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An orange card and no choke tackles - World Rugby's Covid-19 law trials

The law trials are optional and unions are free to pick-and-chose or completely ignore them.

WORLD RUGBY HAS approved 10 optional law trials which are designed to help rugby unions reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission as the sport gets going again.

The law trials include the removal of the choke tackle, an orange card, no scrum resets, and goal line drop-outs.

The temporary law trials are completely optional and can be implemented in a pick-and-choose fashion or completely ignored by World Rugby’s unions. 

In acknowledging that “sustained close contact carries greater Covid-19 transmission risk than close proximity,” World Rugby is essentially looking at ways to reduce the amount of time players spend in scrums, mauls, and rucks, as well as lowering the height of tackles.

referee-nigel-owens-with-assistant-angus-gardner It remains to be seen if any of the optional law trials are implemented at the top level.

New Zealand Rugby has already confirmed it will not be using any of the trials as Super Rugby Aotearoa kicks-off on 13 June, and it’s understood the rest of professional rugby will follow suit.

World Rugby says the 10 optional law trials – which are based on an analysis of 60 rugby matches and were considered by its specialist Law Review Group – could be used “at elite or community levels” of the game.

The governing body claims that the law trials could “reduce scrum contact exposure by more than 30%, reduce contact exposure at the ruck by up to 25%, and reduce maul contact exposure by at least 50%.”

World Rugby has also approved additional hygiene measures to be used as rugby returns, including ball sanitisation and no spitting.

The 10 optional law amendments are as follows:


1. Remove scrum resets when no infringement occurs [e.g. a collapse]

Instead of a reset, the referee would award a free-kick to the team who had the put-in to the scrum. With an average of 3.5 reset scrums per match, this would reduce transmission risk by 30%.


2. Hookers must use a ‘brake foot’ to aid scrum stability

If they don’t, the offending team would be punished with a free-kick. The idea here is to increase stability on scrum engagement in order to reduced the need for resets.


3. No scrum option on penalties or free-kicks

This is a straightforward – again, avoid scrums. World Rugby says there are 1.3 scrum penalties per match, so this change would result in the reduction of close-proximity playing time by two minutes.


4. Goal line drop-out when an attacker is held up in-goal or knocks on in-goal

Again, this is to avoid scrums where possible. There are an average of 0.8 scrums on the five-metre line per match, so this would mean a two-minute reduction of close-proximity playing time.


5. The introduction of an orange card [for possible red-card high tackle offences]

This would apply where a TMO/Citing/Hawkeye review is available. When the referee and their match officials are unsure of the sanction for a high tackle offence, the offending player would be removed from play while a review into their tackle takes place.

If deemed a red-card offence, the player does not return. If it’s a yellow card or penalty only, the player returns after 15 minutes. So even if it’s only a penalty, the offending team would have been reduced to 14 players for a 15-minute period.

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The idea here is to change players’ behaviour from upright tackles to lower tackles, therefore reducing the transmission risk.


6. Remove the choke tackle [and subsequent scrum reward for defensive teams]

With this trial, choke tackles would be called simply as tackles – rather than mauls – and teams would then have to present the ball and play.

World Rugby says there are 0.7 choke tackles per match – of which 70% become unplayable – and 25 upright tackles per match. The removal of choke tackles would ensure fewer players are involved in higher transmission risk activities.


7. The ruck “use it” duration time is reduced from five seconds to three seconds

If a team doesn’t use the ball in three seconds after the referee calls “use it”, a free-kick would be awarded against them. The idea here is to ensure rucks don’t last as long as usual.

World Rugby says there are 14 “use it” calls per match. This law trial would result in a 25% reduction in close-proximity contact time at the tackle/ruck.


8. No scrum for failure to “use it” at scrum, ruck, or maul

It’s simply a free-kick instead, with no option to pack down a scrum. World Rugby envisages quick-taps rather than the high-risk close proximity that is involved in a scrum.


9. No one can join a maul if they’re not in it at the start

The sanction for someone joining a maul after it has started would be a free-kick. World Rugby says that capping the number of players who can join a maul in turn caps the proximity risk.

There are 8.2 lineout mauls per match and 60% of lineout mauls have all eight forwards involved.


10. Only one forward movement at each maul

Again, the sanction would be a free-kick. World Rugby says that reducing the permitted forward movements of each maul to one would potentially halve total close-proximity time. So you can have one good effort at driving the maul forward and that’s it.

Generally, there are 9.3 mauls per match with an average of 12 seconds per movement.


It remains to be seen which unions, if any, implement World Rugby’s optional and temporary law trials as the sport attempts to resume after the shutdown caused by the Covid-19 crisis.

World Rugby has also recommended the following hygiene measures around training sessions and games:

  • Mandatory hand and face sanitisation pre- and post-match
  • Regular ball sanitisation before, during and after matches
  • Single-user water bottles/hydration
  • Changing of jerseys, shorts and headgear at half-time where possible
  • Prevention of huddles and celebrations involving contact
  • Prevention of spitting and nose clearance

World Rugby recommends the following training measures:

  • Forwards units – high risk transmission activity such as an eight-person scrum should be undertaken against a machine to limit exposure. Packs should be trained separately.
  • Scrum and maul practice should take place at the end of a training session, preferably a day before a ‘down day’ to allow 24-48 hours before collective training.
  • High transmission risk training should be avoided within 48 hours of a game.

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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