South Africa’s Varsity Cup to trial ‘Free Catch Rule’

jamie gibson

South Africa’s Varsity Cup – the pinnacle of university rugby in the country – has always had a penchant for experimenting with rule changes (a few years ago they decided a try would be worth eight, rather than five, points), and this year is no different, with the introduction of the ‘Free Catch Rule’.

Put simply, a player can now mark the ball, when catching a kick on the full, anywhere on the pitch, as opposed to only in his own 22. This results in the normal free kick. However, the referee will also play a free kick advantage to the catching team after any ball is caught, even if the player does not call a mark. This means that if the catching team do not make any inroads with the ball after taking it, they will come back for a free kick.

SARU chief executive Jurie Roux said of the new law: “I think the ‘Free Catch Rule’ has the potential to eradicate poor kicking and also enhance running rugby at the same time. It’s also a very exciting innovation for Varsity Rugby.”

Other innovations in this year’s Varsity rugby include the introduction of a dual refereeing system, in which there will be two men with whistles in the middle, and specially designed jerseys for props, which should making binding at the scrums easier and safer.

What do you make of the Free Catch Rule – is it a good idea, promoting running rugby, or is it a step too far? Are there any other rules you’d like to see trialed in the future?

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

15 thoughts on “South Africa’s Varsity Cup to trial ‘Free Catch Rule’

  1. Dislike it. Whilst I hate aimless kicking the punishment is usually you’ve gifted possession and offered a potentially dangerous runner a broken field. This rule will likely wipe out any kicking that isn’t for touch. I think up and unders and box kicks for chasers are an important, fun and exciting part of the game.

  2. I think it is a great idea! There is nothing worse than watching a game where there is aimless kick after aimless kick all for the ball to go out on the halfway line and everyone stops to form a lineout!

    This will greatly improve the running aspect of the sport and teams like the Cheetahs, Province and the Sharks would love this where a team like the Bulls would dread it!

    Also remember what they are saying!!! This doesn’t mean that there will be no box kicks or up and under’s (or that they can’t be challenged), but rather an attempt to improve kicking within the game. If you have a flyhalf with pinpoint accuracy this rule will have little effect!

  3. I think the specially designed shirts for props sound like a much more promising idea- would be interested to see how these go, anything to reduce scrum time!

    Don’t like the sound of the free catch rule one bit tbh…

  4. I think its a great idea in promoting attacking running rugby. Aimless kicking spoils the game and lets face it, theres nothing worse than watching that as a spectator.

  5. Dont like the rule, instead allow kicking on when You are in own half of field excluding the 10 meter area. Penalty’s granted to kick as normal. Also rather change the free kick rule back when You had to scream and knock Your foot down. “heal the foot”

    when leaping for the ball does not matter, kicker gets attacking advantage, playing above mentioned rules.

  6. So I kick it to an opposition player who catches it cleanly and is awarded a free kick! I’d then expect that player to kick it back in my direction (but not directly to touch). I’d hope to catch it cleanly and get a free-kick, whereupon I’d launch it back at yer man (or in that general direction) Can you see where I’m going with this……………

  7. Worth an experiment anyway. On their last rule experiment…I thought they flipped the points for pens & conversions? So it was a converted try worth 8 pts and a pen worth 2?

  8. Undecided on the free kick, would have to watch some matches and decide based on what effect it has on the game. I hate the kicking game (largely due to a personal inability to control my lower limbs enough to take part in it) but at the same time it’s an important part of the modern game and removing it could make huge (and unexpected) changes.

    A dual refereeing system – I play hockey and two refs work well, one for each diagonal of the pitch. But hockey moves up and down the pitch far faster than rugby. May just result in moder confused calls/questions of authority.

    Specially designed jerseys for props – YES! Not least because it’ll stop props complaining so much about the end of the floppy long sleeves we used to wear.

    Honestly my favourite idea was the extra points for a try… nothing is more boring than a game based on penalty kicks.

  9. “specially designed jerseys for props” – this sounds like utter common sense and must be implemented.

    Free kicks sounds awfully complicated – I can see more newbies being turned off the sport as a player catches the ball, runs forward, then some subjective ref decision of “advantage” means that 3 mins later he’s allowed to go back to where he caught it and do it all again … Madness. Aerial kicking is a strategy if well executed and dealing adequately with it is a skill of positioning, technique and bottle. To eradicate that totally changes fullback/wing play, for the worse for me.

  10. Basically it seems to reward teams that are poor at counter attacking from high balls? Just because a ball is taken cleanly doesn’t mean there was no chase, often a turnover will come from a clean catcher swiftly tackled and given no time to release (and with no support).

  11. E-Z Bind jerseys – big yes – anything that helps increase number of competitive scrum completions is a plus.

    A stop in play and a restart every time someone catches a ball from a kick? Don’t like this idea.

    I’m looking forward the first comedy dual referee whistle at a scrum with penalties awarded to both teams!

  12. I am happy with the prop shirts. But the free catch rule is ridiculous. This will immediately disadvantage a team with a good attacking kick game plan and follow up chasers. Players like Bjorn Basson, Willie le Roux etc will have no impact on the game as the free catch will render their work useless. It will also completely take counter attacking out of the game as it will allow the kicking team time to restructure defense on a free kick thus robbing the fans of much anticipated exitement etc that forms part of the rugby culture.

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