The International Rugby Board was established to standardise the Laws of the Game and care for the Laws of the Game remains its first priority. At its meeting on Tuesday, 15 May 2012, the IRB and its member unions have approved trials on five possible amendments to the laws plus another three tests on regulations. The experiments include measures to speed up the game and also to give the TMO wider powers.
There is no attempt to change the tackle laws or scrummaging apart from pre-engagement procedures. Yet these are the areas of greatest concern and confusion in rugby football and the source of most penalties and player uncertainty.
Each of the seven amendments suggested could have a positive effect on the Game or clarify existing areas of Law, and therefore a recommendation was made to the IRB Council via the IRB Rugby Committee to approve a global trial of all seven amendments. As with the last set of law changes, there will be full consultation before these law tests are either approved or rejected. The experiments in the Northern Hemisphere will start in August and in the Southern Hemisphere in January, in other words in time for the new season's competitions.
The five Law amendments to be tried out globally are:
1. Law 16.7 (Ruck): The ball has to be used within five seconds of it being made available at the back of a ruck with a warning from the referee to “use it”. Sanction – Scrum.
This brings the ruck into line with the maul and will get rid of the annoying waste of time at the back of tackle/ rucks when the ball is clearly won.
2. 19.2 (b) (Quick Throw-In) For a quick throw in, the player may be anywhere outside the field of play between the line of touch and the player’s goal line.
At present the throw-in must occur between the place where the ball went out and the player's goal-line - a confusing situation for players who expect the ball to be thrown in quickly where the line-out would have taken place.
3. 19.4 (who throws in) When the ball goes into touch from a knock-on, the non-offending team will be offered the choice of a line-out at the point the ball crossed the touch line; or a scrum at the place of the knock-on. The non-offending team may exercise this option by taking a quick throw-in.
Up till now the scrum for the knock-on has been normal but may well not suit a team struggling in the scrums.
4. 21.4 Penalty and free kick options and requirements: line-out alternative. A team awarded a penalty or a free kick at a line-out may choose a further line-out, they throw in. This is in addition to the scrum option which exists at present.
5. A conversion kick must be completed within one minute 30 seconds from the time that a try has been awarded.
At present the kicker has a minute to take the kick from the time that his intention to take the conversion is clear.
In addition to the global trials, the IRB Council approved three specific additional trials of procedures which are not part of playing laws:
1. A trial to extend the jurisdiction of the TMO to incidents within the field of play that have led to the scoring of a try and foul play in the field of play to take place at an appropriate elite competition in order that a protocol can be developed for the November 2012 Tests.
This has been tested in South Africa. It is a good theory but the practical application needs careful thought as there is the potential for much slowing down of the game.
2. A trial has been sanctioned for the November 2012 Test window permitting international teams to nominate up to eight replacements in the match day squad for Test matches. In line with current practice at domestic elite Rugby level, the additional player must be a qualified front row player.
This was successfully introduced into France's Top 14 as means of eliminating uncontested scrums.
3. An amendment to Law 3.4 (Sevens Variation) to enable Sevens teams to nominate up to five replacements/substitutes. Under the revision, which will operate from June 1 2012, a team may substitute or replace up to five players during a match. Approval has been granted on player welfare grounds to recognise the additional demands on players and squads owing to the expansion of the HSBC Sevens World Series where there are three blocks of three events on consecutive weekends.
That is not all. The scrum will have its chance to change its procedure at engagement. SANZAR has made much noise to get this change implemented.
The amendment that will be considered by the Group relates to the engagement sequence and will see the referee call “crouch” then “touch”. The front rows crouch then touch and using outside arm each prop touches the point of the opposing prop’s outside shoulder. The props then withdraw their arms. The referee will then call “set” when the front rows are ready. The front rows may then set the scrum.
At present the process is crouch, touch, pause, engage with a pause after each instruction. The result was touch - pause - pause - pause, which seemed tautologous with three pauses when one was enough..
The use of set instead of engage had more impact.
The global trial has been sanctioned after an unprecedented evaluation process that kicked off with submissions and recommendations for 20 potential amendments from Member Unions and has culminated with recent trials of amendments to seven aspects of Law as a package at dedicated playing environments in Cambridge and Stellenbosch.
Unlike previous amendment processes, the process of selection, monitoring and evaluation has been steered by an independent Laws Representative Group, comprising technical representatives from each of the 10 Tier 1 Unions covering elite and community rugby and representatives of the IRB Rugby Committee.
IRB chairman Bernard Lapasset said: “We have a collective responsibility to ensure that the Game is as enjoyable to play, officiate and watch as possible at every level while player welfare is of paramount importance.
“Rugby is currently in good health with participation growing around the world, but there is collective responsibility to ensure that a structured process can be implemented to allow for global analysis and to monitor trends relating to the shape and character of the Game as it evolves.
“The approval of five aspects of Law for global trial is the culmination of the Laws Amendment Process which was agreed by the IRB Council in 2009. The journey to this point has been exhaustive and collaborative and has involved full stakeholder consultation and I would like to thank Member Unions for their buy-in and commitment to the process from the outset.
“The Laws Representative Group were encouraged by the outcomes of the initial trials in Cambridge and Stellenbosch earlier this year. The next step is a global trial with full buy-in and which has been approved by Council on the basis that the amendments can have a positive effect on the playing of the Game.
“The global trials are not fait accompli. It is essential at the end of the global trial process that decisions made are in the best interest of Rugby worldwide."
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