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"Ten simple and effective law changes that should be made to rugby refereeing"

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Some interesting ideas from The Telegraph

Ten simple and effective law changes that should be made to rugby refereeing

Charles Richardson of The Telegraph; 12:00, Nov 14 2023

1. Stop coaching
This might be the toughest, given how ingrained it has become, but it is also, paradoxically, one of the easiest. Referees need to communicate less. If a player is offside from chasing a kick, don't tell them to get back, penalise them! If a player is offside at a ruck, don't tell them to retreat, penalise them! If a player is deemed as off their feet at a ruck and continues to contest for the ball, don't tell them, penalise them! They will not do it again. Discipline would improve tenfold, with players not willing to take the risk, keen to push the laws to the absolute limit – and beyond.

The auxiliary benefit, too, would be that non-English-speaking teams would benefit, given they are palpably hampered every time they take the field with an English-speaking referee. Referees should speak with their whistle and little else.

2. Reduce TMO involvement
With the insidious increase in the power of the television match official, season on season, how long will it be before artificial intelligence is refereeing rugby matches? The TMO has been allowed to increase its remit for years, to a fault. There was the near-farcical situation at Gloucester on Friday night, when Bath captain Ben Spencer was sin-binned for a cynical offside on his own line but, because the infringement came in a try-scoring opportunity, the TMO was glancing at a potential Gloucester knock-on a few phases earlier. Had the spill been deemed as a knock-on, what would have happened to Spencer, who was yellow-carded for a non-dangerous act of foul play that occurred in a sort of vacuum period of the game which shouldn't even have taken place? It would not have been the first instance in the past few years where rugby and the Hollywood blockbuster Inception had crossed paths.

The TMO's remit should encompass try-scoring placements and severe acts of foul play only. That's it. No slow-motion replays of forward passes – more on that later – and knock-ons, no slo-mo footage of ambiguous double movements. And the bunker, while positive at a surface level, ended up causing more problems than it solved at the World Cup. It was a bit like taking paracetamol for tonsilitis; sure, it might improve the symptoms for four hours, but the infection will still require medical attention. A cure.

3. Turn all scrum penalties into free-kicks
This does not require much explanation. Too many games are decided on arbitrary scrum calls. The scrum is a way to restart the game. It is a fierce battleground, of course – and must remain as such – but teams scrummaging for penalties as a way of winning matches should not be allowed to continue.

Rightly or wrongly, the fact is that the narrative around scrums has become too negative for some time – as Rob Baxter highlighted last week. Removing the risk of conceding a match-deciding penalty could result in more completed scrums, fewer resets, and greater competition for the ball. One leading analyst who spoke to Telegraph Sport said they would go even further, changing all infringements – except dangerous, cynical or repeat offences – to free-kicks. Too revolutionary for now, perhaps, but certainly worth monitoring.

4. Tidy up maul laws
This really only applies at line-outs – which is bonkers in itself, given a set-piece maul, in rugby's laws, has no separate code – but mauls in this area are beyond messy. Players being instructed to "not change their bind" by the referee; an action which involves their arms only, and allows them to do whatever they like with their bodies, except "swimming", where a player slides up the side of a maul illegally.

Most farcical, however, is that if opposing players end up on the attacking side of the maul "legally", with the ball available, when the scrum-half attempts to play the ball they are "legally" entitled to dart straight for him or stick out hands and feet to disrupt him, because they are part of the maul and, therefore, the offside law of hindmost foot does not apply to them. Madness.

5. Enforce – and tighten – the ruck 'use it' countdown
The easiest tweak of this list? Referees could be stricter with enforcing the 'use it' law, whereby a team must play the ball five seconds after the referee has deemed it available. As it stands, this often leads to the dreaded 'caterpillar ruck' – which would be tough to define, and therefore ban, in itself – so enforcing this law would disrupt its formation. Only a positive. Could the limit be lowered to three seconds, too? Or, perhaps, once the referee has called 'use it', the ball is automatically out after five seconds, rather than a resulting scrum?

