Game will get faster for longer warns ref Barnes

The Rugby Paper - - News -

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

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