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Best offers input as World Rugby outlaws dangerous 'axial loading' in scrums

The governing body has announced an amendment to its law book.

WORLD RUGBY HAS confirmed an amendment to its law book that aims to end the dangerous practice of ‘axial loading’ at scrums.

The change to the scrummaging laws is effective immediately as World Rugby stressed “its commitment to evidence-based injury-reduction”.

unnamed An example of what has been outlawed. Source: World Rugby

The scrum amendment comes after a research process that involved the input of leading international hookers including Ireland captain Rory Best, England’s Jamie George and Welshman Ken Owens.

‘Axial loading’ essentially involves front row players – primarily hookers – leaning their heads onto opponents’ shoulders in between the referee’s ‘bind’ and ‘set’ calls at the scrum.

With the weight of their own pack leaning with the hooker or prop, the intent in most cases is to gain an advantage before the ‘set’ call, disrupting the opposition and ideally preparing the loading team for the scrum.

However, the pressure on the cervical spines of the front row players who are ‘axial loading’ is severe and has been found to have a negative impact on the welfare of those players.

World Rugby says that research carried out by New Zealand Rugby, the Rugby Football Union, Premiership Rugby, and the Rugby Players’ Association “identified increased level[s] of axial or rotation loading on front-rows’ cervical spines during the current scrum engagement sequence.”

As such, World Rugby’s Law Review Group proposed a law amendment, which has now been approved by the global governing body’s Executive Committee.

Law 19.10 (b) reads: “The front-rows crouch with their heads to the left of their immediate opponents’, so that no player’s head is touching the neck or shoulders of an opponent.”

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Any infringement of this law will be punished with a free-kick, with repeated offending resulting in a penalty.

Some of the world’s leading referees have already undertaken a session in the new law, having been in Tokyo last week for pre-World Cup meetings and training sessions. 

Meanwhile, World Rugby’s Executive Committee also approved amendments to the High Tackle Sanction framework following feedback from the recent World Rugby U20 Championship in Argentina.

The framework has been simplified by removing reference to ‘direct or indirect’ contact.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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