Injury-prevention is at the heart of a package of law amendment and trial recommendations made by World Rugby’s Law Review Group (LRG) during two highly productive days in London this week.

With player welfare being the number-one consideration, the recommendations made by this multi-disciplinary expert group, carefully considered all available evidence in the evaluation of each proposal, including the six that were discussed at the recent player welfare and laws symposium in Marcoussis, France.

World Rugby Chairman Sir Bill Beaumont said: “World Rugby is committed to evidence-based injury prevention, and while injury incidence in rugby is not on the rise and there has been a 15 per cent reduction in concussions in elite competitions, now is not the time to become complacent and, this week, the LRG has continued to focus on further reducing the risk of injury at all levels.

“At the centre of this approach is the tackle, which is responsible for 50 per cent of all match injuries and 76 per cent of all concussions (72 per cent occurring to the tackler). This is in part driven by an increase of ball in play time by 50 per cent since the 1987 Rugby World Cup to approximately 40 minutes today. This has given rise to a 252 per cent increase in tackles over the same period, which is why we are so focused on this area.”

Having assessed and discussed all the available data, the six Marcoussis proposals were each considered by the LRG and, accordingly, recommendations were made to the Rugby Committee:

  • 50:22 kick proposal. If the team in possession kicks the ball from inside their own half indirectly into touch inside their opponents’ 22 or from inside their own 22 into their opponents’ half, they will throw in to the resultant lineout
    Rationale: To create space by forcing players to drop back out of the defensive line in order to prevent their opponents from kicking for touch
    Recommendation: To approve for closed trials

  • Reduction in the number of permitted substitutions 
    Rationale: To encourage more space and opportunities towards the end of the game as on-field players tire 
    Recommendation: For World Rugby to sponsor more research to determine if there is a player welfare benefit

  • Off feet at the ruck – players must move away from the ball without delay 
    Rationale: To ensure more space and time is afforded to the attacking side 
    Recommendation: Specialist working group should be formed to assess all issues regarding the ruck/ breakdown

  • Delaying the movement of the defensive line at the ruck until the ball has reached the first attacking player or until the receiver opts not to pass
    Rationale: To give the team in possession more time and space on the ball 
    Recommendation: Not to approve for trial

  • Reducing the tackle height to the waist 
    Rationale: Forcing players to tackle lower may reduce the risk of head injuries to both the tackler and tackled player 
    Recommendation: To approve for closed trials

  • Ability to review a yellow card when a player is in the sin-bin for dangerous foul play
    Rationale: To ensure players who are guilty of serious foul play do not escape with a yellow card when they deserved red
    Recommendation: To approve for closed trials.

Beyond the Marcoussis outcomes, a number of other proposals were considered by the LRG and recommendations made accordingly:

  • The introduction of an infringement (penalty and free-kick) limit for teams. Once a team has reached the limit, a mandatory yellow card is given to the last offending player as a team sanction
    Rationale: To encourage teams to offend less
    Recommendation: To approve for closed trials at NRC in Australia

  • The awarding of a goal line drop-out to the defending team when an attacking player, who brings the ball into in-goal, is held up
    Rationale: To reward good defence and promote a faster rate of play
    Recommendation: To approve for closed trials at NRC in Australia

  • One additional replacement per team be allowed during extra-time in a sevens match
    Rationale: To manage player fatigue and workload
    Recommendation: To approve for closed trial at the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series and HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series

  • The High Tackle Technique warning has been successfully trialled at the World Rugby U20 Championship for the last two years
    Rationale: Head Injury prevention strategy
    Recommendation: To approve further closed trials

  • A number of potential changes to tackle law were discussed by the group, with a particular reference to the community level in France
    Rationale: To reduce injury rates in the domestic game
    Recommendation: Approve for closed trials in designated FFR competitions

Following a detailed discussion on the risks associated to front-row players’ necks during the scrum engagement process, the LRG also supported a proposed amendment to Law 19 (Scrum) that, if approved, will outlaw the practice of front-rows placing their heads onto opposition players’ shoulders between the call of ‘bind’ and ‘set’. It has been shown that this practice has resulted in potentially dangerous levels of axial loading on front-rows’ cervical spines. Given this issue has significant potential welfare implications, it will be actioned immediately.

The LRG also considered feedback from the implementation of the High Tackle Sanction framework in the recent World Rugby U20 Championship in Argentina. Following input form operational staff, it was agreed to simplify the framework by removing reference to direct or indirect contact and streamlining the questions once a shoulder charge or high tackle had occurred.

Four proposals of law amendments in Rugby X were also recommended by the LRG, including:

  • That restarts should take place on the five-metre line (as opposed to the goal line)
  • That the requirement for kicks to be grubbers be removed
  • That the seven-point ‘max zone’ be removed (so all tries carry the same value)
  • That one-on-one skill tests be introduced to settle drawn matches (replacing extra-time)

LRG Chairman John Jeffrey said: “This meeting is another important step on the road to further law improvement within the next four-year Rugby World Cup cycle. There is no doubt that the sport is committed in its collaborative effort to reduce injuries, particularly head injuries, and the outcomes from this productive meeting certainly underscored that approach.

“The level of expertise and engagement in the meeting was impressive. The members of the LRG clearly want what’s best for the game and are determined to make the sport as safe, simple and enjoyable to play as it can be at all levels. I look forward to considering the LRG recommendations with my colleagues from the Rugby Committee next month.”

The LRG, which is made up of law experts, players, coaches, match officials and elite competition representatives, considers the applications, edits or clarifications of existing law and the introduction of new laws deemed appropriate for closed or global trials. The process could culminate in law amendments within the next Rugby World Cup cycle.