Interesting news came out of Paris late last month as a three-day Player Welfare symposium suggested 8 change proposals to be put forward to the Law Review Group next month. World Rugby regularly make amendments to the laws with a view to improving player safety and the quality of the game itself, but this close to the World Cup there will be no changes brought in ahead of the tournament.
There is understandably a need for change: as money has come into rugby, players have got bigger and fitter, which has led to more and larger collisions. The danger of head injuries has become clearer to everyone, while a number of other players have suffered serious injuries at the breakdown.
But are these proposed changes the right way to go? I’ve taken a look at some of the suggested changes to give my thoughts on the idea.
Probably the most widely publicised of the suggestions, this is a variation of the 40-20 kick from rugby league. The suggestion is that if a team kicks the ball from within their own half and bounces it into touch inside the opposition 22, then the throw-in at the lineout would belong to the kicking team rather than the opposition.
I can understand the reasoning behind this, as it will likely lead to more players covering in the backfield to deal with the potential kick, which will lead to more gaps in the defensive line, reducing collisions and promoting more attacking rugby. However I am not a fan of this change as the kicking team already has an advantage at the lineout due to the pressure of playing rugby in your own 22, so they will often be fielding a kick within a couple of phases anyway. With the way the lineout and maul are currently refereed to benefit the team throwing in, bringing in this law would make it far too easy for teams to kick into the 22 and then maul it over. Even as a former front row who can enjoy a forwards battle, I’d soon begin to find that boring!
The suggestion here is that when a player is yellow carded, the citing commissioner will review the incident during the 10-minute sin-bin period and would be able to upgrade the sanction to a red card.
We all want to see the right decisions made on the pitch and a post-match ban is no help to a team who should have played with a numerical advantage for half the game, so I generally like the suggestion. That said, I hope that the referees will still continue to call the red cards if they see them, rather than play it safe by giving a yellow card and allowing the citing commissioner to make the big decision.
It will also be important to find a way for this to be clear to fans watching both in the stadium and at home, which has been one of the main criticisms of VAR in football so far.
A number of the prospective law changes (unsurprisingly) centre around the tackle.
One is to expand the ‘high tackle warning system’ from last year’s World Rugby U20 Championship into another elite competition. This system gave players a post-match warning following any challenges that result in a HIA or contact with the head of either player if the tackler was found to be upright (not bent at the waist) when tackling. Each warning is classed as a strike and 2 strikes in the tournament would lead to a 1-match ban. Early tests in the U20 Championship saw concussion incidents reduced by 50% so I would be very interested to see this tested further. If brought in to a league, I will be interested to see if the 2-strikes rule remains or if further strikes are required due to a longer format. Personally, I think sticking with 2 strikes will be a good deterrent without being too harsh, as no players reached the 2-strike mark in the U20 Championship.
2 others that are going to be trialled by amateur clubs in France next season are lowering the height of the tackle to the waist and also eliminating 2-man tackles. I am all for eliminating the choke tackle and reducing the tackle height, but to lower it all the way to the waist seems to be a drastic change and will need a big shift from players. It will lead to more offloads and potentially a more exciting game but at this moment I need to see this in action to be won around to such a drastic change.
I am firmly against outlawing the double tackle, though. I understand that there is a risk of players clashing heads when both tackling the same player, but this is generally down to poor communication as players are taught to tackle 1 high and 1 low. While single-man tackles only will again increase the chance of offloads and better attacking play, it could also make things hard for defenders if an attacker targets the space between them and they are hesitant to risk giving away a penalty for both making a tackle. Again, though, seeing this in action could change my mind.
The last potential change I will mention is to ban the use of hands in the ruck, leading to defenders having to win the ball back by driving over the ball.
I’m not a fan of this at all. The jackal has become such a great part of the sport, but it is seen as bad for player safety due to the number of injuries, especially to the back and neck. I would counter that this would not be an issue if the laws were applied correctly as we consistently see jackals clearly off their feet but not being penalised – in fact often praised by commentators for such a great jackal – and players going off their feet to clear them out. Doing this and banning the crocodile/judo roll (as former England and Fiji 7s coach Ben Ryan has spent years campaigning for, as it leads to a number of serious knee injuries) will make the breakdown a much safer place without making and serious changes.
What do you think of these potential changes? Are there any changes you would like to see made to the laws?