6. Goal-line drop-outs should be for held-up only (at best)
A goal-line drop-out for the ball being held up over the line is more acceptable – if only slightly – but rewarding a team for kicking the ball into in-goal encourages a negative mindset – and more kicking. Also, kicking the ball with enough power to reach the goal-line but not enough to roll dead has become a skill in itself in the sport – which is a troubling avenue for rugby to go down. If the goal-line drop-out has to remain, then it should be for held-up, try-scoring opportunities only. If a team kicks the ball over the try line and the opposition touch it down, then it should revert back to a 22-metre drop-out.

7. Solve disparity in card severity
This is simple. No one disputes that Sam Cane's tackle in the World Cup final was more severe than Siya Kolisi's. But was the former's really that much more severe than the latter's to result in a punishment that was so much harsher? Cane off the field for the whole match; Kolisi for 10 minutes – and millimetres, split-seconds decided it.

Cane absolutely deserved a harsher sentence – which, along with his subsequent citing and three-match ban – he received, but did New Zealand deserve to play the rest of the match with 14 while the eventual champion Springboks were forced to do so for just 10 minutes? Absolutely not. Of course, punishments need to be staggered to mirror degrees of severity but right now rugby has either life sentences or nights in the cells. It cannot continue. A 20-minute orange card for head contact could be the answer.

8. Reward jackalling that is only clearly and obviously legal
Easier said than done with the whistle in hand, but certainly an easy directive to enforce at boardroom level. Banning the jackal in its entirety might be the answer – a philosophical shift to rugby's engineering would require more research – as like so many facets of the sport, the defensive side gains too much of an advantage. As Telegraph Sport revealed in the World Cup, some referees at rugby's showpiece were favouring the defensive side as often as 70 per cent of the time in terms of breakdown penalties. That is not the fault of the officials, who deserve sympathy in this area. There are often millimetres between a legal and illegal jackal, and the only way to discern the difference accurately and regularly is by getting on your hands and knees and using a magnifying glass.
As it stands, players take advantage of this, knowing that they might get away with an illegal jackal and that, in any case, it is worth the risk. Referees give the benefit of doubt to the defender too often. Unless a jackaller is clearly and obviously legal – with absolutely no floor contact and no knee resting on the ball-carrier – then they should not be rewarded with a holding-on penalty. And, as highlighted in entry No 1, if they are not supporting their own body weight, then they should be penalised immediately – not afforded a warning by a loquacious referee.

9. Prohibit dummying at scrums and rucks – already in law
This is already enshrined in rugby's laws, yet scrum-halves get away with murder in this area, dummying mainly box-kicks but also passes from rucks, scrums and mauls. It is yet another example of the kicker being king. Prohibit the dummying and allow more pressure on the clearance.

10. Abolish the nonsensical 'direction of hands' forward-pass law
No one knows what a forward pass is any more. If anyone even dares to contest that they do, they are either a wizard or a liar. Passes which look blatantly forward are cleared owing to the direction of the attacker's hands, while passes which often look marginal are analysed to within an inch of their life. There is probably a television angle to prove that most flat-looking passes in a match travel either forwards or backwards, such is the trickery of the camera. Rugby must return – without the TMO's input – to a more anecdotal approach to forward passes. If it looks forward, it is. If it doesn't, it is not.
 
Thanks for sharing. Me likey.

