Ahead of the upcoming Rugby World Cup, the sports governing body, World Rugby, has moved to clarify certain aspect of the rules governing the game
World Rugby has moved to clarify certain aspects of the laws relating to the sport, and has asked officials to become stricter in their application, before Autumn’s World Cup. In a statement World Rugby said, they had “considered a number of areas of the game where it had been agreed that law amendments were not required, but that current law was to be enforced more stringently by referees, assistant referees and television match officials. The areas identified for specific mention were with the laws dealing with foul play (Law 10), the scrum (Law 20) and the maul (Law 17).”
Given the various controversies surrounding the inconsistent implementation of Law 10, dealing with foul play, this move is welcomed. World Rugby’s Law Representation Group, has insisted that “Every time the head or the neck is deliberately grabbed or choked, the offending player runs the risk of receiving a yellow or red card”. The harsh repercussions should act as a deterrent against players resorting to the clothesline styled high tackles, such as that inflicted on Rob Kearney below.
World Rugby has also told referees that “cleanouts around the neck must be penalised”. While cleaning out rucks can be a messy affair, the sight of players being wrestled out of the contest by their necks came to prominence during Leinster’s European Rugby Champions Cup Semi Final against Toulon. During which Jocelino Suta dangerously removed Richardt Strauss from a ruck by his neck.
Tackling in the air is another area in which World Rugby is aiming to bring some clarity. Contesting the high ball is very much part of the game, but referees interpretations of the rules relating to it have been inconsistent.
Referees have now been told that a fair challenge exists when, “both players [are] in a realistic position to catch the ball. Even if the player(s) land(s) dangerously”. A penalty is to be awarded if there is a “Fair challenge with wrong timing” but crucially “no pulling down”.
A yellow card will be sanctioned, where “there is no contest and the player is pulled down landing on his back or side”. Finally a red card is warranted when “there is no contest and the player lands on his head, neck or shoulder”.
Despite these amendments, there remains a grey area. Indeed, Jared Payne’s challenge on Alex Goode, in the 2014 Heineken Cup Quarter Final may be punished by the later two sanctions, depending on the referees interpretation.
To the delight of Rugby fans around the world, referees have been instructed to tackle crooked scrum feeds. While many of the rules surrounding scrummaging have been modified in recent years, in order to stimulate a contest, scrum halves have simultaneously been feeding the ball, ensuring none takes place.
With the new clarifications, scrum halves must now feed a straight ball, otherwise run the risk of conceding a free kick. The governing body has also announced, that if a scrum does become stationary when the ball is at the numbers eights feet, the referee will call ‘use it.’ Failure to do so will result in a scrum to the opposition. These changes will hopefully do away with the sights such as the one below.
In a move that could affect Ireland in particular, World Rugby has told referees to be stricter in their implementation of the laws involving the establishment of a maul. When a maul is initially created, players will have to ensure they join from behind the hind-most foot of the ball carrier. Although players may still move alongside the ball carrier after joining the maul. If a supporting player joins from in front or alongside the ball carrier, it will be deemed off side.
It has also been decreed that the ripper, the player who takes the ball from the initial carrier in a maul, must remain attached to the ball carrier, in order to avoid accidental offside. This variation has been introduced so as not to allow the ripper to make their way to the back of a maul. Instead the ball must now be transferred back.
For example, in the clip below, Devon Toner wins possession in the line out and transfers the ball to Ireland’s number seven, Chris Henry, Henry then makes his way to the back of the maul, allowing Sean Cronin to move ahead of him. Such a method would now result in a free kick for Wales. Henry must now remain attached to Toner and transfer the ball to the players behind him.
While the changes in relation to dangerous play are to be welcomed, the maul will need more policing. It also remains to be seen if referees will clamp down on something scrum halves have gotten away with since the creation of the sport.
Alan Drumm, Pundit Arena