EVEN in the ever-changing world of rugby union, the nine-point try might seem a bit bizarre. So it’s hard to believe that this inflated value of touching down over your opponents’ goal-line is now a selling feature of Global Rapid Rugby, a new competition with amended laws being introduced to the the Asia Pacific region, which, some suggest, might shape the future direction of World Rugby.
If the nine-point try is still a bit alien to most Scots then not to worry. Because out in Hong-Kong, a key driver of Asian rugby, the ‘Power Try’, as it’s being dubbed, is now everyday life to ex-pat and former North Berwick High School scrum half, Jamie Lauder.
Lauder, who played for Edinburgh Under-18s as well captaining Aberdeen University, recently signed a part-time professional contract with the South China Tigers, one of the sides that is showcasing the new competition this year. The 2019 exhibition series will add up to just 14 matches that will feature the Asia Pacific Dragons (Singapore), Fijian Latui (Fiji), Kagifa Samoa (Samoa), South China Tigers (Hong Kong), Western Force (Western Australia).
Then, for 2020, the competition will move into full blown mode by featuring eight teams playing home and away and fighting for a $1 million AUD first prize. The plan is to expand the competition with teams from the east coast of Australia and from New Zealand, as well as Japan and Hawaii.
Back to the nine-point try. “If the attacking team starts a move in its own 22m area and scores without turning the ball over then the nine point try is awarded and no conversion is needed,” explains Lauder. “It’s all about retaining possession and being clever. It’s also very knackering!”
Attack as the best form of defence
To promote attacks from defensive positions, Global Rapid Rugby has altered the law on kicking to touch. In this new format teams can no longer kick the ball directly into touch from their own 22m area. If they do then the the opposition will get the throw-in from the position at which the kick was taken.
“Effectively, now you can’t kick the ball out on the full anywhere on the field without forfeiting advantageous field position and the throw-in,” adds Lauder. “What it all adds up to is a quicker game.”
A number of other variations also add to the match speed, including one minute for a scrum and 45 seconds for a line-out. As a result of the more exhausting speed at which the game is played the authors of Global Rapid Rugby have made each half last only 35 minutes. But, encouragingly, analysis of the games played so far have shown that the ball is in play 30 per cent more than in Super Rugby.
It’s not all basketball rugby, however. The art of kicking has been retained and indeed sharpened. “If you kick from inside your own 10m line and into the opposition 22m area then you get the throw in. The ball, of course, cannot go out on the full but must bounce into touch.”
Another change from the regular game is the use of subs. “You can have ten rolling subs – very useful for props,” notes Lauder. “In this game you need skilful props. The really big boys get caught out by the pace of the game. You could say there is an element of rugby league in it. What is immediately obvious is that the law changes speeds up the game and opens it up.”
Global Rapid Rugby has also sought to encourage adventurous rugby by introducing a different bonus system. In their blurb, the tournament organisers state: “We’ve also upped the ante to incentivise and reward attacking tactics and game style. Bonus points are up for grabs if your team does one or more of the following – Wins by 3 or more tries = 1 bonus point; Scores 4 or more tries in a game = 1 bonus point; Lose by 5 points or less = 1 bonus point.”
Global Rapid Rugby came about following the decision to cut Western Force from the Super Rugby roster for 2018. In order to fill the resultant gap the Australian mining billionaire Andrew Forrest set up a new competition that would be built round Western Force and which, with the help of television, would help spread the game in the Asia Pacific region.
The South China Tigers, who have signed England’s top Premiership scorer, Tom Varndell, as a marquee player, is backed by the Hong Kong Union, “85% of the side qualify for the Hong Kong national team,” says Lauder, who juggles life as a professional rugby player with working for Morgan Stanley. Already this year he has played three times for the Hong Kong team in the Asia Championship in addition to representing Hong Kong last November in the World Cup repechage tournament in which his side finished second to the eventual qualifiers, Canada.
The Global Rapid Rugby competition offers a different challenge especially as it is expected to be expanded next year with teams from Japan and Hawaii being lined up. Moreover there are a number of TV deals in the pipeline
“So far the standard has been very good,” says Lauder, who, because of his work, is currently restricted to playing only home games. “I played in our home game against Asia Pacific Dragons.
At present South China Tigers are the only professional side in Hong Kong. “We have a Premiership of six clubs and now have the one pro-team. The next step in Hong Kong has got to be a pro league,” predicts Lauder.
Certainly, there is the money in Hong Kong from both the world famous sevens tournament and also from the financial and business sector, to bankroll a professional league. Hong Kong is also adding to its expertise in organising rugby events through the local Union running the operations for the Global Rapid Rugby tournament.
“If we hang on to the players we’ll get stronger,” concludes Lauder. “Also there are more players qualifying for Hong Kong and if the chat about the World Cup expanding to 24 teams in 2023 turns out to be correct then we will have a real chance of qualifying. And even with 20 teams we could still make it.”