16 May 2012

IRB to introduce new laws in 2012 - Haven't we been here before?

The IRB have announced that rugby union will be governed by 5 new laws in late 2012 while additional trials will take place concurrently. The new laws are to come into force in June (but effectively the Autumn) for the northern hemisphere, while they will only take effect in the southern hemisphere in 2013. 

It had been widely reported that there had been trials of propsed rule changes at an amateur level in Oxford and Stellenbosch this year, but I doubt anyone was expecting these changes so soon. Nevertheless they have now been sanctioned. For some, the changes may have come a little to swiftly.

Haven't we been here before?

The news will evoke memories of the now infamous Experimental Law Variations (ELVs), which were introduced in 2008. Those laws were trialled by the southern hemisphere in the then name Super 14, following a dour 2007 World Cup final between SA and England. The laws were meant to speed the game up and allow for a greater flow. Instead it resulted in some pretty crazy scorelines, turning the game on it's head (especially in the early rounds).

The huge impact of the 2008 ELVs
The Chiefs winning 72 points to 65 over the Lions was probably the most extreme games of them all under the ELVs. In the end only 10 of the 23 rule changes trialled were approved globally, but one must say that  rugby union is better for those changes. For example, not being able to kick the ball out on the full if the ball is passed back into the 22. I think most would agree that change was beneficial.

Therefore it is no surprise to see that the IRB have gotten up to the same old tricks again. It seems more a case of evolution rather than revolution on this occasion though. Only five law changes have been inked in, while some additional trials will take place too (for example, greater influence for TMO's).

The Five Laws to be introduced globally are:

1.The ball has to be used within five seconds of it being made available at the back of a ruck with a warning from the referee to use it. Sanction scrum.

2. For a quick throw in, the player may be anywhere outside the field of play between the line of touch and the player's goal line.

3. When the ball goes into touch from a knock-on, the non-offending team will be offered the choice of a lineout at the point the ball crossed the touch line, or a scrum at the place of the knock-on.

4.  A team awarded a penalty or a free kick at a lineout may choose a further lineout. This is in addition to the scrum option.

5. A conversion kick must be completed within 90 seconds from the time that a try has been awarded.

The Additional Trials wil be:

1. A trial to extend the jurisdiction of the TMO to incidents within the field of play that have led to the scoring of a try, and foul play in the field of play, to take place at an appropriate elite competition in order that a protocol can be developed for the November tests.

2. A trial has been sanctioned for the November test window permitting international teams to nominate up to eight replacements in the match day squads, but the additional player must be a qualified front rower.

3. An amendment to enable sevens teams to nominate up to five replacements/substitutes during a match, from June this year.

Assessment of the New Laws and Trials

Some of these law changes are minor but it will be interesting to see just how rigidly the first law change is enforced. If we are genuinely going to see a scrum awarded every time the ball has been available at the back of a ruck for 5 seconds but not distributed, I think we are going to have a very stop-start game. The law change is obviously to stop teams killing the game in the latter stages by effectively holding on to the the ball for long periods without actually taking risks, but it could be misguided. The fact that the sanction will be a scrum too (something the IRB have failed to sort out for a long time now) might irritate some. Why not just make it a quick tap? We'll have to wait and see how effective that change is.

As for the 90 second rule for conversions, I genuinely don't think it will make that much diffrerence. Ever since Dominguez retired for Italy, you don't get kickers staring at the post for 5 minutes. The change though will surely please those angered by time-wasting antics. So I imagine it will be a rule that stays.

Some of the trials are the most interesting changes for me. For example the increased influence of TMO's. How often have we seen refs make a bad call because of the way they have phrased a question to the TMO? Too many times in my opinion. Extending the jurisdiction of TMO's seems like a pretty straight-forward decision to me and I would be suprised if it's not a hit. After all, if you're going to have them, you might as well make use of them. In fact I even outlined in a previous post a proposal for TMO's to decide whether a player which has been yellow carded deserves to have it upgraded to a red during the 10 minutes they are off the field.

No more uncontested scrums?
The trial of having another prop on the subs bench (and thus increasing the number of players on the bench too) is also a great idea. I think it has been mentioned countless times before, but it never seemed like it would come to fruition.

Finally it should be able to sort out the farce of uncontested scums. On too many occasions, teams have been denied their attacking weapon because of either a genuine front row injury or simply cynical professionalism.One would think having an extra prop on the bench should limit this possibility drastically..... unlees your Australian/ Irish and your playing the English.

