World Rugby will trial a number of law variations in 2016.
In a move that will mimic the NRL, New Zealand’s national provincial championship, the re branded Mitre 10 Cup, will trial a number of law variations, including the deployment of two referees.
Stuff.co.nz have reported that the second referee will ‘mainly be used to rule on a new offside line that will be moved one metre back from a redefined ruck, where the confusing “gate” will be ditched and the rights of the tackler reduced’.
While another official will add an extra set of eyes, employing them to focus on the offside line may seem a waste. Indeed such role could undermine the position of the assistants, relegating them to simply judging the flight of the ball. Nevertheless, a second referee could be used to great effect in policing the blind side of scrums, something that linesmen fail to do at times.
Although another match official could change the aesthetics of the game, moving the offside line a meter back from the ruck would move see union take another step toward league. Indeed changes to the breakdown could see it made more difficult for defending teams to turnover possession.
Under the laws being trialled, the term ‘ruck’ will be replaced by ‘breakdown’ and will be formed when just one attacking player was over the ball. This differs from the current definition, where a ruck is formed when one player from each team are on their feet, in physical contact, over the ball.
Once a breakdown is formed, no player from either side will be able to gain possession using their hands. However, by doing away with the ‘gate’, players would be able to enter the breakdown from any angle, as long as they have come from an onside position.
Although this will mean that players can come in from the side, they will only be able to turnover possession with their hands before an attacking player arrives over the ball. While this will suit the likes David Pocock, who has the ability to squat over the ball quickly, most sides will prefer to fan out across the pitch rather than compete at the breakdown in numbers, as is the hope of law makers.
One change that would be welcome is in the area of the tacklers rights. Currently a tackler must show a quick release before attempting to turnover possession. Indeed the likes of Richie McCaw and Steffon Armitage made an art form of tackling, showing a slight release and jackling for possession.
Indeed debate exists as to what constitutes a quick release. Previously players illustrated that they released by clapping or throwing their hands in the air, however some referees interpreted the slightest release as the moment when tacklers could re-engage.
Under the trialled laws, tacklers will have to roll away, return to an onside position one meter behind the ruck, and only then return to the breakdown.
While there is potential in some of these variations, by forcing a team back one meter from the breakdown and making it more difficult to turnover possession, they have the potential to further impose rugby league style defences on union, rather than create space for attacking rugby.
Alan Drumm, Pundit Arena