EARLIER THIS YEAR, World Rugby got its quadrennial law review process underway with a view towards possible tweaks to the lawbook before the 2019 World Cup.
That process will see trials commence in 2016, but world rugby’s governing body has today moved to clarify existing laws in the build-up to this year’s World Cup in England and Wales.
Ireland’s effective mauls have pushed the laws to the limit. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO
World Rugby says it has instructed match officials to be stricter in the application of existing laws in relation to challenging for high balls in the air, the scrum, the maul and high tackles or neck contact.
This call for stricter enforcement comes after a meeting of the Laws Representation Group, which includes the IRFU’s David Nucifora, in April. An update issued by World Rugby in relation to that discussion addresses the following areas:
Straight feed into the scrum
Those supporters, coaches and players tired of watching crooked feeds into the scrum by scrum-halves will be pleased to see World Rugby underline the need for a straight feed, as per Law 20.6 (d).
Referees and assistant referees have been instructed to ensure that all feeds to the scrum are “credible,” and to award a free-kick to the opposition team if that is not the case.
Scrum-halves will be more strictly monitored on their feeds. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO
In terms of a cue for referees at scrum time, World Rugby has instructed them to look out for the scrum-half’s shoulders not being parallel to the two front rows as they feed the ball.
Also in relation to the scrum, World Rugby has clarified Laws 20.4 (e) and (f).
This means that if the scrum is stationary when the ball is at the number eight’s feet, then the referee will call “use it”.
Challenging for the high ball
This has been a highly contentious issue in the game over the last two seasons, with an increasing number of yellow cards and even red cards for mis-timed challenges in the air. With that in mind, World Rugby has again moved to clarify the laws.
Referees have been instructed to play on if there is a “fair challenge with both players in a realistic position to catch the ball,” regardless of whether the players land on the ground dangerously.
World Rugby says a penalty should be awarded if there is a fair challenge with poor timing, while a yellow card is to be issued when there is “not a fair challenge, there is no contest and the player is pulled down landing on his back or side”.
Source: RBS 6 Nations/YouTube
Red cards are to be dished out when there is not a fair challenge, no contest and the “player lands on his head, neck or shoulder”.
The clarification of mauling laws is certain to be of keen interest to Joe Schmidt’s Ireland, who have been intelligent in their tactics in this area of the game to score a number of tries from close-range.
Captain Paul O’Connell and forwards coach Simon Easterby may be forced to go back to the drawing board, however, with referees being advised to ensure that no players join the maul from in front of the ball carrier.
Ireland, and others, would likely have been penalised on a handful of occasions over the last number of seasons if this law had been applied more strictly, while the second clarification would also have seen them frustrated.
World Rugby has underlined the need for the ‘ripper’ to be bound to the maul if accidental offside is to be avoided.
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The ‘ripper’ is the player who accepts the ball from the lineout catcher as an attacking team sets up their maul, but Ireland and many other sides have not bound onto the maul in those instances recently.
Instead, the ripper has accepted the transfer of the ball from the catcher and immediately set about ‘swimming’ to the back of the maul formation. Ireland and others will need to have their timing and binding close to perfection at the World Cup.
A free-kick will be awarded against teams guilty of not adhering to the law in this regard.
High tackles and the neck
Finally, World Rugby has stressed the need for match officials to ensure that foul play involving high tackles and neck contact is strictly penalised.
Using a video of Jocelino Suta’s unpunished and uncited choke hold on Richardt Strauss during Toulon’s Champions Cup semi-final win over Leinster as one example, World Rugby stresses 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”.
Source: gorpitsen junior/YouTube
The statement continues to say that “player welfare is paramount” and that all foul play in this regard must be strictly penalised.
For more on these law clarifications, check out the videos on World Rugby’s official website.
Which other existing laws would you like to see more strictly refereed? Is there any need for clarification of the breakdown laws around jackaling players, for example? Does the offside line need to be policed more stringently? Should the ‘croc roll’ be dealt with again?
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