction of two "exciting innovations" for the upcoming season.

The goal-line dropout and captain's referral will be included in the 2021 competition, while golden point and red card replacement laws have been retained, after they were introduced last season. 

A goal-line dropout will occur when an attacking player carrying the ball is held up in goal or knocks the ball on in goal, or when an attacking kick, other than a penalty or drop goal attempt, is grounded by the defending team in goal. 

A captain's referral will provide one opportunity per match to ask the referee to have the Television Match Official (TMO) check for an infringement in the lead-up to a try or review foul play.

The footage must be 'clear and obvious' for the TMO to uphold a referral, and the captain must reference a "specific" incident or infringement.

The TMO will be able to go as far back as the last stoppage in play, regardless of how many phases have been played.

If the referring captain is correct, they will retain their referral, but if the referee’s original decision stands or the TMO footage is not 'clear and obvious', the captain loses their referral.

The captain's referral will be applied more broadly from the 75-minute mark in any match, at which point, provided they have not already lost their referral, the captain can use it to check any referee’s decision, regardless of whether a try has been scored.

NZ Rugby head of high performance Mike Anthony says the law variations are aimed to make the game more attractive for both players and fans.

"We're constantly looking at how we can make the game faster and fairer for players, and a better spectacle for fans, and we’re hopeful the goal-line dropout and captain's referral will go some way to achieving those objectives in 2021," Anthony says.

Anthony says the goal-line dropout will hopefully reward attacking teams by allowing them to build pressure.

"We've had great support for this innovation from coaches and players, and we’re confident it will be popular with fans. 

"The current restart rule of a 22-metre dropout often pushes the receiving team well back into their own half and we think teams will be more likely to counterattack from a goal-line dropout, which will, in turn, lead to more attacking pressure and hopefully more tries."

A full breakdown of the goal line dropout and captain’s referral is below.

Goal-line dropout


  1. When an attacking player carrying the ball is held up in goal or knocks the ball on in goal, play restarts with a goal-line dropout.
  2. When a kick (excluding a penalty kick, dropkick attempt, kickoff or play restart kick) goes into the in-goal area and is grounded, or otherwise made dead by the defending team, play restarts with a goal-line dropout.


  • The dropout is taken on or behind the defending team's goal-line.
  • The dropout must be taken without delay. The ball must cross the 5m line.
  • If the dropout is not executed correctly the receiving team have the option of asking for the kick to be retaken or being awarded a 5m scrum.
  • If the kick is taken on the full by a defender in goal, the defender may claim a mark and play restarts with a free-kick on the 5m line in line with the place of the mark.
  • If a player from the attacking team causes the ball to go into touch-in-goal or over the dead-ball line, then the defending team will have the option of taking a 22m dropout or a scrum at the place that the ball was kicked.
  • If the ball crosses the 5m line, but then bounces, is blown back by the wind or deflected back, play continues.
  • If a goal-line dropout goes out on the full, the receiving team have the option of either asking for a rekick, a scrum feed on the 5m line in line with where the kick was taken or throwing to a lineout on the 5m line. 
  • The receiving team must be back at least 5m and cannot charge the kick. The sanction for charging the kick is a free-kick 10m upfield.
  • The team receiving the ball from a goal-line dropout cannot score a dropped goal, until the ball has gone through one phase of play.
  • If the ball hits the kicking team’s posts during a goal-line dropout and goes dead, then the receiving team have the option of a 5m attacking scrum in line with where the kick was taken or can ask for a rekick.

Captain's referral

There are three scenarios under which a captain's referral can be made:

  1. For an infringement before a try is scored, at any time from the last restart in play. (Previously, the TMO could only go back two phases).
  2. Foul Play: A captain can refer a referee to an act of foul play he thinks has been missed by the match officials.
  3. After the 75-minute mark, including any period of extra time, the captain can use his referral to challenge any referee’s decision, not just those leading to a try.

How it will work

  • Captains get one referral per match.
  • When he wants to use his referral, the captain will tell the referee what they want to be checked and confirm they are using their captain’s referral. For example: "Ref, we think there was a knock on at the last ruck before this try. Can you check please?"
  • The referee will ask the TMO to look at the footage and advise whether the referral was correct, or not.
  • Once a ruling has been made on the referral, play will resume.
  • If the captain's referral is correct, then they get to keep that referral to use again.
  • If they are incorrect and their referral is over-ruled, they lose it.
  • The captain must make a referral within 10 seconds of a try being scored, a referee's decision or a stoppage in play.
  • The captain must be specific about what they are referring to.
  • Anything referred must be 'clear and obvious' in the TMO's review.
  • The captain cannot use his referral to stop play after a quick tap penalty or quick throw-in. 
  • Scrum and lineout are not part of the referral process.