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World Rugby: New rules to evolve the game further?

These are quite unprecedented times that we are living in. As I write this post on a Sunday afternoon, I would be typically either at a match or watching a high profile fixture on the telly.

The lack of rugby union action has meant that yours truly has been extremely quiet on the social media platforms. I have little interest in getting involved in trolling commentary at the best of times but given the global pandemic, I am focusing more on family, loved ones, community and scanning for potential sporting stories of interest.

World Rugby Presidential Battle Initiated?

You know that there is a World Rugby presidential battle looming when you see the glossy press release from HQ detailing some radical overhauls to the game.

At times, I do despair at World Rugby on their motives to amendments such as this; to perhaps appease certain rugby associations and look for more gate revenues than perhaps looking at the present rule book and tightening more disciplinary scenarios to improve officiating calls.

In this blog posting, we will look at the proposals and see if there is credence for these law amendments to the game. Feedback and comments are always appreciated. Thanks again for following this blog despite the lack of activity here in recent weeks but rest assured, more podcast material and posts will be coming in the coming weeks.

World Rugby looking to freshen up the sport

The World Rugby have looked to energize the game and provide more compelling viewing for the supporter and television networks who will look for more bang for their dollar, sterling or euro post this pandemic. Players representatives were consulted and the heavy representation from SH has driven several of these amendments. Let’s go through these one at a time:

The High Tackle Technique Warning

This was trialed at the recent U20 Championship. Several players were issued red cards early in the tournament. The emphatic nature of the amendment meant that players had zero recourse, they knew their game was up if they were deemed by the match officials of a high tackle.

The concussion rate reduction statistics would support the extension of this rule on a permanent basis but there were occasions where the ball carrier dipping low created uncertainty in the interpretation of this rule causing some angst among the match officiating crews during the tournament.

I do applaud the directive though. The fact that a player must reduce their tackle height to the player’s waist means that there should be an opportunity for a more cohesive offload game which everyone would love to see more of.

The ball carrier is tackled as safe as they can, interesting to see how this new tackle technique will impact hip joints long term. The defensive player’s technique must be on point, otherwise they are likely to be the player to come out worse from the tackle.

Player welfare is paramount. I would like to see the directive continue and be enhanced where there are edge case scenarios (ball carrier dips low, ball carrier stumbles just before tackled).

TMO and match officials have an unenviable job of interpreting these incidents so any support that can be provided to these key officials will be the key driver in this amendment being a complete success.

Reviews of sin bin yellow card incidents

An intriguing amendment. The ability of a team to review yellow cards for players sent to the sin bin so that those guilty of dangerous foul play are rightly awarded with a red card instead of a yellow.

How will the challenge be initiated? NFL head coach throws a flag. How will a head coach do the same in rugby union? Will there a limit to the number of reviews during the contest? If the challenge is reviewed and no further action required, will there be a consequence?

Flash points here are going to focus on an aerial play where a player is taken out in the air or the opponent fails in his duty of care to support the player on the way back down to the ground (breakdown or aerial). These are always murky scenarios. Depending on the officiating crew, there is a different slant to the rule.

There is a potential for the game to slow down due to multiple reviews of incidents during the game. The game itself is already struggling on the award of a try. The over reliance of the TMO to make a call when a try is as clear as day scored. The length of games even now is long.

This is a directive which definitely needs to be explored further but again it comes back to match official and rule maker interpretation of these key flash point incidents. NH and SH officials must sing off the same hymn sheet but it has not happened. Teams could look to use this directive to slow / kill match tempo.

50:22 Kick

If the team in possession kicks the ball from inside their own half indirectly into touch inside their opponents’ 22 or from inside their own 22 into their opponents’ half, they will throw in to the resultant line out.

This rule is based off the 40/20 kick rule in Rugby League code and has provided this code with an added attacking dimension to games. Check out the video below.

This amendment would revolutionize the game. Can you imagine if Carter, Wilkinson or O’Gara were still playing in their prime, they would destroy sides with this kicking rule amendment. How would teams in defense cope? Would they commit additional players to the back field to negate the threat thus given the attacking team more opportunity to create line breaks.

I would be in favor of this rule. It would evolve the back field skill set even further particularly half-backs and three quarters who could look to thread a ball down the channels while trying to commit their opposition to the defensive line. The cat and mouse tactics on this will be fascinating. It would be good to see the trial and see how it plays out particularly in preseason fixtures more so than competitive action.

Infringement limit count

The introduction of an infringement (penalty and free-kick) limit for teams. Once a team has reached the limit, a mandatory yellow card is given to the last offending player as a team sanction.

How many infringements until a team is sanctioned? You sometimes seen a match official looking hesitant to take action on a side if they are down a player and under the pump from a penalty count perspective. What happens in this situation needs to be clarified for this rule amendment to work?

Will the TMO be responsible for keeping tally on this infringement count? A lot of questions to clarify here. Will this go the way of basketball and foul count?

Drop Goal for Defensive side

The awarding of a goal-line drop-out to the defending team when an attacking player, who brings the ball into in-goal, is held up. This is one which I am not in favor of. You will see defensive teams trying to kill the ball at all costs on their try line.

The onus is now on the attacking side to ensure that they are not exposed in ball carries close in; perhaps a shift in attack approach to spread the ball out wide in comparison to a pack orientated approach where the pack takes their turn to inch the ball to the line with each passing carry.

The defensive drop goal again taken from the rugby league code. Yes, the ball gets back to the attacking side but I feel this rule change is very much in favor of the defensive team which is not what I would want to see happen. Rules should favor those who are creative and looking to attack with the ball. I am at odds with this rule amendment.