Former All Blacks Andrew Mehrtens believes introducing timekeepers and shortening halves to 30 minutes of effective play could solve the issue of time-wasting in rugby.
His comments came in the wake of last week’s controversial ending to the Rugby Championship between Australia and New Zealand in Melbourne.
The Wallabies were left seething after French referee Mathieu Raynal sparked uproar controversially penalised fly-half Bernard Foley in the closing stages of the game, reversing a penalty he had initially awarded to the hosts.
Raynal pinged Foley for time-wasting as the Wallabies No10 was about to kick the ball into touch with 80 minutes on the clock and Australia leading 37-34 at Marvel Stadium.
The All Blacks were instead awarded a scrum five metres out and Jordie Barrett crossed in the corner for a 39-37 win to deny Australia the Bledisloe Cup.
Raynal’s decision was branded as ‘disgraceful’ and infuriated Australia, with coach Dave Rennie said he had ‘never seen a call like that, at any level’.
Wallabies skipper Nic White told the referee he had ‘cost them the Rugby Championship’, while Foley denied he was deliberately wasting time, insisting he could not hear the referee due to the noise inside the stadium.
And Mehrtens believes an overhaul of how time was monitored in rugby is long overdue, suggesting the sport should ensure the ball was effectively in play for the duration of each half.
The game clock stops in rugby for injuries and decisions referred to the television match official, but continues to run when the referee orders a scrum reset.
Conversely, AFL games, for example, last far longer than 80 minutes to ensure that the ball is effectively in play for 20 minutes in each of the four quarters.
‘If you start stopping the clock here and there the game is going to blow out to a much longer spectacle than we’ve currently got,’ Mehrtens told The Breakdown on Sky Sport New Zealand on Sunday night.
‘So make the halves 30 minutes each, and stop the clock every time there’s a scrum set. The professional timekeeper re-starts it when the ball is played at the back of the scrum.
‘If there’s a try, you stop the clock there and you don’t restart it until the kickoff’s taken.
‘If you bring it down to 30 minutes a half, you’ll still get effectively the same amount of time for people at the stadium and you’ll get a much higher proportion of the ball in play.’
The 49-year-old, who won 70 caps for the All Blacks during a stellar career, suggested rugby should take a leaf from other sports and implement official timekeepers.
‘Look at tennis. One of the ways that players can slow tennis down in between points, in particular at the service,’ he said.
‘Now they have got a countdown, I think they’ve got 30 seconds from the end of one point to getting the serve hit at the next point.
‘It’s taken out of the umpire’s hands. There’s a clock and you have to work to it. As a sport [rugby] could a little bit more professional about it.’
Meanwhile, Rugby Australia has written to World Rugby to formally complain about ‘overbearing officials’ in the wake of last week’s controversy.
Rugby Australia said their letter to the sport’s governing body was not specifically about Raynal’s decision, but more generally about ‘the state of the game today and the overbearing nature of rules and officials’.
‘It’s not unusual, we’ve been lobbying World Rugby for some time on this,’ a spokesman added.
The All Blacks and the Wallabies meet for the second Bledisloe Test in Auckland on Saturday, with the New Zealand needing a win to clinch the Rugby Championship.
New Zealand and South Africa lead the table with 14 points each, with the All Blacks on top with a 13-point better differential than the Springboks, who host Argentina in Durban later on Saturday.