Two referees will officiate together during New Zealand’s national provincial championship next year as part of a World Rugby trial of proposed rule changes.
The second on-field official will mainly be used to rule on a new offside line that will be moved one metre back from a redefined ruck, where the confusing “gate” will be ditched and the rights of the tackler reduced.
New Zealand Rugby wasn’t planning to unveil the proposed rule changes until early next year, but they are widely known after provincial unions sounded out clubs across the country about whether or not they wanted their premier competitions to trial the rules in order to prepare players for the representative season.
Tweaks of the rules had been signalled with All Blacks coach Steve Hansen among the most vocal in saying the game needs to be easier to play, watch and referee, but the move to using two referees as is the case in the National Rugby League is a bold move.
NRL bosses introduced the concept in 2009 and some referees believe it will provide a major improvement in keeping ever creeping defensive players on side. They also believed getting rid of the imaginary “gate” through which players can legally enter the breakdown will make things easier for officials.
It remains unclear exactly what duties each of the on-field referees would have, but is assumed the secondary official would primarily be charged with policing the offside. In league there is a “lead ref” who does the bulk of officiating from the defensive side, though in international matches there is still only one on-field official.