This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with new laws and some other odds and ends...
All hail the lawmakers! Four years ago we had the ridiculous ELVs that allowed collapsed mauls, finger-wrestling on the ground to get at the ball, offside lines at the tackle... we had anarchy.
This time, for the next eighteen months we have a common sense list of tweaks, all designed to get the players playing, the kickers kicking, the referees reffing and the game clean. It's as though a rugby wish-list has been granted, a little visit from a Canterbury-clad Santa Claus.
We'll start with the one we like the most: that a ball must be played once available from the back of a ruck within five seconds.
One of the ruck concepts doing the rounds at the moment is called the 'centipede' ruck: that one where a stable ruck already over as a contest is nevertheless joined by two or three players at the back one behind the other, in order to buy a scrum-half either time to make a decision, room to kick, or time to waste as the clock runs down. Saracens, the Bulls and Munster are all masters of it. It's horrible to watch, as we've opined in this column before.
The new law appears designed to crush the centipede underfoot, as well as to eliminate the ludicrous posturising time-wasting that goes on between scrum-halves and first receivers seeking to wind down the clock in a tight game. If you are not sure what we are talking about there, watch the final five minutes of last year's World Cup Final. Interestingly, that very same referee was this weekend to be heard urging half-backs to use the ball or run the risk of being whistled for time-wasting...
But it will cause problems. Coaches are going to question the interpretation of when a ball is available or not, are going to find ways of making a ruck seem more contested than it is to slow it down, may even question that if they do start centipeding, surely a new five seconds is bought each time another 'rucker' arrives.
Out of all the laws introduced this round, this one is the one referees and their mentors have to be toughest about enforcing, for having only five seconds between phases will make for a significantly improved spectacle and keeps the onus on the team in possession to use the ball constructively.
That the bench would be increased to add another prop was nigh on inevitable, while the minor extension of where a quick throw-in can be taken from is barely going to be noticeable except at stadia like Westpac, where there is a bigger area outside the pitch. Offering teams the choice of a line-out or scrum when a knock-on goes into touch or when an offence is committed at a line-out is a technical one for the layman, a potential source of riches for a shrewd coach.
The increase in TMO powers on adjudication of foul play may cause the most teething problems with players milking the system and asking the referee to go upstairs, but as long as protocols are established that make sure the referee only goes there when he knows something has taken place and just needs a number, it should be ok.
Increasing the TMO powers to adjudicate on events leading up to tries is a problematic one. But once the question 'how far back can you go?' has been answered sensibly and also set under protocols, we should get a more precise tool for score adjudication.
But finally, the one we like the most: there's this business of a conversion having to be taken within 90 seconds of the score. So now we don't have the kicker tying shoelaces, swapping phone numbers with the cheerleaders, drinking gallons of water and spitting them out again and considering his haircut options on the big screen while he waits for the tee to arrive and the clock winds down, all before the allotted 60 seconds for the kick begin. Now we have onus on the tee-bearer to get out quickly, the kicker to get set and kick the ball, everybody to get the hell on with the game.
Same with the ruck law change really. A middle finger to burgeoning negative practices, a kick up the pant-seat for coaches who are just content to 'see out a game', a recognition that fans know their sport and want to see a better product. Thanks lawmakers, you've done a terrific job this time.
It would probably be amiss not to congratulate Leinster on the maintenance of their dynasty. They've played some terrific rugby, able to dig in just as much as demolish all season long. You wouldn't bet against their taking the RaboDirect PRO12 this coming weekend and finishing a double... Leicester, Wasps, Toulouse and now Leinster... which is the greatest European team of the modern era now? Discuss...
Loose Pass compiled by Richard Anderson