World Rugby have been busy bees this year. Usually there will be a couple of amendments to the laws of the game ahead of the next season, but for teams in the Northern Hemisphere, there are a whole lot of changes all coming together. Some of these you may already be familiar with as some have been trialled in the Southern Hemisphere since January (the Lions Tour went by these laws) but you may not have heard of the newer ones as they will only take effect below the equator at the start of the new year – though some of these were used during the recent U20s World Championship in Georgia.
Many of these law amendments are aimed to make the game simpler for fans, players and officials alike, but in some cases have they gone too far? Below are the law amendments as described on a Powerpoint presentation available from the World Rugby website, along with my thought on these amendments:
Definition – Possession – This happens when a player carrying the ball (or attempting to bring it under control) or the team has the ball in its control; for example the ball in one half of a scrum or ruck is in that team’s possession
I have no idea what the wording was before this amendment as this just seems like common sense to me!
Law 3.6 Number of Players – The Team – Uncontested scrums as a result of sending off, temporary suspension or injury must be played with 8 players per side
This seems fair to me. How often have we seen a dominant scrum negated due to uncontested scrums, giving less disadvantage to the team that should theoretically be getting punished for a yellow card. While the advantage in the scrum is still lost, this means that there should be an overlap for the attacking team’s backs to exploit.
Law 5.7(e) Time – If a penalty is kicked into touch after time has elapsed without touching another player, the referee allows the throw-in to be taken and play continues until the next time the ball becomes dead. To end the half, the ball must be tapped before the kick to touch
Personally, I love this amendment to the law as it gives a team chasing the game the choice of kicking a penalty to touch beyond 80 minutes to gain territory rather than having to run the ball the length of the pitch. In the past we have often seen teams defending a narrow lead willing to give away penalties deep in the opposition half as their opponents are forced to run the ball out, but now they will have to be more careful.
Players will have to be careful in the opening weeks of the season that they remember to tap the ball before kicking the ball out to finish the game – Conor Murray was caught out on the Lions tour this summer – but I imagine that we will only see this mistake a few times at most.
Law 8.1(a) Advantage – When there are multiple penalty infringements by the same team, the referee may allow the captain of the non-offending team to choose the most advantageous of the penalty marks
Much like the rule above, this is something I like as it forces teams to be more careful with their discipline whilst also allowing the team who have been impeded the option of which penalty to take, allowing them to better play to their strengths and the needs in that game (scrum, line-out, kick to touch). This may also encourage teams to use the advantage more, as even if they don’t score during it, they may win a more advantageous penalty.
Law 9.A.1 Method of Scoring – penalty Try. If a player would probably have scored a try but for foul play by an opponent, a penalty try is awarded. No conversion is attempted. Value: 7 points
Now this rule has come in, I’m surprised that it hasn’t been done sooner. Not only will this speed up the game, but it also removes the chance of an offending team being let off 2 points by a kicker slipping.
Law 15.4(c) Amended Tackle – The player must get up before playing the ball and then can only play from their side of the tackle gate
I can understand why this has been amended as often it could be difficult for both the tackler to determine if he could play the ball or if the ruck had already formed. Now it is clear that a player must come through the gate, there is no excuse for a player getting this wrong and will hopefully reduce what could often look to be somewhat of a grey area.
Law 16: Amended Ruck Law – A ruck commences when at least one player is on their feet and over the ball which is on the ground (tackled player, tackler). At this point the offside line is created. A player on their feet may use their hands to pick up the ball as long as this is immediate. As soon as an opposition player arrives no hands can be used
I can understand why this has been changed as Italy’s no-ruck tactics against England caught out so many players and fans who were unaware of the law. However, I am not a fan of this at all as it feels like a reaction to Italy’s performance – and England’s inability to deal with it! While I am all for rugby being made easier to understand, the rule was actually quite clear-cut and it was a way that players could gain an advantage by knowing the laws and taking advantage of them.
What also interests me here is the wording that no hands can be used once an opposition player arrives. As it stands I don’t know if this means that they are allowed to keep hold of the ball if they already have hands on the ball, or if they must release the moment there is opposition.
