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Dublin: 16 °C Wednesday 24 July, 2019

World Rugby has confirmed more fascinating law trials for 2016

The offside line will be one metre back from a new ‘breakdown,’ with two referees on the pitch.

WORLD RUGBY HAS confirmed that some fairly radical law trials will take place in New Zealand’s Mitre 10 Cup – one level below Super Rugby – in 2016.

Division 1A of Ireland’s Ulster Bank League is also set to trial the variations to rugby’s tackle and breakdown laws, while the FFR’s U18 League has been signed up too.

The All Blacks perform the Haka The NZRU is understood to have pushed for these trial laws. Source: World Rugby/Richard Heathcote/INPHO

So what’s involved?

The offside line will be one metre back from the ruck in these trials, rather than the back foot of the ruck as currently applies.

The trials also see the breakdown become part of the law, forming the offside line as soon as only one attacking player arrives over the tackle on his feet. There will be no need for a defensive player to engage and form a ruck, thereby creating the offside line, as is currently the case.

The rights of the tackler will be reduced under the trial laws.

The Mitre 10 Cup will also see two referees on the pitch in order to police the above as accurately as possible, although the IRFU and FFR have not signed up to trial that element at this stage. The assistant referees on the touchline are set to police the new offside line in those union’s competitions.

Let’s take a more detailed look at each element of the trials.


As things stand in rugby, the ‘breakdown’ is not part of the law book. It’s a term we use all the time when discussing the game, but it’s not actually written into World Rugby’s law book.

Under the current laws, a ‘ruck’ must form in order to create the offside line. That means at least one player from each team on their feet, engaged and in competition over the ball. That forms a ruck, thereby creating the offside line.

The main issue with the need for a ruck to form the offside line is that defending teams can opt not to engage after a tackle has been completed. If there’s no defensive player engaged with an attacker on their feet over the ball, there’s no ruck.

IrelandÕs Sean O'Brien It would be fascinating to see how strong jackaling players like Sean O'Brien would adapt to the law trials. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

That means no offside line. Intelligent teams exploit this and it’s one of the reasons why supporters regularly shout ‘Offside!’ when watching games. Sometimes the defensive team simply isn’t offside, because no ruck has been formed.

Under these new trial laws, a “breakdown” will in turn form the offside line. A breakdown will form when “at least one player from the attacking team is on their feet and over the ball which is on the ground.”

Once the new breakdown is formed, no player may handle the ball apart from the half-back, who can pass, run or kick.

Along with the breakdown, the laws around how defensive players can join it are notable.

All arriving players must come from an onside position, i.e. one metre behind the breakdown.

The ‘gate’ is a term we frequently use when talking about rugby, but again it’s not something that is actually written in the law book. Either way, the gate is not going to apply under these trial laws.

As long as the defensive player joins the breakdown from an onside position and enters from their side of the breakdown mid-point, they can come from any angle.

It’s worth underlining that when the back foot of the hindmost player in the breakdown for the defensive team is “on or behind the goal line, the offside line for the defending team is the goal line.”


Essentially, the tweaks to rugby’s tackle law under these trials will mean that the tackler can only play the ball after returning to his feet and to his side of the breakdown mid-point.

Under the current laws, a defender can complete a tackle, return swiftly to his feet and pick up the ball from anywhere, as long as a ruck has not formed yet.

We see an example of that below.

Kvesic (1)

And from another angle below.

Kvesic 2

In this instance, Gloucester’s Matt Kvesic is entitled to play the ball because he has returned to his feet and a ruck has not formed before he plays the ball.

There is one Harlequins player over the tackle point, but under current laws that does not mean a ruck, so Kvesic is onside and legal.

Under the law trials, Kvesic would have to get out of the breakdown area here and retreat a metre back with the rest of his teammates to get onside.

Even if the Harlequins player was not present over the tackle point, Kvesic would have to get back to his side of the breakdown mid-point before playing the ball.

The type of turnover we see in the clips above is one of the ugliest elements of the game in many people’s eyes and it will essentially be eradicated in these trials.

Under these trials, the assist tackler must continue to make a clear release of the tackled player and remain on their feet in order to play the ball before an attacking player arrives to create a breakdown.

Once that attacking player arrives and a breakdown is formed, no player can handle the ball.

Trials upon trials

It’s also worth nothing that the Mitre 10 Cup will feature a new points-scoring system in 2016, as will a number of other competitions around the world.

  • A penalty try will be worth eight points (no conversion necessary)
  • A try will be worth six points
  • A conversion will be worth two points
  • A penalty will be worth two points
  • A drop goal will be worth two points

All in all, it should make for a fascinating season in New Zealand’s domestic competition, which has long been one of the most exciting in the professional game.

2016 will also see the Pacific Challenge, U20 Trophy, Tbilisi Cup, Nations Cup, FFR Academy league, Australian NRC, Welsh Premiership and Colleges championship, and the RFU Army Premiership act as testing grounds for some further interesting new law trials.

Read more about those here.

- This article was updated at 15.03 to clarify the law when a breakdown forms on or behind the tryline/goal line.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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