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Welfare-focused rugby law trials to be implemented globally

Rugby 7s Senior Men, Rugby 7s Senior Women, Rugby 15s Senior Men, Rugby 15s Senior Women

World Rugby has announced welfare-focused initiatives within a package of law amendments that will be trialled globally in competitions that start after 1 August, 2021, reflecting the sport’s ongoing commitment to injury reduction at all levels.

World Rugby has announced welfare-focused initiatives within a package of law amendments that will be trialled globally in competitions that start after 1 August, 2021, reflecting the sport’s ongoing commitment to injury reduction at all levels.

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Supporting the priority mission of head impact reduction and in line with the international federation’s six-point welfare action plan announced today, four of the five trials that will be implemented have an underlying focus on potential welfare advancements across the game.

The trials, approved by the World Rugby Executive Committee after detailed examination by the specialist Law Review Group* and High Performance Rugby Committee, follow widespread consultation with stakeholders across the sport, including players, coaches and competitions. Confirmation of the global trials represents a key step in World Rugby’s quadrennial law review process**.

The trials include two that have been operational in pilot trial environments – the goal-line drop out, which has been seen in Super Rugby Trans-Tasman and the Rainbow Cup – and the 50:22, which was most recently operational in Super Rugby AU. Both have the potential to increase space and decrease defensive line speed, which in turn could have welfare benefits.

Three trials focus specifically on reducing injury risk at the breakdown following detailed evaluation by a specialist Breakdown Working Group***. The first will see the introduction of sanctioning of clear-outs which target the lower limbs. The second will outlaw the practice of multi-player (three or more) pre-bound pods. The third area will tighten the definition of what is permissible in the practice of one-player latching.

After a global trial period of one year, laws that are deemed successful in meeting the objective of increasing safety while enhancing the spectacle will be tabled for Council to determine whether they are adopted into law at its May 2022 meeting, a full year ahead of Rugby World Cup 2023 in France.

Welfare-focused law trials approved for global trial

• 50:22: This law trial is intended to create space via a tactical choice for players to drop out of the defensive line in order to prevent their opponents from kicking for touch, reducing impact of defensive line speed – operational in Super Rugby AU

• Goal-line drop out: This law trial is intended to reduce the number of scrums, reward good defence, encourage counter-attacking and increase the rate of ball in play – operational in Super Rugby AU, Super Rugby Aotearoa, Super Rugby Trans-Tasman and the Rainbow Cup

Welfare-focused breakdown law amendments approved for global trial

• Pre-bound pods of players: Outlawing the practice of pods of three or more players being pre-bound prior to receiving the ball – the sanction will be a penalty kick

• Sanctioning the lower limb clear-out: Penalising players who target/drop their weight onto the lower limbs of a jackler – the sanction will be a penalty kick

• Tightening law relating to latching: One-player latch to be permitted, but this player has the same responsibilities as a first arriving player (i.e. must stay on feet, enter through gate and not fall to floor) – the sanction will be a penalty kick

Sevens law trials

• The Group approved a two-year extension of the trial whereby a team may nominate and use up to five replacements (this is in addition to substitutions to cover HIA, blood, injury or foul play incidents). The substitutions can be made on a rolling basis. In the event of extra-time, a sixth replacement can also be utilised

• The Group recommended to Council that in-goal assistant referees will no longer be permitted where there is a TMO present at a competition

When making its recommendations, the Law Review Group undertook an evaluation of each area against its objectives using an assessment of both statistical data and coach, player, referee, medical and fan feedback. 

In addition, the Executive Committee has endorsed a package of community law variations that aim to benefit welfare and accessibility. Recommended to Council for consideration in November, they aim to provide unions with law flexibility at a community level, including weight-banded matches, reduced tackle height and limitations to scrum and lineouts.

World Rugby Chairman Sir Bill Beaumont said: “Rugby’s laws are fundamental to its accessibility, appeal and safety. It is our mission to ensure that the laws are the best that they can be for everyone playing the game and this law review process has players and player welfare at heart as the approvals show.”

World Rugby Director of Technical Services Mark Harrington added: “Law evaluation is an important facet of our holistic approach to reducing the risk of injury in the sport and we continually monitor, review and evolve the laws of the game with the ambition of making rugby as simple and safe as possible.

“Several of the law trials under consideration were born from the 2019 Player Welfare and Laws Symposium and reflect the sport’s united and unwavering intent when it comes to protecting players at all levels. Each has been developed with the input of experts and reflect an evidence-based approach to reducing higher-risk behaviours by changing the nature of the contact area of the game or reducing overall contact in a game situation.”

World Rugby Director of Rugby and High Performance Joe Schmidt said: “Law review is fundamental to a sport that is constantly evolving and at the heart of our aspiration to make rugby as safe and accessible as possible. This process has been truly collaborative, bringing together coaching, playing, officiating, law and medical experts to consider the future playing of the sport. I would like to thank everyone involved to date, including the specialist Breakdown Review Group, and look forward to seeing the trials in operation on a global basis from August.”

Harrington added: “In addition to this important work, we are progressing a wide-ranging study of the impact of replacements on injury risk in the sport, a ground-breaking study into the frequency and nature of head impacts in community rugby in partnership with the University of Otago, further women-specific research and an evaluation of contact training volume. All of these priority strands will inform the decisions we make to advance welfare for players at all levels of the game.”

Breakdown Working Group member and England Head Coach Eddie Jones added: “This whole drive is to make the game safer and faster – better for players to play and more enjoyable for supporters to watch. It’s a really positive initiative for rugby.”
 
** Law amendment cycle

The four-year law review process, which operates between men’s Rugby World Cups, is driven by the specialist Law Review Group* comprising players, coaches, referees, medics, competition owners and law experts, with several of the recommendations born from the 2019 Player Welfare and Laws Symposium.