1. I would actually pay for this to happen.
2. I would LOVE this but my experience tells me most people would not. They'd rather have a flawless AI once we get the right machine speed and adjust the algorithms to the current laws.
3. Not sure, for several reasons. First, some teams have invested heavily in this precisely because of the reward it yields. You'd be screwing them over big time. This is not a minor change, it'd be gargantuan. Second, how would this work, exactly? Team A has a better scrum than team B. Team A makes B collapse/go back enough to be awarded a free kick. They chose scrum. Then they do it again. Win another free kick. Collapse again. Free kick. Scrum. And again and again. No cards, no nothing?
4. Meh. Not a big issue imo.
5. I like it. Not sure how easy it is to enforce at lower levels tho.
6. Maybe, not a big thing imo.
7. I understand the point but i'm not sure that's how to tackle it. The argument is a bit along the lines of 'he ran 100 meters past 15 opponents and got rewarded with 5 points. I ran 99 and got past 16 (got past one player twice) and didn't get a single point in the scoreboard'. You have to draw a line somewhere and this is not continuos, it is discrete. On millimeter before the line will mean one thing and one millimeter past that line will mean another.
8. First, not sure i agree with the premise. Second, even if i did, i think point 1) would address quite a chunk of it.
9. Sure, no probs.
10. Nah. A few bad calls doesn't mean we dont know what a forward pass is.

One other thing i find annoying is the constant changes in interpretation. I am not talking from 1980 to today. High tackles and how we treat people who go for a high ball (fair contest, etc) has changed a LOT in the last 5-8 years, sometimes going back and forth. Try it out, make up your mind, and stick to it. Rules are complex enough already. And this are not one of those things for which you could argue 'we are trying things out to make the game more dynamic' or something.
 
Agree about coaching, it should be preventing infractions instead of talking teams out of penalties that already occurred. If a team has slowed the ball down they've accomplished their goal. Talk to teams about whether a ruck is still formed but not whether they need to let go.

I feel like TMO was fine a couple years ago but got worse as they started to tinker with it. They made an okay process a bad one.

Use it should be a preemptive not a reactionary instruction. As soon as balls won at a contested breakdown the team should be told to use it and the time starts them. Do think people overstate how boring a long ruck is.

Agree with Cruz on 7, line has to be drawn somewhere and any proposed solution just seems to make things more complicated.


Turning all scrum penalties in to free kicks would just result in more scrums.

8 absolutely but that's a policy thing. People would rather have "flow" and no penalties rather than require legal turnovers.

10 is so stupid it would kill the game.
 
1. Totally

2. Agree in principle but there are so many cameras that calls will always be under the microscope. Genie is out of the bottle.

3. Absolutely not. Deliberately dropping the scrum is serious foul play with potential life changing consequences - that should be an automatic card. For technical offences I can live with it except for not putting the ball in straight which should result in the death penalty for 9 and ref alike.

4. Can't get too excited about it. If that's madness so is carrying the ball at the back wholly protected by team mates.

5. Totally.

6. Don't really mind, but just about in favour on balance

7. Totally.

8. The easy answer is just to bring back proper rucking! But with the 'ruck' as it is I want to encourage competition for the ball, little less tedious than phase after phase of largely uncontested recyc💤

9. Yeah fine.

10. Totally. In fact go further and require the ball to go backwards from point of release. The direction of hands stuff is a nonsense.
 
1) I'm in favour of this, One of my pet hates in what a player "legally" slows the ball down by doing something illegal and taking advantage of the ref giving them time to be legal again, they've already disrupted play illegally by that point and many teams love doing these little tricks at the breakdown by lying on the wrong side and then trying oh so hard to get out of the way again, blocking players from entering a ruck by again lazily being on the wrong side but pretending to get back on side or jackalers going for the ball and preventing the scrum half moving the ball on, then releasing when the ref tells them to.

2) The example is wrong, the knock on in question happened immediately before the incident in which Spencer got the card and it was because Spencer saw the ball get knocked on that he went for the ball, leading to the incorrect offside call. He was not offside, the ball had been knocked on so actually the lack of TMO usage despite the players asking for it to be checked led to a wrong decision with a card, which could have swung the result of the game. I'm not in favour of the TMO involvement being reduced. Also if we ever could get AI reliable enough to ref games, I'd love it. No partisanship, no bias, no being influenced by the crowd, access live to much more information... Sounds great.

3) I don't entirely agree with this either as the defending team has far less incentive to not collapse. I feel it should remain a penalty but can only be awarded if the ball isn't playable (ie it doesn't get to the rear 3 players). If the ball can be played, it should. Don't allow players to dribble the ball with their feet any more.

