World Rugby confirm much debated ‘fan-focused’ law changes that depower scrums

David Skippers
South Africa's Bomb Squad scrummaging against England in the Rugby World Cup 2023.

South Africa's Bomb Squad scrummaging against England in the Rugby World Cup 2023.

World Rugby have announced that teams will no longer be able to opt for a scrum when they receive a free-kick in one of three law changes designed to make rugby union more entertaining.

The new rules will come into effect from July 1 which means it will be used during England’s upcoming tour of New Zealand, which features Tests in Dunedin on July 6 and a week later in Auckland.

By removing the scrum as an option World Rugby is hoping that it will encourage more open play with free-kicks having to be either tapped or kicked.

Hotly debated topic

There was plenty of debate when World Rugby revealed – in March – plans to make this specific law change with former international referee Nigel Owens saying he is concerned that the global game’s governing body risked “depowering” the scrum.

Understandably, South Africans were outraged, given that it could negate the threat of one of the 2023 Rugby World Cup-winning Springboks‘ biggest weapons.

Meanwhile, a second law change, which relates to another hotly debated topic, was made. This, is where players are put onside during kicks in open play which dictates that any offside players must now make an attempt to retreat, creating space for the opposition to play.

France scrum-half Antoine Dupont has been known to exploit the loophole, leading to it being informally dubbed as the ‘Dupont Law’.

Under the current laws it is possible for a player to be put onside when an opposition player catches the ball and runs five metres or passes the ball, which leads to periods of ‘kick tennis’.

The third change is the banning of the “crocodile roll” – a potentially dangerous act of rolling a player who is on their feet out of the tackle area – and the indiscretion will from now onwards be punished by a penalty.

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World Rugby have also confirmed the trial of a revised red card process that will be observed in competitions such as WXV and the Pacific Nations Cup.

It will see automatic suspensions applied for red cards involving foul play, while a red carded player can be replaced by another player from the bench after 20 minutes, restoring a team to 15 players.

World Rugby chairman Sir Bill Beaumont is looking forward to the positive impact which the new law changes will have on the game.

“I would like to thank my colleagues from across the game for embracing the spirit of this comprehensive review of rugby’s entertainment factor,” he said.

“With calendar certainty, including new competitions and all men’s and women’s Rugby World Cups set through to 2033, our major events are defined, our content set.

Keen to ‘attract a new generation’

“There is unprecedented long-term certainty, and this work is vital to ensuring that the on-field product is befitting of the opportunities that we have in front of us, a superb sport that is enjoyable to play and watch and helps attract a new generation to get into rugby.

“Personally, I believe that the law amendments and suite of closed trials will add to the entertainment factor. As with all trials, we will comprehensively review their effectiveness and take feedback from across the game.

“The revised red card sanction process is such an example, and it is important that we trial, assess and make definitive decisions based on data and feedback.”

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