Final Judgement

In general I have to say i'm pretty pleased with the new laws. When I found out the IRB were going to introduce some new laws, I like most began to squirm in my seat slightly. Having now heard them in detail though, i'm sure the majority of them will have a positive impact on the game. They are certainly far less intrusive than the 23 ELV's trialled in 2008 anyway. The only law I question is the 5 second rule at the back of the ruck. I can understand it's introduction and their reasons, but policing it may lead to a lot of stoppages in play. Could the IRB be replacing an irritating aspect of the game with something which could potentially be a real blight?

 What do you think of the new laws? As always comment below with your views!


  1. Agree with you on the five second rule. It doesn't seem that long. It's worth a try though. Watching the 6 nations this year was the last straw for me. The ball was just sitting there all the time. If the players can't make the decisions quick enough, the ref should for them!

  2. Well it's worth a try I suppose. The rule i'm sure will be scrapped if i's impact isn't positive.

    The reaction it seems is postive from the fans but mixed from the proessionals. I read an article today where Conrad Smtih and Mark Hammett expressed their views on the changes if you are interested.Can be found here:


  3. Anonymous30 May, 2012

    1 law not discussed here is the new protocol for scrum time. At last the pause has been taken out of the engagement routine changing it to "crouch, touch, SET" As a prop definitely going to enjoy not having my opposite man have the time to decide which rib he wants to try and push on. Any other thoughts on the subject?

    I personally like the quicker ruck ball option, 5 seconds is still quite a long time, and its from the moment the ref see the ball has clearly been won. So there is little to no excuse for the ball to be there longer than necessary.

    1. I agree that the scrum has become farcical, the multiple stages before the hit seem to offbalance the front row more than anything. Hopefully the simplified process will help things.

      Yes I can see where you are coming from on the 5 second rule. It is making the game a bit more like league in a sense though. It takes away the option of the halfbacks to slow the game down and control the tempo. I'm yet to make my mind up on the rule to be honest.

  4. Well...first of all i do think that a little refresh on the sport will be positive, specially when it's about the most rigid aspect of the game!
    However, in my opinion they are changing the wrong part of the formula, i mean, rugby union is a sport FULL of laws, and instead of making the existing laws more flexible, they are creating MORE laws!
    Let me give you an example...let's take the simplified scrum set rule...it is meant to speed up the game a little bit, we can agree on that, but...faster scrums will also equal to more messy ones and a bigger proneness for mistakes to happen...would that make the game faster or would that make the more conservative refs to re-set the scrum EVEN more times? That's the question i make...
    In my opinion, the slowness of rugby comes from the stiffness of the laws and refs, not from the amount of seconds you take to do something...(Yeah, i know sometimes scrum-halves take to MUCH time to put the ball in play, but let's be rational, what takes more time? A scrum-half who takes 6-7 seconds to pass the ball, or a set of a scrum happening everytime the scrum-half takes more than 5 seconds?? That's my point!)
    In my humble opinion, asking players to be quicker WITHOUT asking the ref to be more flexible will only lead to more mistakes and subsequently more stoppages!
    In rugby union the ref plays a HUGE role in the game, if you want the game to be more fluid the ref HAVE to be more fluid...

    1. (Resuming)
      I can be wrong, maybe the new laws are working pretty well (i don't know, i haven't watched a game under the new laws already), so if any of you have already watched the new laws being applied in a real game, you can give me your feedback...
      Keep in mind that my opinion is simply the opinion of someone who have never seen the new laws in practice...of course i don't deny the possibility of the outcome being positive, i just think that they are TOO focused on "let's demand players to be quicker" while in MY OPINION they should have focused more on "let's demand rules to cause less stoppages"...
      Plus, i think it's wrong to try turn rugby union in rugby league...as a HUGE fan of both codes i say:
      When i wanna watch league, I WATCH LEAGUE!
      When i watch union, IS BECAUSE I WANNA WATCH UNION!
      Simple as that!, Don't TRY to make them equal because they are different and they are both beautiful in their differences!
      Rugby union is a beautiful sport! The free time between plays when they put on replays is part of the beauty! The free time between plays when they randomly film the players faces is part of the beauty! Don't take that way!
      Simply make laws more flexible so that stoppages don't happen every 30 seconds and we (rugby fans) will be fine!