4) I agree the mauls need fixing. I think amend the rule to be like with a ruck, you cannot play the 9. Designate the 9 as any player who is not part of the maul that then takes the ball from a player who is in the maul. Any player in the maul may still tackle another player in the maul if they break off.

5) This but more importantly I'd redefine the definition of a ruck and who is deemed part of it. You will have the "front" of the ruck, which the the player who is in contact with a player from the opposing team. Players may bind on to to a player at the front of the ruck only, they may not bind on to a player who is themselves bound on to another player. This makes rucks a maximum of 2 players deep and removes caterpillar rucks.

6) No opinion

7) Orange seems sensible. I think it should be yellow for cynical play, orange for unintentional foul play and red for reckless or intentional and foul play.

8) Very little is obvious in rugby, hence why there are so many issues with enforcing the laws. I think jackalling needs to be more clearly defined but I feel that this area in general is actually one of the better areas of rugby that seems to give the best balance between attacking and defending teams and I'm not overly keen on changing much about it.

9) Haven't seen a whole lot of dummying tbh and it's already a law.

10) Disagree. Direction of hands gives the best indication of if the pass would have been forwards or not if the player was static. Requiring the ball to go backwards relative to the pitch could lead to ridiculous situations where a player could throw the ball backwards over their own head but the ball would still travel forwards relative to the pitch. I think it should still be as is with the general caveat that, if it isn't clear and obvious, the benefit of the doubt should be in favour of it being legal. If the pass needs to be micro-analysed then it must be assumed legal.
 
You've seen the video where someone chucks it over their head and it still goes forwards right?
have you got a link? (will also google) that would mean they're running faster than they passing which would be unusual i would think

3. Absolutely not. Deliberately dropping the scrum is serious foul play with potential life changing consequences - that should be an automatic card. For technical offences I can live with it except for not putting the ball in straight which should result in the death penalty for 9 and ref alike.
he's my one problem with this argument and someone please correct me if im wrong, has there been a prosecutions or even a ban enforced deliberate foul play in a scrum? probably as a result of a card i guess but cant think of any that im aware of which suggests to me we're never certain enough of who has done what to do anything more serious than a penalty....and thats not really equitably to the potential life changing consequences you talk about.

and besides that, i played in the front row and now manage a rugby club in aussie...i have yet to meet a front rower in person who will admit to deliberately collapsing a scrum, every front rower i have met takes it very seriously and knows the dangers, sure there are dark arts to get an advantage but never IMO straight out collapsing...so i for one dont believe its something that needs to be stamped out and all (almost all) scrum collapses are accidental
 
ok, fair i guess but thats pretty extreme, almost just throws it up with no velocity backward

my stance is we should just let more **** go and stop dissecting the minutiae, BUT people wont do that and its killing the game for me (anyone on the "international rugby" facebook page? its bloody painful)...feel like almost every game there are super slow mo's breaking down the physics of at least three moving bodies....and that doesnt sound like a fun game to follow to me

so if we cant just accept some slight forward passes then i would rather they said it has to go backwards even if that means the passer need to hold they step for a second to break their momentum, will look weird but less to argue about
 
ok, fair i guess but thats pretty extreme, almost just throws it up with no velocity backward

my stance is we should just let more **** go and stop dissecting the minutiae, BUT people wont do that and its killing the game for me (anyone on the "international rugby" facebook page? its bloody painful)...feel like almost every game there are super slow mo's breaking down the physics of at least three moving bodies....and that doesnt sound like a fun game to follow to me

so if we cant just accept some slight forward passes then i would rather they said it has to go backwards even if that means the passer need to hold they step for a second to break their momentum, will look weird but less to argue about
If he threw it up with no velocity backwards, the ball would come back down approximately in the same position as where he is if he keeps running at a set pace (slightly backwards due to air resistance). The fact the ball goes some way backwards relative to him means he must have thrown in backwards with some velocity. The players travels 6m in the time it takes the ball to drop back down, the ball has travelled forwards 3m in that same time, so the player must have thrown it backwards approximately half as fast as he was running forwards.
 
