The Blog

Rugby: Law Changes Perhaps?

As the custodians of the game, thestill regularly tweak laws here and there to find the optimum formula for the sport. To that end, I propose a few minor alterations for debate.

To outsiders, rugby is understandably a complex game, yet to insiders too, rugby can seemingly be a tough code to crack.

As the custodians of the game, the IRB still regularly tweak laws here and there to find the optimum formula for the sport. To that end, I propose a few minor alterations for debate.

Overwhelmingly the most successful changes to date have been of the irrefutable variety such as when the try was upgraded to five points. Others requiring judgments and interpretations have been less so spectacular such as 'scrum engagements' and 'competing at rucks'.

It's not that previous solutions were flawed themselves, it's just that, in the parlance of economics, they were accompanied by 'externalities', or more simply, unintended consequences.

As the physicist Niels Bohr said,

Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future,

and so who is to know how thirty wild beasts will act when herding around the pitch?

The sober reality is that they will often do whatever it takes to win as the limits of game's laws are regularly bent or breached entirely.

Bending rules is a bit like tax avoidance. Not necessarily acceptable, but not wholly illegal either, so fair game, if you are smart enough. Feigning an injury to a prop to force uncontested scrums would come under this banner.

Following this fiscal metaphor, breaking the rules would be more like tax evasion and totally illicit. Holding back specific players off the ball to create space elsewhere, such as Ireland's try in Twickenham last year is one of these examples shrewdly obfuscated.

You need to watch the replay to see it here, and even then it's subtle.

Hence the greater use of TV and technology might seem incontestably wonderful to the sport to help mitigate these fraudulent behaviours, but it's not as clear-cut as that just yet.

Consider TV-replays. They have been great for the accuracy in officiating but they are not without drawbacks. The exaggerated time now taken to scroll back through footage searching for infringements, or examining multiple camera angles gives the players considerably more rest time than previously, and that matters.

An interval based game, the size of these breaks greatly affects what happens during play. When the ratio of rest to work increases, the players can be more explosive at subsequent phases of play, thereby intensifying the collisions. Just imagine how different a marathon would be if the clock stopped every few minutes for a rest.

Of course, training similarly adjusts to suit these match conditions and the result is more muscular physiques, compounding these collisions still further.

Now considering rugby's looming problem with repeated concussions and general health & safety, it's hard to argue this is all ideal. How then can this side effect be mitigated without causing another? Opting for the scalpel in the past, the IRB have sought to regulate away troubles, but there might be another less invasive approach. Rather than focusing on what happens in-play, they could examine the opportunities that exist out-of-play.

Removing TV-replays is not an option given their usefulness, but limits should be placed on their usage until such a time that decisions are made far more speedily. Apart from those supporters who use this time wisely to beat the queues at the bar or toilet, few if any of the paying customers enjoy this anti-drama.

Speeding Up Time Lapses

Maybe the referee could carry around the two kicking tees and reduce the unnecessary time taken for a kicking coach to waltz onto the pitch with an egg holder and water bottle.

As a goal kicker, I can confirm that these devices are both lightweight and easy to carry, perhaps on a belt. It might only save thirty-seconds each time, but that adds up quickly when you are gasping for air. Indeed it would make the time limit per goal kick enforceable which at the moment it's not and so regularly flouted.

Fatigue is not a bad thing. It breaks down the trenches between sides, and sensibly reduces the physical ferocity, leading to more errors of judgment, more porous defenses and thus more tries.

The Touchline

Additionally, is there any major reason why the touchline could not be redefined, similar to tennis, so that touching the line would be reclassified as in-play?

Of course a player lying prone and touching the line with his fingertips from two meters in-touch should not be deemed in-play. That would be ridiculous. However if only the player's feet were eligible for this dispensation, then you would just be increasing the effective playing area by about twelve inches on either side of the pitch.

Surely the upshot of awarding more tries is worth considering for entertainment value alone.

The application of this would be relatively easy too. Touch judges are a skillful bunch and are well capable of ascertaining when a player is standing or not, while simultaneously focusing on the external rather than internal boundary of the touchline.

Not totally without precedent either, it's worth considering the little known Law 22.G that allows a player to score a try while standing entirely in-touch.

Neither idea is a silver bullet on its own, but might be a small change that can have an exclusively positive impression on the game.

Slightly less concussions and higher scoring games sound great. This is what supporters, players, doctors and parents want. The IRB probably want it too, even if they don't realise it yet.