Another season and yet more tinkering with the laws of rugby union by World Rugby as new laws are set to be trialled in the Northern Hemisphere from 1 August.
Below is a lowdown of the rule changes which the likes of Premiership title contenders London Wasps and Saracens, and the best rugby team in the world (author bias alert!), Bedford Blues, will have to be aware of from today, and speculation from this rugby fan as to their impact:
Law 3 Number of Players – The Team
3.6 (Uncontested Scrums)
Add (h) Uncontested scrums as a result of a sending off, temporary suspension or injury must be played with eight players per side.
A sensible enough change, prohibiting teams from dropping a player or two out of uncontested scrums in order to gain a man advantage in the immediate subsequent opening play. However, uncontested scrums, caused by a team running out of front row replacements to cover injuries or suspensions, are rare these days and I can’t recall any instance of a team reducing player numbers in an uncontested scrum in order to gain an advantage in the open field. Impact Rating: 1/5.
Law 5 Time
Add to 5.7(e) If a penalty is kicked into touch after time has elapsed without touching another player, the referee allows the throw-in to be taken and play continues until the next time the ball becomes dead.
I have mixed feelings about this rule change. On the one hand, it ends the habit of teams narrowly leading by one score heading into overtime happily conceding penalties in the opposition half, knowing the only option the opposition has is to ‘tap and go’, rather than kick for territory. In that sense, it is hugely beneficial to an attacking team trailing by a single score in a match. However, it does also end the beauty of desperate, free-running rugby from all areas of the pitch of the trailing side, which can once in a while miraculously produce the winning score. Impact Rating: 4/5
Law 8 Advantage
Add to 8.1(a) When there are multiple penalty infringements by the same team, the referee may allow the captain of the non-offending team to choose the most advantageous of the penalty marks.
Highly advantageous for an attacking team in that they are able to choose a better position for kicking, especially at goal. Will also discourage defending sides from repeated infringements having already conceded one penalty. Impact rating: 3/5
Law 9 Method of Scoring
9.A.1 (points values)
Penalty Try. If a player would probably have scored a try but for foul play by an opponent, a penalty try is awarded. No conversion is attempted.
Value: 7 points
A very interesting change which will save time by eradicating penalty-try conversions, but probably unwelcome by kickers because penalty-try conversions, being right in front of the posts, help boost their kicking percentages! Seemingly the most frequent way penalty tries are conceded are through repeated collapsing by the defending side from less than five metres away from the try-line of mauls or scrums. Expect teams to tactically allow the opposition to score tries through mauls near the corner flags in order to hopefully concede five rather than an automatic seven points. Impact Rating: 4/5
Law 19 Touch and Lineout
• A player who is attempting to bring the ball under control is deemed to be in possession of the ball.
• If a player jumps and knocks the ball back into the playing area (or if that player catches the ball and throws it back into the playing area) before landing in touch or touch-in-goal, play continues regardless of whether the ball reaches the plane of touch.
• If the ball-carrier reaches the plane of touch but returns the ball to the playing area without first landing in touch, play continues.
• In this case, if the ball has passed the plane of touch when it is caught, then the catcher is not deemed to have taken the ball into touch. If the ball has not passed the plane of touch when it is caught or picked up, then the catcher is deemed to have taken the ball into touch, regardless of whether the ball was in motion or stationary.
A number of subtle rule amendments, primarily seeking to increase ball in-play time. This will most probably affect penalty kicks for territory which defending sides can now more easily prevent and keep the ball in play if they are able to pat it back into the field whilst themselves airborne, now allowing them to land out of play after doing so. This is something players seem to attempt to do already and thus will have least impact of all the rules. Impact Rating: 0.5/5
Only time will tell which teams will make the most of the new rules and which will flounder. Bring on the 2017/18 rugby union season!