I'd like to expand the mitigation re. head contact so that a yellow card can be rescinded and the player in the bin allowed to return to the field (before the ten minutes are up) if the TMO concludes (during the bunker review) there is 'full mitigation' e.g. accidental or if it was caused by actions of the player receiving contact to the head e.g. poor body position. At the moment you can have a nimble footed back run head first into a lock who doesn't have time to get his body position correct and attempt to tackle him properly.
 
If he threw it up with no velocity backwards, the ball would come back down approximately in the same position as where he is if he keeps running at a set pace (slightly backwards due to air resistance). The fact the ball goes some way backwards relative to him means he must have thrown in backwards with some velocity. The players travels 6m in the time it takes the ball to drop back down, the ball has travelled forwards 3m in that same time, so the player must have thrown it backwards approximately half as fast as he was running forwards.
i used the word "almost" and your going into some detail....im not sure we're in the same argument, im just going on when growing up we're always told the ball will beat the man meaning its normally faster to pass the ball than run it...so a pass of half the speed their running would be unusual...but i go to my main point, firstly i would happy just accept the ball will often go "forward"...and move on
 
i used the word "almost" and your going into some detail....im not sure we're in the same argument, im just going on when growing up we're always told the ball will beat the man meaning its normally faster to pass the ball than run it...so a pass of half the speed their running would be unusual...but i go to my main point, firstly i would happy just accept the ball will often go "forward"...and move on
Basically just being nit picky about the claim the ball wasn't thrown backwards with any velocity in the video when, in reality, it was thrown backwards enough to scrub off approximately half the forward momentum.
 
what does the ball moving sideways faster than a defense have to do with the elementary physics concept of inertia?
 
Basically just being nit picky about the claim the ball wasn't thrown backwards with any velocity in the video when, in reality, it was thrown backwards enough to scrub off approximately half the forward momentum.
i understand what your were doing....just not sure it was needed as it not exactly what i said, i would still say half the speed of the runner is not very fast compared to most passes

what does the ball moving sideways faster than a defense have to do with the elementary physics concept of inertia?
the fact this sentence is needed to explain a law in rugby tells me the laws are too complicated

sorry of it wasn't clear, the old saying of the "ball beating the man" suggests to me that most passes are faster than the most player run (im sure there are exceptions both ways), so if you did pass it directly backward with the average pass speed then it should still go slightly backwards...but i fear we're going to go down the road of talking about it not being possible to do with the physics of throwing your arms over our head rather than the more natural across the body and i can just see it becoming yet another painful discussion
 
i also just need to point out my other point...im cool with the current rules...i get it and understand it....was just acknowledging i understand the feeling of wanting more clear cut black and white laws...even if they will never happen...avoid some of these argument that feel more and more common
 
i understand what your were doing....just not sure it was needed as it not exactly what i said, i would still say half the speed of the runner is not very fast compared to most passes

Most passes are not thrown directly backwards so the majority of the energy is in making the ball go sideways, not backwards.
 
Most passes are not thrown directly backwards so the majority of the energy is in making the ball go sideways, not backwards.
....im assuming im misunderstanding you as i read that as agreeing with me, if we used the same energy to pass directly backwards (Y) achieving or exceeding the average pass velocity shouldn't be an issue....and we dont have to give any to the X direction
 
....im assuming im misunderstanding you as i read that as agreeing with me, if we used the same energy to pass directly backwards (Y) achieving or exceeding the average pass velocity shouldn't be an issue....and we dont have to give any to the X direction
I don't know any more what exactly you are arguing for or against so I'll leave it at that.
 
I don't know any more what exactly you are arguing for or against so I'll leave it at that.
i just explained all i was getting at, just acknowledging i understand the gut reaction to want black and white rules whilst also acknowledging they wont happen, i find how often that video or ones like it have to be posted to explain something thats happened in a game frustrating and the fact terms like "relative velocities" are needed to explain some of the rules a little daming on how complicated the game is for new fans

happy to leave it too
 

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