Super Rugby officials have taken another major step in encouraging attacking rugby with a key rule change for the upcoming season.
The offside rule for kicking in general play has been tweaked to create more space for receiving teams to return kicks with attacking, running rugby.
Under the old law, players standing in front of the kicker are placed onside when the player who catches the kick runs five metres or passes the ball. As a result, players were discouraged from running back kicks because by doing so, they were providing defensive teams with an advantage.
The loophole has been taken to the extreme in Europe, with teams engaging in what has been dubbed "aerial tennis" while herds of forwards stand in a pack in the middle of the field.
Coaches and players have criticised the tactic, leading to Super Rugby officials proactively stepping in to prevent a repeat in the upcoming season.
The new rule stipulates players in front of the kicker can only be placed onside by the kicker or a teammate who has come from behind the kicker.
The change came after extensive consultation with the Super Rugby franchises and has been praised by players and coaches.
"We want to create a game that's exciting for our fans and enjoyable for our players," Super Rugby chair Kevin Malloy said. "Part of that is seeing our players running the ball rather than trading multiple kicks in a battle for territory.
"We're listening to our fans and 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."
Super Rugby officials have introduced a number of law trials in the past few years to encourage running rugby, with the role of the TMO diminished last season along with changes to scrum laws and the introduction of shot clocks for shots at goal, scrums and lineouts.
There is, however, more than can be done to increase the pace of play and attract more fans to the game, with fans floating the following changes over the years.
Strict enforcement of scrum clocks
It's the game of cat and mouse played by players and officials in every sport around the world. A rule is changed and coaches immediately find ways to come up with ways to get around it.
Such was the case with the introduction of a 30-second clock to pack scrums last season. Teams happily formed scrums inside 30 seconds, but lengthy stoppages remained before they were packed.
The reason was simple, a prop goes down injured, the referee blows time off in the name of player safety and the scrum clock is paused. A minute later and after some brief treatment, the player is good to go and packs down as if nothing had happened.
So what if referees awarded a team a free kick to keep the game flowing while the injured player received treatment on the side of the field? Don't want to leave your team defending with 14 men? Don't feign an injury.
Teams can avoid conceding a free kick if the player is genuinely injured and is replaced by a substitute while repeated infringements will lead to a full-arm penalty.
Free kick for kickoff infringements
This is one rugby fans should be familiar with as it has been a feature of the sevens circuit for years. Rather than pack a midfield scrum on halfway if a kickoff does not go 10m or goes out on the full, the receiving team can quickly restart play with a free kick.
While the option to take the scrum will remain, it provides an added advantage for teams to attack an unstructured defensive line and forces kicking teams to quickly react and stay alert at all times.
Quick taps with any ball
It's a regular occurrence in rugby union, a team playing with advantage drops the ball, the defending team quickly picks it up and kicks it 50m downfield.
The referee blows a penalty but any chance for a quick tap is lost the moment the ball is booted away. The game stops, the attacking team holds a conference while someone retrieves the ball and the moment is lost.
Under the current laws, the quick tap can only be taken with the ball in play, but what if the attacking team could signal to the sideline and call for a new ball?
If the ball comes quick enough, they may have a chance to strike before the defence has reorganised.
It may be a stretch too far, but while we're on this topic, what if teams could take a quick line out with any ball? That could totally overhaul the tactics involved with kicking and lead to more ball in play time.
Five-minute sin bins for repeated infringements
This change would be designed to maintain the balance of a contest and ensure games aren't decided during the 10 minutes a player spends off the field.
Referees, however, would be empowered to pull out yellow cards if teams are conceding cynical penalties inside their own 22-metre zone.
Players will hopefully get the message and a free-flowing game will follow.
A potential variation of the five-minute sin bin would allow players to return to the field if the attacking team scores a try. Such a change would prevent teams running in multiple tries and breaking a game open while they have a one-man advantage.