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World Rugby aims to stamp out side entry and players off feet at breakdown

The governing body wants referees to clamp down on side entry and players diving off their feet.

WORLD RUGBY HAS re-emphasised existing laws around the breakdown in a bid to clean up an area of the game that has become increasingly dangerous for players and increasingly frustrating for fans.

In short, the guidelines will ask referees to more strictly penalise the following:

- Side entry into rucks
- Players diving off their feet into rucks
- Players handling the ball after rucks have been formed
- Tacklers not releasing and rolling away immediately after completing tackles.

general-view-ball-and-ruck World Rugby wants cleaner, safer breakdowns and rucks. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The sport’s governing body hopes to reduce injuries in this area of the game and ensure a “fair contest” at all times.

With 9% of match injuries now occurring at the breakdown, an expert working group consisting of referees, analysts, medical experts, and coaches like Joe Schmidt was convened in Paris last month to critically examine the state of the breakdown in professional rugby.

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Among those to join Schmidt in the breakdown working group were All Blacks boss Ian Foster, international referees Wayne Barnes and Jaco Peyper, former All Blacks player Victor Vito, and ex-Ireland team doctor Éanna Falvey. 

Rather than suggesting any law changes, that group – who had also met via teleconference last September – recommended that World Rugby should reinforce the application of current breakdown laws.

“The breakdown is the most dynamic facet of the game and it is increasingly difficult to referee, but just as importantly, it is responsible for 9% of match injuries,” said World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont.

“Therefore, it was important that we looked to identify ways to reduce the risk of injury, while promoting a fair contest for the ball.

“The group looked at a range of potential solutions, including potential law trials, but they unanimously agreed that the best practical and evidenced approach is to reinforce existing law, rather than law change.

“In particular, there will be focus on the ball carrier playing or placing the ball immediately, the tackler releasing immediately, rewarding the player who wins the race to the contest, penalising side entry and players who dive, not drive, into rucks.”

dan-leavy-receives-treatment Ireland and Leinster's Dan Leavy was seriously injured at the breakdown last year. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

World Rugby added that it will be “educating its international referee panel on the change in emphasis and collaborating with international teams and unions to ensure alignment and understanding.”

The governing body said the following laws are relevant in their re-emphasis:

• Law 14.5 – Tacklers must: a) Immediately release the ball and the ball-carrier after both players go to ground and b) Immediately move away from the tackled player and from the ball or get up.

• Law 14.2 – Being brought to ground means that the ball-carrier is lying, sitting or has at least one knee on the ground or on another player who is on the ground… Law 14.5 – Tacklers must: d) Allow the tackled player to release or play the ball.

Law 15.11 – Once a ruck has formed, no player may handle the ball unless they were able to get their hands on the ball before the ruck formed and stay on their feet.

Law 15.12 – Players must endeavour to remain on their feet throughout the ruck.

Law 15.5 – An arriving player must be on their feet and join from behind their offside line. 15.6 – A player may join alongside but not in front of the hindmost player. 15.10 – Possession may be won either by rucking or by pushing the opposing team off the ball.

The entire breakdown working group was:

Coaches: Richie Gray, Russell Earnshaw, Ian Foster and Joe Schmidt
Referees: Wayne Barnes and Jaco Peyper
Players: Victor Vito and Josh Beaumont
Medical and research: Dr Éanna Falvey and Ross Tucker
World Rugby staff: Mark Harrington and Rhys Jones.

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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