Bigger benches for Varsity Cup

The FNB Varsity Cup presented by Steinhoff International will once again lend itself to experimentation, with the 2010 tournament set to feature eight players on the bench in a bid to combat uncontested scrums.

An eight-man bench means that all matchday squads in the 2010 Varsity Cup will now have a minimum of two props and a specialist hooker on the bench – and thereby new, enlarged 23-man playing groups – as part of an experiment in conjunction with SA Rugby.

André Watson, South African Rugby’s manager of referees, told varsitycup.co.za: “This ruling still needs to be ratified, officially, at a meeting on Monday, but hopefully – if all goes well – we will get the greenlight for eight-man benches in the 2010 Varsity Cup.

“Not having uncontested scrums will only benefit the game of rugby union and we’re thankful that the Varsity Cup have allowed us the possibility of experimenting with this concept.”

Of course, the Varsity Cup is no stranger to testing new concepts under Watson’s – and SA Rugby’s – watchful eye.

The 2008 tournament saw the introduction of white cards – a ruling which allowed the captains to question one of the referee’s on-field decisions in the final, via a time-out – and it allowed Watson and co. to see if that concept had any future in the game.

“The Varsity Cup is a great competition in so many ways,” added Watson, “they’re always open for suggestions and it’s a great level of competition to test new concepts (like this).

“The best thing about an eight-man bench is that it basically rules out uncontested scrums, whilst – at the same time – it doesn’t limit the coaches’ options when it comes to the rest of his replacements.

“We will follow this experiment closely and do a full study on it – based on how it transpires in the 2010 competition, the reaction of the players and coaches and, of course the referees.”

Varsity Cup Managing Director Duitser Bosman, meanwhile, gave his full support to the experiment.

“Uncontested scrums are not what you want in rugby,” said Bosman to varsitycup.co.za. “(And) that memorable second Test between the Springboks and the Lions was a good case in point…

“It was probably the most physical game of rugby seen in recent years, yet they had uncontested scrums in the last 20 minutes which meant the teams were able to take off their tired props and replace them with fresher, more mobile forwards… (and) that led to more collisions and, thereby, some serious injuries.

“Having an extra prop on the bench will mean fewer, if any, uncontested scrums and that would be a best-case scenario for the game.”

France’s Top 14 and England’s Guinness Premiership have been utilising enlarged benches for two and one seasons, respectively, but the ground-breaking Varsity Cup would become the first competition in South Africa to have extra props and – thus – 23-man matchday squads.

Bosman added: “We’re very happy and excited for the Varsity Cup to once again set trends with new concepts and experimentation and, of course, to be helping SA Rugby at the same time.

“It’s an exciting time for the Varsity Cup and the game of rugby in South Africa and we’re delighted to once again be at the forefront of these latest developments.”

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