World Rugby introduces optional law trials amid pandemic

Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

World Rugby have released a set of optional laws aimed at reducing the risk of coronavirus when rugby gets back up and running.

Australia and New Zealand will be the first countries to have competitions going again, from July 13 and July 3, respectively.

One of the most-discussed proposals has been the abolition of the scrum reset, instead awarding an automatic free kick against the offending team.

Another is the introduction of an orange card, allowing referees to send players off for a high tackle but giving the TMO time to review the incident while they are in the bin.

If the incident is deemed a red card after 15 minutes on the bench, then they player remains off, but if not, they can return back to play.

All of the proposed trials are optional for national unions and Rugby Australia has not yet declared whether they will take up any of the laws.

Rugby Australia is also looking at law changes for its domestic competition to speed the game up, including introducing an official shot clock for scrums.

In a statement, World Rugby said it believed the measures could reduce contact risk for tight five players by more than 30 per cent, reduce ruck exposure by 25 per cent and reduce maul contact exposure by 50 per cent.

World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont said any of the trials was entirely optional for unions.

“The health and wellbeing of the rugby family is paramount. We have extensively evaluated the perceived risk areas within the game in partnership with our unions," he said.

"This has enabled an evidence-based assessment of risk areas and playing positions, which led us to develop optional temporary law amendments, complementing the extensive return-to-play guidance we published earlier this month.

"Unions can apply to implement one or more of these amendments on a domestic basis according to the respective government directives relating to COVID-19. I would like to thank everyone for their full commitment to this process which will aid safe return to rugby activities at all levels.”


1. Remove reset scrum when no infringement occurs (e.g. collapse)

Sanction: Free kick to team who put the ball into the original scrum -

Rationale: Average 3.5 reset scrums per match – 30 per cent transmission risk reduction

2. Hookers must use a ‘brake foot’ to aid scrum stability

Sanction: Free kick

Rationale:  Increase stability on engagement to reduce scrum resets

3. No scrum option for a penalty or free kick

Rationale - 1.3 scrum penalties per match – two minutes reduction of close-proximity playing time

4. Goal line drop out when an attacker is held up in-goal or knocks on in-goal

Rationale 0.8 scrum fives per match - two minutes reduction of close-proximity playing time

5. Reinforce High Tackle Sanction Framework,  Introduction of Orange Card for Red Card high tackle offence

Sanction - Offending player removed and TMO/ Citing/ Hawkeye review incident. If deemed a Red Card offence, the player does not return, if Yellow Card or Penalty only, the player returns after 15 mins

Rationale - Change behaviour from higher-transmission risk upright tackles to lower-transmission risk lower tackles

6. Remove choke tackle and reward for defensive team

Sanction -  Choke tackle called as a tackle and teams must then present the ball and play

Rationale - 0.7 choke tackles per match of which 70 per cent become unplayable and 25 upright tackles per match.

Removal will ensure fewer players are involved in higher transmission risk activities.

7. Ruck “use it” duration time from 5 to 3 seconds

Sanction: Free kick

Rationale: 14 “use it” calls per match. Reduction of time permitted will reduce close-proximity contact time at the tackle/ruck by up to 25 per cent

8. No scrum for failure to “Use it” at scrum, ruck, or maul

Sanction: Free kick to non-offending team

Rationale: While rare, players will be encouraged to use the ball quicker, reducing close-proximity at base of the scrum

9. No one can join a maul if not in at the start

Sanction: Free kick

Rationale: 8.2 lineout mauls per match and 60 per cent of lineout mauls have all eight forwards involved. Capping the number who can join, caps the proximity risk

10. Only one forward movement at maul

Sanction: Free kick

Rationale: 9.3 mauls per match with an average of 12 seconds per movement. Reducing permitted forward movements to one, potentially halves total close-proximity time