A new rugby season means new laws!

……or to use the correct World Rugby jargon “minor law amendments”.

These amendments have been up and running in the southern hemisphere since the start of the year but only came in to place in the northern hemisphere on July 1st, meaning the opening rounds of the Pro12 and Aviva Premiership will be our first chance to see them in place for domestic rugby.

Here are the main amendments with our view on their effectiveness and likely impact on the game:

 

Maul

Change (1):

The ball must be moved backwards hand-to-hand once the maul has formed. This means a player is not allowed to move or slide backwards in the maul when the player is in possession of the ball.  The ripper in a maul must stay in contact with the jumper until they have transferred the ball (this mean “long placement” is outlawed).

Impact:

This is a positive step which should bring back a greater degree of skill to the maul. We covered this change in more detail at the start of the summer here.

 

Scrum

Change (2):

Advantage may be played following a scrum collapse if there is no risk to player safety

Change (3):

When the ball has been at the number eight’s feet in a stationary scrum for 3-5 seconds, the referee will call “use it” and the attacking team must use the ball immediately

Impact:

In theory this sounds like a great amendment, particularly when the ball has been cleanly won by a team and it is sitting at the number 8’s feet when the scrum collapses. In this scenario there is no additional risk to player safety and the game can continue if the ball is moved away.

Unfortunately, we know that professional teams will try and use all the laws to their advantage, so what we may find is weaker scrummaging teams collapsing the scrum to prevent themselves being shunted back. The referee then has to decide if the team with the ball could have made ground with a forward drive or if the scrum has accidentally collapsed and play should continue.

It would be useful for referees to have guidance on what to look for at the scrum collapse to ensure there are no risks to player safety.

 

Change (4):

Teams must be ready to form a scrum within 30 seconds of the scrum being awarded, unless the referee stops the clock for an injury or another stoppage

Impact:

The speed of the scrum reset in professional rugby is a blight on the game (see our post on the evolution of the scrum through the ages to see what scrum formation used to look like!).

We will have a specific post on the speed of the scrum reset coming soon, but anything that speeds up this facet of the game, and therefore attempts to make rugby more of an aerobic than anaerobic sport, should be applauded.

Will this amendment help? In an average professional rugby game there are about 15 scrum events (not including resets) so even if the scrum forms 30 seconds after the whistle blows that’s still 7 or 8 minutes of game time weighting for the scrum to form.

The law proposal says that it is the referee making the mark for the scrum that starts the clock – let’s hope they don’t delay making the mark or the amendment will be negated.

The wording of the amendment is also a bit ambiguous because it just says “be ready to form a scrum”.  In practice, we may find that once the referee has spoken to the front rows and has been through the engagement steps there is little time saved when compared to a scrum under the old laws. It’s one to watch.

 

Change (5):

At a re-set scrum following a 90-degree wheel, the ball is thrown in by the team that previously threw it in rather than the team not in possession

Impact:

Great change. The introduction of the law that passed the ball to the team without the put-in, in the event of the wheel was a strange change which resulted in attempts by the defending team to deliberately wheel the scrum.

 

Change (6):

The scrum-half of the team not in possession at a scrum may not move into the space between the flanker and number eight

Impact:

Positive amendment. The offside line at the scrum has been a grey area for some time so more focus should result in cleaner ball to attack from.

 

Other Areas

Change (7):

The replacement of a player injured following foul play does not count as one of the allotted number of replacements available to that team

Impact:

A positive change but perhaps difficult to police and it could lead to more requests to the TMO to judge on acts of foul play. For example, if a player is injured by a marginally late hit that would normally be ignored by the officials, there will be pressure on the referee from the captain of the injured team to refer the incident to the TMO.

Given the strength of the bench is crucial to modern day professional rugby, having in effect an “extra” replacement (assuming a player has gone off because of foul play), could be crucial to the outcome of the game.

 

Change (8):

Play acting or “simulation” is specifically outlawed rather than being covered under other laws.  Any player who dives or feigns injury in an effort to influence the match officials will be liable for sanction

Impact:

Great change that will hopefully see officials clamping down on simulation that is coming in to the game. As well as diving, falling over easily and the more blatant acts of un-sportsmanship we would add a couple more to the list of actions that should be penalised.

The first is the waving of arms and remonstrations with officials at the breakdown – this is mostly the preserve of scrum halves but some outside halves are also quite good at it (prize for guessing the best!). The second it the high kick and chase where the runner deliberately runs in to the back of the defenders and falls to the ground.

The success of the amendment will depend on how keen officials are to use it.

 

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