Rugby: World Cup shortcomings spark appetite for international rule changes

NZ Rugby high performance referee manager Chris Pollock admits proposed changes to international rules probably wouldn't have found support previously.

"If you'd asked me 12 months ago, I would have through no chance," Pollock told AM. "Now, I think there's a real appetite for change in the game.

"The World Cup showed we can't have games ruined by players getting sent off. If you take the Engand-Argentina game, where someone was sent off in the first five minutes, we can't afford to have that."

Wayne Barnes shows a yellow card, Chris Pollock talks to AM.
Wayne Barnes shows a yellow card, Chris Pollock talks to AM. Photo credit: Getty Images/AM Show

World Rugby has revealed plans at "re-imagining rugby's entertainment factor", including 20-minute sanctions for red cards, speeding up rucks and mauls, and less involvement from the Third Match Official. 

Of course, the All Blacks suffered from a couple of these rules during the tournament, playing most of the final with only 14 men, after captain Sam Cane was red-carded, while also having a try disallowed through TMO intervention.

Many of the rule changes have already been tested at Super Rugby level - including the ability to replace red-carded players after 20 minutes - and Pollock claims NZ Rugby has pushed for their introduction to the international game.

"We've introduced the offside-at-kick this year and seen some really good results around speeding the game up, and getting rid of some of the kick-kicking and kick-tennis," he said.

"I think it was very positive for the game and we've really been encouraged by the first four weeks of Super Rugby in terms of the spectacle, the standard of games, the closeness. that's been going really well."

New Zealand has also trialled a lower tackle target around the sternum at community level, with positive results, but Pollock warns it may come with unwanted repercussions in international rugby.

"We've also got to be careful we don't lower tackle heights so much that we encourage players with the ball to drop into contact," he said. "It will make it even more difficult for tacklers and potentially even more dangerous for ball-carriers if we're encouraging them to drop into contact.

"There is a balance there and we have to keep an area of the body where we can hit safely. The lower we bring it down, the more dangerous it becomes."

Reducing TMO intervention risks onfield mistakes going uncorrected and increases pressure on referees to make the right calls.

"There is definitely a risk around that, but we're getting told unequivocally that fans want less TMO involvement, less stop-start," he admitted. "That comes with some consequences.

"People can accept rugby is not a black-and-white game, there's plenty of grey in it. If we get our protocol right around when the TMO can come in for those key big moments, that can help save the onfield team, if they get it wrong around pointscoring.

"I think people accept that, so that's the direction I believe we need to go."