Offside rule tweak to end 'kick tennis'

Jordie Barrett of the Hurricanes kicks ahead during a match last year. Photo: Getty Images
Jordie Barrett of the Hurricanes kicks ahead during a match last year. Photo: Getty Images
An overhaul of the Super Rugby Pacific offside rule has been approved to encourage teams to run the ball instead of engaging in a tedious game of "kick tennis".

Officials today revealed a law variation that they think will close a "loophole" and encourage counterattacking rugby when the competition begins on February 23. 

Traditionally, defenders in front of the kicker are put onside when a kick receiver either passes the ball or runs five metres with the ball.

But Super Rugby Pacific's innovation will throw out those two clauses.

Instead, defenders will remain offside until they have been put onside by a teammate who has come from behind the kicker, or the kicker themself.

Under the new rules, a long kick will be tougher to defend, with a fullback or winger able to glide past any would-be tacklers isolated in front of the kicker and chasers.

The law has been sanctioned by World Rugby as a trial and follows various tweaks in recent seasons designed to increase ball-in-play time.

"Fans have been vocal in recent times about teams exploiting a loophole that's seen a large number of players standing still while kicks go over their heads in what some people have called 'kick tennis'," Super Rugby Pacific chair Kevin Malloy said.

"We don't believe that's the spectacle our fans want to see in Super Rugby Pacific.

'"We want to open up the opportunity for teams to counterattack with the ball in hand, and we're confident this tweak to the law will encourage that trend and encourage exciting, attacking rugby.

"With the full support of New Zealand Rugby, Rugby Australia and our coaches we've responded with a small change we think could make a big difference."