• World Rugby and unions united in continued drive to advance game safety and spectacle
  • Australia and New Zealand competitions provide high-level trial opportunity
  • Variations aimed at increasing space and decreasing defensive line speed could have positive player welfare outcomes
  • Captain’s referral to be trialled for the first time in a major competition

The World Rugby Executive Committee has approved new law variations for trial in the Super Rugby AU and Super Rugby Aotearoa competitions that kick-off this month. These include law variations with an ambition to speed up play and improve the spectacle for fans.

Several law variations were implemented in Super Rugby 2020 in Australia and New Zealand (see table below) and will be implemented again in 2021, but additional variations will also be introduced this season at the request of the respective national unions. All trials will be tracked and evaluated to inform decisions regarding future progression.


Super Rugby AU 2021 will see two further innovative law changes introduced, including the kick-off and restart variations. For this season, a free-kick will be awarded following any infringement from the kick-off and restart. This includes a 30 second time limit for restarts to happen following a conversion, penalty or drop goal, as well as restarts that are kicked out on the full or if team-mates of the kicker are not behind the ball. The team that was set to receive the ball will get a free-kick on halfway. This law has been introduced to speed up general play.
In addition, the golden point law variation introduced last year has been tweaked for this season with a drawn match now to be decided by a ‘golden try’ in extra-time. The first try scored in the 10-minute extra-time (two x five-minute halves) will win the match for that team. If a penalty or drop goal is successful within this extra-time the points count towards the match score, but the game will continue until either a try is scored, or the 10-minute period expires. This update is to encourage attacking play in the extra-time period.

The 50:22/22:50 trial is retained after an encouraging debut in 2020 and in the National Rugby Championship. In addition to spectacle benefits, the combination of this variation and the goal-line drop-out could create more space for attacking teams with the potential to slow defensive line speed, which in turn could have a player welfare benefit.


The Super Rugby Aotearoa tournament will see the introduction of a goal-line drop-out awarded to the defending team when an attacking player carrying the ball is held up in the in-goal or knocks the ball on, meaning play restarts with a goal-line drop-out. When a kick enters the in-goal area and is forced by the defending team play also restarts with a goal-line drop-out. The tournament will again include extra-time if the scores are level – but unlike in Australia, if a match is drawn at full-time a single 10-minute period will be played with the first points scored ensuring the win.
The major development in Super Rugby Aotearoa is the global debut of a captain’s referral in rugby. This law variant has been introduced in several sports and New Zealand Rugby will trial it in rugby with each team given one referral which can be activated in one of three scenarios: any decision in the last five minutes of the game, an infringement in the build-up to a try or foul play.

Law trials for Super Rugby AU and Super Rugby Aotearoa 2021

LAW TRIAL Super Rugby Aotearoa Super Rugby Aotearoa Super Rugby AU Super Rugby AU
  2020 2021 2020 2021
Red card - ability to replace red-carded player after 20 minutes YES YES YES YES
Goal-line drop-out for held-up, knock-in in goal or forcing/grounding a ball which is kicking into in-goal. Reward defensive team with a drop-out anywhere on goal-line   YES YES YES
No mark in 22m - for kicks which originate in attacking 22m. The kick can be marked in goal. Restart with a 22m drop-out     YES YES
50:22 and 22:50 - reward indirect free-kicks to touch with the lineout throw     YES YES
Golden point/try - If the match is drawn at full-time, the match goes to extra-time with the winner determined by either first try or points scored YES YES (Point) YES YES (Try)
Captain's challenge - Team allowed one captain's challenge but only for try-scoring, foul play or last five minutes of each half. Retain challenge if successful   YES    
Kick-off and restarts - Opposition team restarts with a drop-out and within 30 seconds of conversion or penalty-kick/drop goal       YES

World Rugby Acting Chief Executive Alan Gilpin said: “We welcome the opportunity afforded by Rugby Australia and New Zealand Rugby to run trials within their respective domestic Super Rugby competitions in 2021. These trials, which have attractiveness and welfare at heart, build upon encouraging initial trials in 2020 and we look forward to seeing the outcomes.”