IRB brings in 11 rule changes to speed up game

2013-01-31 00:00

THE International Rugby Board, in contrast to those folk who run the game of soccer, enjoy meddling with the laws and they have introduced 11 changes for the new season.

Seven of the law alterations will influence play and the IRB say that most are aimed at making the game faster while cutting back on wasted time.

This, they believe, will improve the spectator experience, though, of course, their constant fiddling often adds to the frustration of those who follow the game from a distance and do not regard The Laws of Rugby Union as a prescribed bedtime read.

Extensive global research involving players, coaches, referees and on-field experiments took place before the trials were introduced, according to Andre Watson, the general manager of referees at the SA Rugby Union.

“An example of this was the extended powers afforded to television match officials (TMOs) during last season’s Currie Cup,” said Watson.

“This will be trialled worldwide this season with a view to it becoming law in 2014.”

What did prove irritating last year was when the TMOs’ replays went back through a number of phases before tries were either allowed or disallowed. This year the TMO will rule only on the last two phases of play before tries are scored.

The most significant change is the five-second period allowed before the ball is used at a ruck.

This will stop scrumhalves (as Ruan Pienaar tended to do in some Tests) taking an age to clear the ball from the breakdown.

Watson said some of the law changes were used on the Springbok tour of the UK in November last year.

Other changes involved feminine attire (women can play in tights) and navigational aids (players can wear a GPS unit), not to show them the way to the tryline, but presumably to track their movements on the field.

New law variations in 2013:

• Five seconds at the ruck

When the ball becomes available at a ruck, the referee will call “use it” and the scrumhalf then has five seconds to clear the ball by passing or running it. This will speed up play by not allowing the team in possession to slow it down, and giving the defenders less time to set up their defensive structures and the attackers the opportunity to be more creative.

• Three-word scrum call

The four-step engagement call has now been shortened in senior rugby to “crouch-touch-set”. “Set” is shorter and quicker to say than “engage” and is expected to produce better timing and adherence by the front rows. The removal of the spoken “pause” does not take away the actual pause, as the two front rows are expected to remain stationary and still before engaging when “set” is called.

• Quick throw-in

The non-offending team may now take a quick throw-in from anywhere between their corner post and where the lineout would take place.

• Additional powers for the TMO

The expanded TMO functionality includes identifying foul play, and clear and obvious infringements in the last two phases before a try is scored.

All officials (the referee, assistant referees and TMO) are allowed to initiate a referral and make recommendations.

Other modifications include:

• Increasing the squad to 23 players for international matches, with specialist replacements for each of the three front-row positions;

• The reintroduction of a stud on the front of the boot (this was banned in the 1980s);

• Allowing players to wear GPS units on the field;

• Allowing women to play with long tights;

• Stipulating that conversion kicks to be taken within 90 seconds of scoring a try;

• The option of choosing a scrum when the opposition knocks on or throws forward and the ball goes into touch;

• If a team is awarded a penalty or free kick in the lineout, they have the option of taking the lineout again without having to kick for touch.

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