The proposed law changes
Tuesday March 14 2006
And they are radical
Recently there was a workshop on the laws of the game from which there emanated a series of proposals which could have a radical effect on the way the game is played.
Laws make the game. They are what makes the game distinct from other games. Change the laws and you change the game.
It was significant that the experiment took place in Stellenbosch, South Africa, as it was there, in the ardent rugby played between the university's residences, that Danie Craven did much experimentation with the laws, often impatient with the slow pace of change.
His statue with a pointing finger is near the ground where these experiments were taking place, and he would have approved. For he believed that rugby football was in a process of evolution, which was a sign of life.
In 1951 AJ Pienaar, the president of the then South African Rugby Board, said: "Rugby football is a living game. Consequently there will always be changes, development in one or other directions otherwise it would perish."
These changes look innocent but they are radical and could make the game simpler for everybody involved.
The "guinea pigs" in this experiment were two teams from the University of Stellenbosch - their first team and their second team who are known as the Victorians from the daysÂ before Victoria College developed into Stellenbosch University. The university's first team are the national club champions. One of their coaches is Ian Kirkpatrick, the Springbok centre who was at one stage the Springbok coach and a Craven disciple.
The men conducting the experiment were the IRB's referees' manager and former famous Test referee Paddy O'Brien and top coaches of the recent past in Rod Macqueen (Australia), Pierre Villepreux (France), Richie Dixon (Scotland) and Ian McIntosh (South Africa).
The wording of these proposals, which could be adopted after the 20076 Rugby World Cup as Experimental Law Variations, needs to be refined but the ideas are clearly intended to make for an even faster game than at present and one with fewer technicalities and difficulties for the players and the match officials and less predictability.
These suggestions will go to the IRB's council. There will be further experiments. some may be accepted. In fact there are experiments with other aspects - such as moving the Under-19 scrum laws to senior level to avoid the tedium of resets and to make the scrum safer, and with the use of goal judges as being more flexible than the television match official.
The following are the suggestions that emanated from a hot week in lovely Stellenbosch:
1. Posts and flags around the field
Corner post, and post at corner of touch-in-goal and dead-ball line are moved back two metres for consistency of touch along the entire length of the touch-line and touch-in-goal-line.
At present the only place where the touch-line keeps travelling upwards is at the corner post and the flag marking the corner of the dead-ball line.
2. Inside the 22-metre line
When a defending player gets the ball outside his 22-metre line and passes, puts or takes the ball back inside the 22 the following can occur.
a. If the ball is then kicked directly into touch the line-out is in line with where the ball was kicked.
b. If a tackle, ruck or maul is subsequently formed and the ball is then kicked directly into touch, the line-out is where the ball crossed the touch line.
a. On a quick throw in, the ball can be thrown straight or backwards towards the defenders' goal-line, but not forward towards the opposition goal-line.
b. A player peeling off at the front of the line-out may do so as soon as the ball leaves the thrower's hands.
c.Â The receiver in a line-out must stand two metres from the line-out.
d. The non-throwing hooker does not have to stand between the five-metre line and the touch-line. He must conform to law wherever he stands.
e. There is no maximum number of players in the line-out but there is a minimum of two.
f. No team determines numbers in the line-out.
e. and f. mean that a team may pack as many players as it can fit between five and 15 metres from touch. Numbers are no longer a factor.
The short line-out, especially in defence, may become a less desirable option.
g. Pre-gripping is allowed.
This de facto becoming de iure.Â At present law 19.9 (j): Pre-grip below the waist. A player must not pre-grip any team-mate below the waist.
penalty: Free Kick on the 15-metre line.
Pre-gripping means grasping a team-mate before the ball is thrown in. It requires several sets of eyes and excellent timing to police it at present.
4. Tackle/Post tackle area
a. Players entering the tackle/post tackle area must do so through the gate.
This is to be rigidly applied. It is existing law but in the change to penalties it becomes more important than ever.
b. If the ball is unplayable at the tackle/post tackle, the side that did not take the ball into contact will receive a free kick which must be tapped to bring it into play.
c.Â All free kicks are required to be tapped first to bring the ball into play. After that the ball may be kicked, carried or passed. This applies also if a player receives a kick in general play and is swamped so that the ball becomes available.
d. There are only two penalty offences (not including dangerous play) at the tackle/post tackle.
(i) Offside for not coming through the gate
(ii) Offside where defenders are in front of the last man on their side of the tackle/post tackle.
What this does not say directly but implies is that hands may be used to get the ball.
e. Touch judges can indicate off-side at the tackle by raising their flag horizontally in the direction of the offending team.
f. Repeated infringements can be dealt with as per current law.
g. All Free Kicks are tap kicks including the free kick at a mark. The kicker is required to tap the ball before playing it. Taking a scrum instead of the kick remains an option.
h. Dangerous play will not be tolerated, e.g. diving over the post tackle
i.Â The halfback/scrumhalf should not be touched unless he has his hands on the ball.
a. Defending players can pull down the maul.
This is a huge change. It may well change option-taking for penalties.
b. Players joining the maul must do so through the gate.
This is to be rigorously applied.
c. Touch judges can indicate offside at the maul by raising their flag horizontally in the direction of the offending team.
d. There is no use it or lose it.
This means that a maul may be stoppedÂ and restarted and go sideways and so on.
e. The â€˜truck and trailerâ€™ is no longer an offence.
If a maul splinters and is no longer a maul the players who were in the maul were not be penalised if they carry on moving forward.
6. The Game
Penalty kicks will be given only for offside and foul play (Law 10). All other kicks will be Free Kicks.[/b]
The removing of a penalty for hands in the ruck and the rule regarding numbers in the lineout concern me the most.