Every few years the great minds of rugby get together and try to fool around with the laws.
Almost exclusively, the changes are tested to see if they make the game more fun to watch, or make it safer to play.
Here at RUGBYMag.com we decided to have a quick look at what’s being tested and give our own thoughts. We wanted to look at whether the variations make the game more fun to watch, more fun to play, safer to play, or easier to referee. We also look at the variations to see if they really only address an issue at one level of the game (pro, or U19, for example).
Number of subs. The IRB is testing whether it’s a good idea to have eight subs in 15s games. This makes all kinds of sense for us.
In the last several years, the makeup of the subs bench at the professional and international level has moved from three or four forwards and three or four backs, to five forwards, one scrumhalf, and one guy who needs to play the rest of the back positions.
This is because the stress of playing front row is so much that coaches want more subs for the front row. So give them another slot! And at the same time, at lower levels it doesn’t hurt to have an extra space for a sub.
Our Verdict: Should be adopted as it helps all teams.
Subs in 7s. Also being trialed is allowing 7s teams to use all five of their named subs in a game. This has turned out to be a very logical step. In the IRB World Series, teams have found out the same thing that teams at the lowest level have learned – it means more playing time for more players. If you are in a blowout, you can sub on everyone and give them time.
Our Verdict: Should be adopted as it increases participation by all players.
Clothing. GPS monitors will be allowed to be worn, basically so coaches and those studying the game can track how far a player runs and where he goes in a game. Yeah, fine.
Female players can wear tights. Plenty of players wear tights in games, especially when they play in snow. But women often want to wear tights when playing for reasons of modestly or religion. There is no reason to prevent them from doing so.
Boots. A new configuration of boot is being tested that appears to have a single clear at the toe. If this gets approved, you might see an effect in the USA, where young players can find lower-cost boot options at their local sporting good store.
Our Verdict: GPS fine, tight for women, great, and we don’t know about the new boots – seeing as “rucking” (the act of loosening the ball by scraping a player with the boots) is now frowned upon, the worry about damage from cleats is lessened, so it’s probably fine.
Trial #3: TMOs
Expanding the types of plays a Television Match Official looks at in major games makes a lot of sense. He’s got the video, he can check out suspected foul play.
This has no bearing on the grass roots level.
Our Verdict: Adopt
Trial #4: Conversions
The IRB is looking to extend the time allowed for conversions from 60 seconds to 90 seconds. Does this make the game more fun? No. But it does prevent kickers, especially at the lower levels, from having to desperately chase down the ball in order to get the kick off in time.
Our Verdict: Probably fine.
Trial #5: Knock-ons and forwards passes.
If a ball is knocked forward or passed forward and goes into touch, the non-offending team can opt for the lineout, and can even take a quick lineout. I like this because it makes the game more fun to watch. Scrum purists would say it de-emphasizes the scrum, and that’s true, but it’s a minor little change that could lead to more exciting play.
Our Verdict: Makes the game move more smoothly, so adopt.
Trial #6: The Ruck
Frustrated with teams standing there forever with the ball at the base of a ruck, and not playing that ball, the IRB is looking into a rule whereby the ref says “use it” and the team with the ball has five seconds to use the ball or there’s a scrum.
This is a rule with its heart in the right place, but has been poorly executed.
First. The penalty for not using it is a scrum to the other team. Great, in the interests of making the game move more quickly, we penalize the slowpokes by having them stand around for five minutes trying to get the scrum right. The penalty for wasting time should be a free kick.
Second. Referees should not be in the business of telling players how to play rugby. Telling them when they have five seconds to do something in the middle of play gives refs just one more thing they have to do. And it also gives the players an out. Now a scrumhalf can waste time all he wants as long as the ref doesn’t say anything.
“You didn’t say ‘use it’”
Third. There are already laws on the books that address this. Players aren’t supposed to waste time, and they’re not supposed to entice the defense offside when a ruck occurs.
So … instead, instruct refs to remind teams early, and perhaps during the game, to get moving with the ball, and if they are slow, penalize. I am a little wary of this solution simply because it opens up the opportunity for referees to show so much interpretation that a 2nd Tier nation (let’s call it the USA) might get penalized after one incident of marginally slow service, while their opposition (let’s call them England) could delay and delay forever and get no penalty.
Our Verdict: Adopt with adjustments. We can live with the ref having to police this more, and a scrum isn’t the right result – should be a free kick.
Trial #7: The Lineout
There’s a minor change with how quick lineouts will be taken. The key aspect, to us, is that if a ball is kicked out on the full, then the throw-in can be taken anywhere up to where the kicker kicked the ball, which wasn’t the case before.
Our Verdict: Makes sense to us.
Trial #8: Scrum Cadence
Yes, saying “Pause” was stupid. The scrum cadence still stinks, and in fact continues to cause problems for scrums at all levels. Scrums are not safer because the engagement is carefully times by the ref. In fact, the hit at the beginning of the scrum has become the key aspect of this part of play, leading to an emphasis on size, not skill, and creating a greater potential for injury.
Our Verdict: Whatever …
Trial #9: Penalty at a Lineout
If there’s a penalty or free kick from a lineout, the non-offending team can opt for a new lineout. This makes lots of sense, especially seeing as teams often will just kick to touch anyway. This will save time.
Our Verdict: Mostly a high-level issue, but fine.