Game will get faster for longer warns ref Barnes
PREMIERSHIP player fitness levels are set to be tested to their limit after leading referee Wayne Barnes revealed dramatic increases in ball-in-play time in the wake of new laws around the scrum and ruck areas for season 2017-18.
With hooking now mandatory at scrum-time and tacklers having to get up and re-enter from behind, teams are being encouraged to play and Barnes believes the game will become a better spectacle for fans.
Ball-in-play time at the 1995 World Cup stood at just 35 minutes in an 80-minute match (43%), but by 2008 that had risen to 38 minutes (47.5%) while this season’s Premiership has seen ballin-play times hit 44 minutes (58%).
Critics claim the role of the traditional No.7 groundhog is being neutered. However, Barnes believes opensides like Bath’s Francois Louw are adapting quickly and insists Sale’s Curry brothers, Tom and Ben, still have influential futures.
Barnes said: “We’ll have more continuity because of the No.7 having a slightly different role. I expect a bit more ball-in-play time, a higher number of phases and I think we’ll see some different No.7s emerge.
“It will be interesting to see how the Curry brothers react, but I think we’ll see a more dynamic game and if anyone saw Bath v Saracens last weekend, I thought Francois Louw was outstanding.
“Rather than just being that nuisance jumping in they have to have that kind of ‘hovering, second man in’ role, but the No.7s around the league are bright enough to change.
“There’s always going to be a role for the Louws, Hoopers and Pococks and as referees it’s about us making sure they adapt by clearly coming off the ball.”
Cleaner scrums are aiding ball-in-play time as well, with Barnes adding: “The aim of making the hooker hook is to get the ball back to the No.8s to play away – and we have a mechanism in place to ensure they use it within a decent time.
“Statistics last weekend showed that 60 per cent of ball came out, so that’s a big improvement on 40-45 per cent in the Premiership two years ago.
“Most of the Premiership clubs are now hooking and everyone who’s in the England set-up is doing so, so everything is now encouraging that ball to come back and all the work we’re doing with England is aimed at being positive.”
Barnes added: “We’re still looking for a strong, stable scrum and teams with dominance in that area can still use it to force penalties, but we’re seeing more sides using the ball and ball-in-play time last week was around 43-44 minutes. Above 40 minutes is pretty high.”
Hope: Wayne Barnes