Law 16.4: Other Ruck Offences – A player must not kick the ball out of a ruck. Sanction: Penalty kick. The player can only hook it in a backwards motion
This makes sense to me as this is effectively the same rule that we have in scrums. More importantly, this will improve player safety in the rucks. We have had instances in the past where players have suffered injuries after being caught by a player trying to kick the ball out, so hopefully we will see less incidents during games.
Law 18 Definition Mark – To make a mark a player must have one or both feet on or behind that player’s 22-metre line and catch a ball that has reached the plane of the 22-metre line
Law 19 Touch Definition – If the ball has passed the plane of touch when it is caught, then the catcher is not deemed to have taken the ball into touch. If the ball has not passed the plane of touch when it is caught or picked up, then the catcher is deemed to have taken the ball into touch, regardless of whether the ball was in motion or stationary. If a player jumps and knocks the ball back into the playing area (of if that player catches the ball and throws is back into the playing area) before landing in touch or touch-in-goal, play continues regardless of whether the ball reaches the plane of touch
Law 19.1(c) – No Gain in Ground – If a player, with one or both feet on or behind the 22-metre line, picks up the ball, which was outside the 22, or catches the ball in front of the 22-metre line and kicks it directly to touch from within the 22, then that player has taken the ball back inside the 2, so there is no gain in ground
Again these amendments make sense as they simplify things to ensure that the ball must cross the plane of the lines on the pitch under its own momentum. I quite liked players using their spacial awareness to catch a ball infield but with a foot already in touch to earn a line-out in good position, but this will make things so much easier for officials trying to catch up with play and with fans who are newer to the game.
Law 20.5 Throwing the ball into the scrum – No signal from referee. The scrum must be stable and there must be no delay once the ball has been presented to the scrum
Law 20.6(d) How the scrum-half throws in the ball – The scrum-half must throw the ball in straight, but is allowed to align their shoulder on the middle line of the scrum, therefore allowing them to stand a shoulder width towards their side of the middle line
Law 20 Striking after the throw-in – Once the ball touches the ground in the tunnel, any frontrow player may use either foot to try to win possession of the ball. One player from the team who put the ball in must strike for the ball. Sanction: Free-kick
Law 20.9(b) handling in the scrum – exception – allow the number 8 to pick the ball from the feet of the second-rows
Yet again, more changes to the scrum! However these changes I feel could have a positive impact. The ruling that there must be no delay with the feed will mean that the engagement of the front rows is no unnecessarily prolonged, which will also be helped by allowing any member of the front row to hook whilst penalizing a team for not attempting to hook when putting the ball in. There’s nothing I hate more at the scrum than both teams pushing against each other but not making any ground while the ball sits untouched in the tunnel, only or the scrum to eventually collapse as someone gives out – and I played prop so I can’t imagine how bad it is for other fans!
I also really like the number 8 being allowed to pick the ball up from within the scrum as it allows us to get on with play even if the scrum is going backwards at an alarming rate. Hopefully these rules lead to more rugby and less reset scrums/penalties.
Initially I didn’t like the new alignment of the scrum half when I first heard about it during the U20s World Championship, however the more I think about it, the more I have changed my view. The important thing here is that crooked feeds MUST be penalised, as this should be a way of giving the team putting in an advantage, whilst also making the scrum a fair contest.
Law 22.9(b) Defending Player in In-goal – If a player with one or both feet on or behind the goal line picks up the ball from within the field of play, or catches the ball in front of the goal line, that player has taken possession of the ball in the field of play
Law 22.9(d) Defending Player in In-goal – If a player with one or both feet on or behind the dead ball line picks up or catches a ball that has not reached the dead ball line, or touch-in-goal line, that player is deemed to have made the ball dead
These are basically an extension to the amendments in Laws 18 and 19 above, so I won’t bore you by saying the same thing again.
On the whole I am happy with these amendments, with the exception of what defines a ruck but I would be interested to hear your view on these changes. Do you think these amendments are the right way to go or are we simplifying the game too much? Are there any other laws you would like to see amended? Let me know in the comments or tweet me @PS_tetheridge