A recent article on the42.ie caught my eye (here). It outlined how World Rugby have approved of temporary rule changes to the scoring system for a new series of invitational matches. These matches, dubbed ‘World Series Rugby’, have been established to provide games for the Australian rugby franchise team, the Western Force. For those of you who don’t know, the Western Force were dropped from the Southern Hemisphere Super Rugby competition last year as the number of teams were condensed from 18 to 15. The Force are scheduled to play matches against Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and Hong Kong along with other Super Rugby teams, the Melbourne Rebels and Crusaders, over the coming months.
While a number of temporary rule changes have been approved for the series of matches, including placing a one minute limit on scrums and allowing lineouts to be taken as quickly as possible, what has generated most interest is the introduction of a seven point try (which turns to nine points if converted). A seven point try will be awarded, if a team initiates an attack from behind their own 22 metre line and there is no break in the continuity of their possession before they score, that is, when the ball is turned over to the opposition through a penalty, scrum or lineout.
According to the42.ie article, Rugby Australia is hoping the change “will reward positive play.” I wonder if this is the main rationale to be honest. The fact that the try is to be called a ‘Power Try’ and that the goalposts will light up to indicate to fans when a ‘Power Try’ is possible or has been scored suggests to me that this is more of a gimmick to attract people's attention to the new series of matches.
Another recent example of this, is a proposal by the English Cricket Board to introduce a new domestic cricket competition which will be based on each team bowling one hundred balls, 20 balls less than the current twenty20 format (see here). The working title of the new competition is 'The Hundred'. The shorter format, they say, will appeal to families and TV audiences. In addition to the shorter nature of the game, another element being proposed is to have a 10 ball final over (as opposed to the traditional 6 ball final over in 50 over and twenty20 games). Given that most twenty20 games are decided in the last few overs, I suspect most games in this new cricket competition will be decided in this last 10 ball over. Which is probably what the organisers want, that is, to ensure the outcome is undecided until the very end. The only issue I would have with this new format is audiences may focus too much on the final over and not bother with the rest of the game.
Are these changes genuine attempts to enhance the quality of the game or are they gimmicks? I’m not so sure. Many cricket players share my feelings too (see here, here and here). And this is where I think care needs to taken in treading that fine line between a genuine rule change and something which is intended more for marketing purposes. Of course gimmicks are not necessarily a bad thing and can add to the sense of atmosphere and excitement in a game. But the danger is that, with the increasing pressure on sports executives to maintain attendances and TV audiences, games could become more about the gimmick than the game itself.