One of World Rugby’s six point plan to advance player welfare – Safeguarding Players
The laws of rugby have evolved through the years in an effort to both improve the safety of the players while maintaining a high level of entertainment. Rugby Union was made professional in 1995 and the first modern day law amendments were created in 2002. Nearly every year since, the International Rugby Board and later World Rugby published laws further evolving the game. While in the past these laws were focused on the speed of the game as well as the safety of the players, substantial changes have been made in recent years to focus on how the laws can prevent unnecessary injuries. For example, in 2019 the high tackle framework was introduced in order to prevent a series of head related injuries including concussions. Although many laws have been put in place over the years, the foundation of the game remains the same. This upcoming 2021-22 season will introduce a new series of global law trials in order to continue the effort in preventing player injuries while also attempting to maintain and balance the games’ entertainment value.
To gain perspective of the upcoming law trials and their influence on the game, we spoke to international referee Andrew Brace. Andrew is originally from Cardiff, Wales and went to Plymouth University to study sports science and coaching. Following his studies, he worked as a development officer for Munster Rugby for nine years. During this time he continued playing rugby, coaching, and reffing before being awarded a professional referees contract with the IRFU in 2017. The first international game he officiated was the England Samoa game in 2017. Since then, the highlight of his career has been his first Six Nations game, France versus Italy in 2020, however Andrew’s biggest goal has always been to referee at the Rugby World Cup 2023 in Paris.
Brace’s thoughts going into the upcoming season reinforce how imperative it has become to increase the level of safety of the game while still understanding the importance of entertainment value to the fan base. Whilst World Rugby have put stricter laws in place to prevent head contact, there is a stronger emphasis to increase the speed and space in the game.
“Nobody wants to see a kick fest or just a contact focused game all the time. We want to see running rugby. So I hope with these new global law trials, it will result in more space and ball in play.” – Andrew Brace
Brace went on to define the new laws and why World Rugby has put a stronger emphasis on these areas of the game. These are listed below.
50:22 Kick Law
- Law: if a player kicks from inside their own half and the ball bounces inside the opposition 22 before going into touch, the kicking team will get to throw into the subsequent lineout. This will encourage the defensive team to put more players in the back-field.
- Difference: previously a kick of this nature would have resulted in the defending team receiving the line out possession. Therefore, placing less importance on having player in the backfield, which meant defensive lines were more stacked.
- Goal: “So it’s the same principle as 22 dropout but you’re just encouraging more play into the spaces and wider channels as opposed to repeated ‘pick and go’ which World Rugby are trying to eliminate in order to reduce the number of contacts.” – Andrew Brace.
Goal Line Dropout Law
- Law: If an attacking player brings the ball into in-goal is held up, the defending team will be awarded a goal-line dropout, kicking the ball back to the attacking team.
- Difference: There will no longer be a scrum if the ball is held up (unless defensive player is driven back then it is still a scrum 5m attacking scrum).
- Goal: Promote a faster rate of play and get the ball back in play quicker.
Latcher (14) 14.5 Law
- Law: The ball-carrier is only allowed one latcher pre-contact. The latching player has more of a responsibility now to stay on feet. If that latching player goes off feet and denies any contest or competition for the ball then they’re liable then to be sanctioned.
- Difference: The ball-carrier was previously allowed multiple latchers.
- Goal: This law aims to reduce the force/ numbers in contact with an aim to make it safer for the defending players.
“I don’t think there’s any end cut off around the evolution of the game. It’s always going to be changing, particularly in the last decade where we’ve always been looking at how we can make the game safer and a better spectacle for everyone involved. And that’s where it’s important to adapt the laws with an emphasis on new focus areas for the better of the game.” – Andrew Brace
With the introduction of these law trials, the hope is that the game will see a large decrease in injury percentages. They have been presented as a way to further decrease injuries specifically originating during the tackle. As can be seen through the specific laws, the 50:22 kick is presented as a way to create space on the pitch, the goal line dropout eliminates an additional scrum and the Latcher law attempts to prevent an additional number of latchers that would potentially cause injury to the defending side. World Rugby has shown a commitment to player welfare and while they recognise the global law trials as a milestone in improving safety within the game, they understand it is an evolving process that needs continued attention moving forwards.