Lyndon Bray hopes secret codes tidy up scrums
Referees will deliver clandestine back-taps, discreet head nods and silent hand signals before Super Rugby halfbacks feed the scrum this season.
The International Rugby Board's recent decision to scrap the ref's controversial "yes, nine" scrum call has empowered officials to act like shady card sharps when instructing No 9s.
The now-scrapped verbal call proved unpopular because it alerted the defending team to when they could shove their opponents and interrupt the feed.
Now the halfbacks and referees will meet before games to decide on a secret signal to determine when the ball should be inserted into the set-piece.
"The referee will sort out with the halfbacks, before the match, how he is going to operate," Sanzar referees' boss Lyndon Bray said.
"It will be a physical tap on the halfback, a head nod, hand signal or eye-to-eye contact if he is on the other side of the scrum."
The new call has already been used in the northern hemisphere and New Zealand teams will use it for the first time in pre-season matches this weekend.
"In effect the halfback will have to have that working relationship with the referee," Bray added.
"And it totally eliminates that early shove because the team now have to [wait for] the halfback to put the ball in before they can put the shove on."
Scrums coaches are also being encouraged to have their forwards lift their body height slightly to help reduce scrum collapses and improve the engagement.
"We still want the dominant scrum to dominate. That is critical."
Bray has also been working with the Sanzar officials to sort out the controversial forward-pass ruling.
Last year Chiefs coach Dave Rennie labelled Bray's backing of the decisions by TMO Steve Leszczynski, who awarded two tries to the Rebels off what looked to be forward passes, as "ludicrous".
Former All Blacks coach Laurie Mains fully endorsed Rennie's comments by stating there was so much inconsistency now that "it is making a mockery of the whole thing.
"We might as well play gridiron and propel the ball forward. The way they are interpreting it is ridiculous," Mains fumed.
There appears little doubt Bray wants to avoid such controversy this season and admitted improvements are necessary.
"I thought we were horribly inconsistent last year with that issue. We have come up with more clarity around that and I am very much hoping we get greater alignment about what is a forward pass scenario - whether a referee or the TMO rules it."
Bray said most of his concerns related to the short passes.
But he also warned that if a player flings a wide ball and it initially goes backwards before sailing forward it is still a legitimate transfer.
"If he is technically passing it backwards or flat and the ball then ultimately drifts forward, that ball is clearly not a forward pass. And I think most rugby people understand that."
The South Africans play their opening round matches on February 16, a week earlier than the New Zealand and Australian teams.