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Australia's new national championship to kick off with new rules, emphasis on running rugby

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BRISBANE, Australia - Australia's revamped National Rugby Championship will kick off next week under experimental rules and with a new scoring system designed to encourage try-scoring over kicking for points.

The Australian Rugby Union launched the nine-team interstate competition Wednesday, a week ahead of the tournament opener between Brisbane City and the Sydney Stars. Queensland Country, Macquarie University North Harbour, Greater Sydney Rams, NSW Country Eagles, University of Canberra Vikings, Melbourne Rising and Perth Spirit are the other teams.

Organizers sought feedback from fans for the tournament and the No. 1 change suggested was in the points system.

In experimental variations approved by the International Rugby Board, the points for a penalty goal and dropped goal will be reduced from three points to two, and try conversions will be increased from two to three points. The other changes involve speeding up the game, with time limits to be implemented for setting scrums and lineouts, and taking shots at goal.

"While maintaining the integrity of the game, we want to see a more creative style of rugby being played where risk and attack are rewarded," ARU chief executive Bill Pulver said in a statement.

Pulver said the new competition provided another pathway from local club competitions to Super Rugby. He said all fit players from Australia's five Super franchises who weren't selected in the Wallabies squad would be available for the NRC.

Other experimental changes include:

— Scrums: Forwards will be given 30 seconds to set a scrum, excluding time off for legitimate injuries; the set piece can be moved away from a minor injury to continue play; and the defending scrumhalf will not be allowed to follow the ball into the area between the flanker and the No. 8 at the scrum.

— Time: The referee will decide when penalties are awarded in stoppage time in either half, allowing teams to kick for touch and be guaranteed a throw-in to a lineout before time expires.

— Mauls: Referees will try to discourage what organizers call the "hold-up tackle" by ensuring that once defending players hold a ball carrier up and create a maul, they don't immediately collapse the maul to create a turnover.

The domestic competition announcement came three days before Australia's first match in the international Rugby Championship involving Argentina, South Africa and New Zealand. The Wallabies play the All Blacks to open the tournament on Saturday in Sydney.

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