- The World Rugby Council has given its approval for a new rugby union tournament that will feature alternative rules to make for more exciting play.
- “Global Rapid Rugby” is the brainchild of Australian mining billionaire Andrew Forrest and starts next February. Games will be just 70 minutes long, packaged into 90-minute broadcasts.
- The first tournament will have a $1 million team prize and feature teams from Hong Kong, Fiji, Samoa and Singapore, as well as Perth’s Western Force.
Twelve months after he promised a new style of rugby union with the breakaway Western Force, Andrew Forrest has unveiled a new 70-minute, eight-team Asia Pacific competition with a $1 million premiership prize.
The mining billionaire’s vision, Global Rapid Rugby (GRR), has the blessing of World Rugby Council and will kick off in late February next year.
The WRC’s bi-annual meeting in Dublin overnight granted conditional sanction for the tournament subject to approval from participating unions, saying that “The competition aims to further rugby’s spread across the Asia-Pacific area, providing high performance competition for emerging nations.”
Teams from Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Samoa, Fiji and Perth’s Western Force are already on board, with plans for Japan to field two sides – one from the pre-existing union and a new team formed by a private consortium.
Forrest said new and revised laws will increase the ball-in-play time towards 55%, and the reduced game time will mean each match will fit a 90-minute broadcast.
The tournament, run by Hong Kong Rugby Union, will have 14 rounds with 56 games and four finals, with up to 20 of the world’s best players as competition marquees.
“We have committed to recruiting around 20 of the best 100 players in the world today over the next two seasons,” Forrest said
“They will be placed in different teams, depending on the team’s needs in the interests of creating a level field across all teams. We have already started, signing former All Black Jeremy Thrush to the Western Force.”
To keep the ball in play, the rule changes will increase the risk of kicking for touch, and reduce line-outs, while managing player fatigue with rolling substitutions.
GRR Head of Rugby Matt Hodgson said they want the changes to create attacking, aggressive, and high-scoring rugby.
“The rules I’m most excited about are the kicking laws. No longer will teams be able to kick out on the full from their own 22, we’ll see more attacking play there and also more counter-attack as teams choose to kick down the middle of the field,” he said.
Forrest said Rapid Rugby “is the perfect name” for the competition he’s founded.
“It speaks to what we will deliver – a dynamic sports and entertainment concept focused on the fastest growing region in the world,” he said.
“It will be rapid alright, and global, because I want to help spread the appeal of the sport to non-traditional markets and sports and entertainment lovers everywhere.”
Forrest is hoping to expand the competition further in the next two years with teams from China, India, the UAE, Sri Lanka and Korea.
The breakaway competition by the billionaire philanthropist came about after the Australian Rugby Union cancelled the Western Force Super Rugby licence in August last year, cutting the competition to 15 teams.
After the Western Force lost its appeal against being axed from Super Rugby, the Western Australian billionaire miner announced plans for a breakaway rugby league within days, in a move reminiscent of fellow billionaires Rupert Murdoch (Super League) and Kerry Packer (World Series Cricket) decades earlier.
Forrest then staged seven invitational matches against the Force at Perth’s nib Stadium this year under the banner World Series Rugby, vowing to create his rival competition, unveiled today.