World Rugby has proposed dramatic changes to the basic laws of rugby. They would affect the way the game is played to an almost unimaginable extent.
These and similar measures aim to reduce contact time between player and player. They are mere optional law-trials; individual unions may adjust according to local circumstance. The RFU for example has set up its own review body.
The aim is to reduce the chances of spreading Covid-19. To be frank, the only way that could happen for sure is to postpone resumption until the pandemic is completely conquered.
Some of the main points: no scrum resets; scrum option removed from penalty and free-kick; mauls to be reduced in number of players allowed and in duration; speeding up rucks; banning the choke tackle and reinforcing the high tackle law; regulating pre-match preparations. Various hygiene recommendations include hand and face sanitising, ball-washing and change of clothing at half-time.
Every time new laws are introduced, it takes time and effort for players to adapt to them. This set of adjustments will test their ability to the utmost. Years of practice have inculcated all the different responses to the game situation. At the scrum, line-out, maul, ruck and the myriad different possibilities in open play, reactions are immediate. Coaches would like them to be instinctive.
So now the rolling maul is out. Some observers might view that as wholly positive.
Rucks must last no longer than 3 seconds. If they are imperfectly set, a free-kick to the opposition, But doesn’t that give the opposition an unfair advantage?
On top of digesting these ten amendments, players the world over have got to return to full fitness. They have all their their own personal methods of fighting the flab, but meeting up again as a unit of fifteen players will take a lot of getting used to.
The Game speeds up
Some three decades ago major law changes were introduced. Geoff Cooke, then England men’s head coach, calculated that they speeded the game up by 18%, How much faster will the new-look game become? Will it become too fast for its own good?
Up front there will be less need for an overpowering scrum; props won’t need to be the strongest in the kingdom. The game will come to mirror Sevens even more closely.
Will referees be able to keep up? They pride themselves on their fitness, but their skills will be put to a severe test, able to spot infringements under the new amendments alongside the 21 laws they already know by heart.
Will coaches be able to work out the likely shape of the new game and construct match-plans to take advantage? Team selection too may come into question. The slowest players will be at an immediate disadvantage. But rugby is supposed to be the game for all shapes and sizes.
How fortunate that every player has the time to sit back in a comfy chair and imbibe the law-changes at leisure before being allowed back into squad training.
The Greatest Irony
The greatest irony is that these suggestions are merely a method of getting the game going again, as it suffers crippling financial losses. As soon as the pandemic is finally conquered, we will presumably return to the status quo.
The trouble is, nobody knows when that will happen.
For the women’s game, it means RWC qualifiers may well be subject to the amendments, but will the RWC itself escape them?
Full World Rugby Press Release:
- World Rugby creates access to optional domestic law trials to further reduce COVID-19 risk
- Rugby united in its commitment and evidence-based approach to reducing overall COVID-19 transmission risk
- Optional and temporary COVID-19 law trials identified for domestic use following a detailed analysis of more than 60 matches
- Trials available for unions and competitions who require them based on the overall national prevalence of infection and additional government directives
- Trials could reduce scrum contact exposure by more than 30 per cent, reduce contact exposure at the ruck by up to 25 per cent and reduce maul contact exposure by at least 50 per cent
- Additional hygiene measures recommended, including ball sanitisation and no spitting
The World Rugby Executive Committee has approved 10 optional domestic law trials which are designed to provide national member unions with further COVID-19 transmission risk reduction measures if required.
Temporary law trials relating to the scrum, tackle, ruck and maul were approved along with a package of best-practice match hygiene measures. Each measure aims to reduce individual cumulative exposure to these contact activities, which are generally accepted as presenting the highest COVID-19 transmission risk.
Unions can apply to implement one or more of the temporary law amendments as domestic trials at elite or community levels on a needs-basis in line with the World Rugby return-to-play guidance published this month.
Recognising the fluid global COVID-19 environment, implementation by unions will be entirely based on their territory-specific requirements and respective government advice and directives.
The trials are informed by World Health Organisation (WHO) guidance, which determines high transmission risk as being 15 cumulative minutes within one metre of an infected person. The important considerations for rugby are:
- It is generally accepted that sustained close contact carries greater COVID-19 transmission risk than close proximity
- It is also generally accepted that close proximity in an outdoor environment carries lesser risk that an indoor environment
- As transmission risk during a game is related to both physical contact and proximity, further evidence-based risk reduction should be focused on contact activities
- While individual exposure to contact activities such as scrums, tackles, lineouts, rucks and mauls are generally within 15 cumulative minutes, further exposure reduction is possible
- Risk reduction can also be achieved via best-practice match management, including hygiene measures, screening, testing and implementation of World
- Rugby’s return-to-play guidance
- Sport should only return when safe and appropriate to do so in line with government advice
The law trials were considered by the specialist Law Review Group (LRG) comprising coaches, players, match officials, medics and law specialists, following a detailed analysis of 60 matches. The LRG decided against mandatory global application of the law trials given the wide variation in the presentation and management of COVID-19 across nations.
Comprehensive game analysis enabled an evidence-based approach to developing the temporary trials that limit scrum contact and time, lower the tackle height and speed up ball distribution from rucks and from mauls.
The trials provide limits to scrum options with no scrum resets, limits for players joining rucks and mauls, time to play the ball at the base of scrums and rucks reduced from five to three seconds and only one movement permitted for a maul. Such an approach could reduce contact exposure for tight five players by more than 30 per cent, reduce exposure at the ruck by up to 25 per cent and reduce maul contact exposure by 50 per cent.
World Rugby Chairman Sir Bill Beaumont said: “World Rugby is committed to evidence-based injury and infection preventative measures and we are fortunate to have such strong medical and research structures that inform our approach.
“The health and wellbeing of the rugby family is paramount. We have extensively evaluated the perceived risk areas within the game in partnership with our unions. This has enabled an evidence-based assessment of risk areas and playing positions, which led us to develop optional temporary law amendments, complementing the extensive return-to-play guidance we published earlier this month.
“Unions can apply to implement one or more of these amendments on a domestic basis according to the respective government directives relating to COVID-19. I would like to thank everyone for their full commitment to this process which will aid safe return to rugby activities at all levels.”
In addition to the on-field law and officiating interventions, a number of non-law hygiene measures are recommended for playing and training in line with WHO and World Rugby guidance:
- Mandatory hand and face sanitisation pre- and post-match
- Regular ball sanitisation before, during and after matches
- Single user water bottles/hydration
- Changing of jerseys, shorts and headgear at half-time where possible
- Prevention of huddles and celebrations involving contact
- Prevention of spitting and nose clearance
Recommended training measures
- Forwards units: high risk transmission activity such as an eight-person scrum should be undertaken against machine to limit exposure, packs should be trained separately
- Scrum and maul practice should take place at the end of a training session, preferably a day before a ‘down day’ to allow 24-48 hours before collective training
- High transmission risk training should be avoided within 48 hours of a game