World Rugby, the international governing body for rugby, is once again tweaking the laws of the game. The goal is always, of course, to ‘improve’ the game and we take a look at the amendments that will be implemented this year.
By Kimber Rozier CSCS, Pn1 – 2017 brings a new year and of course new World Rugby Laws. As a player, I try to spend most of my life avoiding the whistle. In order to do so, it’s important to understand the changes to the laws, and how they’ll affect game play.
While these amendments were trialed initially in a few select competitions last year, the global and international trials start January 1, 2017 for the southern hemisphere and again on August 1, 2017 in the northern hemisphere.
That means the 2017 British and Irish Lions tour, June internationals, and Women’s World Cup will be played under the global law trials. In addition, a few sevens-specific law changes are being trialed in this year’s World Series.
First up – the laws that will have the most impact on the way the game is played.
Law 8 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.
Reasoning: To discourage repeat offending when advantage is already being played and to reward teams against whom repeat offending has taken place.
I’m definitely in favor of this one. When advantage is being played, defenses know they’re on their heels. And to overcome it, teams have killed advantage by immediately infringing again when there was a scoring opportunity. All it takes is a deliberate knock on or side entry and play stops. Which used to mean traveling all the way back to the first infringement. But now, advantage is played and maybe you try to move more centrally – giving your kicker a shot at goal in the event of a subsequent penalty.
In an advantage situation, what do you have to lose? This amendment promotes the exciting, risk-taking moves that often happen during advantage. And who doesn’t want to see a team try to attack out of their own 22?
I could go on for ages detailing each different trial set for 2017. In short, it looks as if World Rugby are focusing on two things: 1) player welfare and 2) keeping the ball in play effectively. There are quite a few more trials, but I believe these four are most likely to affect the way the game is played. What do you think?
Finals should last no longer than seven minutes each half (rationale is player welfare) – the official evidence shows that a disproportionate number of injuries take place in the latter half of finals, and that more injuries occur in 20-minute finals compared to regular 14-minute games.
Unofficial evidence (from me) says that 20 minute finals after two full days of sevens are beyond exhausting. Sure, there’s the potential to score more points, but adding what amounts to almost another half changes the game entirely.
This is, in my biased opinion, the best law change yet. Sevens usually requires long, drawn out days of repeated fitness tests and powerful, full speed collisions. And injuries definitely increase due to exhaustion – whether they’re from contact or overuse.
Additionally, it’s just kind of always been weird that the final is the only game of the entire tournament to have six extra minutes. It’s basically mandatory overtime. Kudos to World Rugby for evening the playing field and limiting injury risk here.
Law 5 Time
Add to 5.7(e) 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.
Reasoning: To discourage teams from infringing in the dying moments of the game.
I’m confused how this discourages teams from infringing. If my team is losing, and we commit a penalty, the other team gets the ball and can kick to touch to end the game. Why would I want to commit a penalty?
On the other hand, if I’m winning, the other team still gets the decision about what to do from a penalty. The can scrum down, kick for points, or just play rather than try to kick to touch. Which could give them an opportunity to score. Sure, it’s possible they aren’t aware they are losing and times up and will kick it out, but I still don’t see how this law discourages infringements.
Penalties tend to happen because players are tired at the end of the game and making poor decisions. So I think this will almost have the opposite effect. If I were a coach of a team with a great defensive lineout, I might encourage my team to commit a penalty and hope they kick to touch. Then we can win the ball back.
If, after the first penalty to touch, another penalty happens, and the team chooses to kick to touch, does the game continue? What about advantage? Instead of playing advantage once time has expired, will referees be encouraged to immediately call the penalty? Will captains start asking for the penalty so they can gain field position, settle down and attack from a lineout?
Law 3 Number of Players – The Team
3.6 (Uncontested Scrums) – Add (h) Uncontested scrums as a result of a sending off, temporary suspension or injury must be played with eight players per side.
Reasoning: To discourage teams from going to uncontested scrums.
This has the potential (as a back dreaming of being a forward) to be hilarious. Anyone who watched poor Johnny May’s attempt to flank against Argentina has to feel for the guy, and watch out for this rule.
The people I feel will be most affected by this rule are domestic youth and club matches, who I’ve often seen go to uncontested scrums for safety purposes due to lack of experience. I understand that, in the event there are no more front row subs, and one of the front row gets sent off, uncontested scrums should be called for. However, it’s not like teams are overly eager to get to uncontested scrums.
I do, however, agree that the infringing team deserves to feel at some disadvantage. And in a scrum with no contest, 7 v 8 doesn’t matter. Yet, removing a player from the backline puts a huge amount of stress on the backs to cover the field. As a sevens-loving back, I’d dream for that attack.