The Evolution of Rugby: A look at the new law changes

As the Summer Tours come to an end and Premiership players begin preseason training, it’s a time of change. Promotion, relegation, players leaving, new arrivals and coaching changes will mean all teams are coming together with some degree of uncertainty as to what the coming season will hold. To add to this, players and coaches must now adapt to a number of law changes made by World Rugby.

A number of these new laws have already been used in the southern hemisphere since the turn of the year, but 7 of these changes officially came into effect on July 1st, with another law change relating to the maul starting a month earlier but not being counted during the internationals.

Below is a quick recap of July’s law changes, and my thoughts on each of the changes:

  • The replacement of a player injured following foul play does not count as one of the allotted number of replacements available to that team. Hopefully this rule won’t need to be used often, but it is a very sensible one. After an act of foul play the victims should be at an advantage. A penalty allows a chance of points/territory and if the foul play was severe enough, there should then be a numerical advantage. However under the old law, if all substitutions had already been made then the team that had been fouled would have been disadvantaged themselves by having to play a man down. Let’s just hope this doesn’t lead to any late substitutions of supposedly injured players in the dying minutes, we don’t need another Bloodgate.
  • Advantage may be played following a scrum collapse, if there is no risk to player safety. Yes! Yes! Yes! As someone who used to play in the front row, I should love watching a good scrum. I don’t. Too often teams look to get scrum dominance in order to win a penalty rather than to put the backs on the front foot. There have been too many reset scrums, which slow the game down and bore even the most die-hard fans. If the ball can come out, let it come and play on. If nothing comes of it, you still have the penalty advantage .
  • Play acting or “simulation” is specifically outlawed in the game in a move that formalizes resistance to a practice that has been creeping into the game in recent years. Any player who dives or feigns injury in an effort to influence the match officials will be liable for sanction. Possibly my favourite of the law changes. Rugby is a sport that prides itself on respect and honesty. Football has become a joke in recent years with the amount of simulation, so it’s good to see it being stamped out in rugby before it becomes more widespread. Diving or feigning injury is blatant CHEATING, there is no other word for it and no way to defend it. It’s just a shame that this law has had to be included and that players could not be honest in the first place.
  • 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. Thank goodness for this. Too much game-time is already wasted preparing for a scrum that will likely never even be completed without the ref blowing their whistle. The quicker we can get the scrum started, the quicker we can get the ball back in open play. Be that as it may, I’m sure I’ll be cursing this law next time I’m having to rush to get to a scrum and realising how unfit I am!
  • 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. It shows how much of an issue the scrum is in the modern game that 5 of July’s 7 law changes are related to this one aspect of the game.As mentioned above, we just want the ball to get in and out of the scrum as quickly as possible, so anything to deter practices like crabbing and encourage a team to scrummage straight can only be a good thing.
  • The scrum-half of the team not in possession at a scrum may not move into the space between the flanker and number eight. I’m interested to see how the game changes as a result of this law change. Too often we’ve seen a number eight being tackled by the opposition scrum-half the moment he even puts even a finger on the ball. This should help encourage positive rugby following a scrum as it allows the number eight a chance to pick up cleanly and get some momentum before being tackled, improving the chances of the attacking team getting front foot ball. It also means that there is more importance on the defensive flankers quickly breaking off the scrum to tackle the number eight, otherwise we’re going to see a number of half-backs becoming human speed-bumps this season.
  • 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. Nothing much more to say here than what I’ve already said on some of the earlier law changes. This is all about encouraging positive rugby rather than looking for the penalty. Now they just need to convince hookers to hook and ensure scrum-halves feed the ball straight and we may be able to enjoy the scrums again.

As of June, there was also an amendment to the laws governing the maul:

  • Upon the formation of a maul, the player in possession of the ball cannot ‘swim’ to the back of the engagement. Instead, the ball must be transferred ‘hand to hand’ to the back of the maul by the ripper, who must remain in contact with the initial receiver at all times. In recent years, the maul has been such a potent attacking weapon, once going it’s been all but impossible to stop legally. This law change should cause the attacking team to take more care getting the ball to the back and ensure players remain properly bound. Now if only the officials ensure that players entering the maul come in through the back, I’m sick of seeing the hooker throw in at the line-out and get away with blatantly entering the maul right near the front of their team.


As always, these are my personal views. I’m sure I don’t speak for all rugby fans, so would love to hear your opinions. What do you think of the new law changes? Is there anything else you would change? I’d love to hear your views.

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