World Rugby rubber stamps six law amendments across breakdown, scrum

Sam Cane Fiona Goodall/Getty Images for NZR

The ability of openside 'fetchers' to dominate the breakdown could be a thing of the past, after World Rugby rubberstamped three new law amendments as part of an overhaul designed to make the game simpler to referee and easier to understand.

World Rugby on Friday announced a list of six law changes which had previously been trialled in various competitions across the globe, including last year's Mitre 10 Cup in New Zealand.

General reaction to the trials in New Zealand had been mixed in 2016, with the main concerns surrounding the ability of breakdown specialist No.7s to get on the ball at the tackle and effect a turnover.

And players such as Sam Cane, David Pocock and Michael Hooper in the south, and Sam Warburton and Sean O'Brien in the north, may now have to re-evaluate their approach to the breakdown, given they can no longer look to steal the ball from any angle when acting as the tackler and that no hands can be used as soon as there is one player from each side over the ball.

"The amendments, which relate to the scrum (Law 20) and tackle/ruck (Laws 15 and 16), are aimed at making the game simpler to play and referee as well as further promoting player welfare," a World Rugby press release read.

"They have been approved following extensive game data analysis as well as player, coach, match official and union feedback from the tournaments in which these six aspects of law were trialled.

"The six law amendments will now join the scheduled global law trial programme, completing a total package of 11 aspects of law, and will debut in full from 1 August, 2017 in the northern hemisphere and from 1 January, 2018 in the south."

The speed of play and breakdown recycle certainly increased during the Mitre 10 Cup while the amount of stoppages was also reduced. But there was a fear the game was losing its 'contest' for the ball, which has long one of rugby's great hallmarks.

SANZAAR Game Manager Lyndon Bray wasn't totally convinced by last year's Mitre 10 Cup trials when the possibility of the laws being introduced across the board was raised at a meeting in September 2016. There have been some tweaks to those laws trialled in the Mitre 10 Cup, too, with players no longer permitted to kick the ball out of a ruck in a bid to disrupt opposition ball. Instead, they must strike the ball in a backwards motion towards their side of the field.

"The prevailing issue is to what extent is the contest still on the tackle, and if you've watched a bit of [Mitre 10 Cup] you can see how hard it is to get in and actually win the ball," Bray said in September last year.

"And we want to protect a little bit of that contest. At the same time the balance is making sure the attack team has got confidence to play.

"So I really like some of it, and I think our view going through to World Rugby, which will look at all of that in November from a decision-making point of view [is] what might it look like going forward; I think those two things, the tackler and [having] the offside line as early as possible in the breakdown -- and maybe therefore redefine that a ruck starts with one player rather than two -- that's working well, but [also] maintaining the contest.

"Because I think in the southern hemisphere, one of our strengths, in all our core markets, is our ability to get on the ball -- and that gives us a real point of difference if you look across world rugby. So I think that's a key factor that we want to maintain."

Three amendments have also been made to the scrum, revolving around the feed itself, the strike for the ball and where in the scrum the No.8 can pick up the ball with his hands.

While the laws will be used across the board in the northern hemisphere from August 1, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Argentina and the Pacific Island nations will have to wait until the November Test series for their first opportunity.


1. Law 20.5 and 20.6 (d)

No signal from referee. The scrum-half must throw the ball in straight but is allowed to align their shoulder on the middle line of the scrum, therefore allowing them to stand a shoulder width towards their own side of the middle line.

Rationale: To promote scrum stability, a fair contest for possession while also giving the advantage to the team throwing in (non-offending team).

2. Law 20.9 (b) Handling in the scrum - exception

The number eight shall be allowed to pick the ball from the feet of the second-rows.

Rationale: To promote continuity.

3. Law 20.8 (b) Striking after the throw-in

Once the ball touches the ground in the tunnel, any front-row player may use either foot to try to win possession of the ball. One player from the team who put the ball in must strike for the ball. Sanction: Free-kick

Rationale: To promote a fair contest for possession.

4. Law 15.4 (c)

The tackler must get up before playing the ball and then can only play from their own side of the tackle "gate". Rationale: To make the tackle/ruck simpler for players and referees and more consistent with the rest of that law.

5. Law 16 Ruck

A ruck commences when at least one player is on their feet and over the ball which is on the ground (tackled player, tackler). At this point the offside lines are created. Players on their feet may use their hands to pick up the ball as long as this is immediate. As soon as an opposition player arrives, no hands can be used.

Rationale: To make the ruck simpler for players and referees.

6. Law 16.4: Other ruck offences

A player must not kick the ball out of a ruck. The player can only hook it in a backwards motion. Sanction: Penalty

Rationale: To promote player welfare and to make it consistent with scrum law.