Ten rule changes to improve the game…

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Nov 14, 2023, 20:56

….this from the Telegraph. Pretty sensible:

1. Stop coaching

This might be the toughest, given how ingrained it has become, but it is also, paradoxically, one of the easiest. Referees need to communicate less. If a player is offside from chasing a kick, don’t tell them to get back, penalise them! If a player is offside at a ruck, don’t tell them to retreat, penalise them! If a player is deemed as off their feet at a ruck and continues to contest for the ball, don’t tell them, penalise them! They will not do it again. Discipline would improve tenfold, with players no longer willing to push the laws to the absolute limit – and beyond.

The auxiliary benefit, too, would be that non-English-speaking teams would benefit, given they are palpably hampered every time they take the field with an English-speaking referee. Referees should speak with their whistle and little else.

Referee Wayne Barnes during the Rugby World Cup 2023 final
Referees should simply enforce the laws rather than coaching players to stick within them CREDIT: David Davies/PA Wire

2. Reduce TMO involvement

With the insidious increase in the power of the television match official, season on season, how long will it be before artificial intelligence is refereeing rugby matches? The TMO has been allowed to increase its remit for years, to a fault. There was the near-farcical situation at Gloucester on Friday night, when Bath captain Ben Spencer was sin-binned for a cynical offside on his own line but, because the infringement came in a try-scoring opportunity, the TMO was glancing at a potential Gloucester knock-on a few phases earlier. Had the spill been deemed as a knock-on, what would have happened to Spencer, who was yellow-carded for a non-dangerous act of foul play that occurred in a sort of vacuum period of the game which shouldn’t even have taken place? It would not have been the first instance in the past few years where rugby and the Hollywood blockbuster Inception had crossed paths.

The TMO’s remit should encompass try-scoring placements and severe acts of foul play only. That’s it. No slow-motion replays of forward passes – more on that later – and knock-ons, no slo-mo footage of ambiguous double movements.

And the bunker, while positive at a surface level, ended up causing more problems than it solved at the World Cup. It was a bit like taking paracetamol for tonsilitis; sure, it might improve the symptoms for four hours, but the infection will still require medical attention. A cure.

Referee Nika Amashukeli positively reviews the try of England's Courtney Lawes
The TMO's scope for getting involved should be drastically reduced CREDIT: David Davies/PA Wire 

3. Turn all scrum penalties into free-kicks

This does not require much explanation. Too many games are decided on arbitrary scrum calls. The scrum is a way to restart the game. It is a fierce battleground, of course – and must remain as such – but teams scrummaging for penalties as a way of winning matches should not be allowed to continue.

Rightly or wrongly, the fact is that the narrative around scrums has become too negative for some time – as Rob Baxter highlighted last week. Removing the risk of conceding a match-deciding penalty could result in more completed scrums, fewer resets, and greater competition for the ball. One leading analyst who spoke to Telegraph Sport said they would go even further, changing all infringements – except dangerous, cynical or repeat offences – to free-kicks. Too revolutionary for now, perhaps, but certainly worth monitoring.

4. Tidy up maul laws

This really only applies at line-outs – which is bonkers in itself, given a set-piece maul, in rugby’s laws, has no separate code – but mauls in this area are beyond messy. Players being instructed to “not change their bind” by the referee; an action which involves their arms only, and allows them to do whatever they like with their bodies, except “swimming”, where a player slides up the side of a maul illegally. 

Most farcical, however, is that if opposing players end up on the attacking side of the maul “legally”, with the ball available, when the scrum-half attempts to play the ball they are “legally” entitled to dart straight for him or stick out hands and feet to disrupt him, because they are part of the maul and, therefore, the offside law of hindmost foot does not apply to them. Madness.

 Rob Evans and Alun Wyn-Jones of Wales and Kyle Sinckler and Jamie George of England get up from a maul after England are awarded a penalty
Maul laws need greater clarity CREDIT: Charlotte Wilson/Offside/Offside via Getty Images

5. Enforce – and tighten – the ruck ‘use it’ countdown

The easiest tweak of this list? Referees could be stricter with enforcing the ‘use it’ law, whereby a team must play the ball five seconds after the referee has deemed it available. As it stands, this often leads to the dreaded ‘caterpillar ruck’ – which would be tough to define, and therefore ban, in itself – so enforcing this law would disrupt its formation. Only a positive. Could the limit be lowered to three seconds, too? Or, perhaps, once the referee has called ‘use it’, the ball is automatically out after five seconds, rather than a resulting scrum?

6. Goal-line drop-outs should be for held-up only (at best)

A goal-line drop-out for the ball being held up over the line is more acceptable – if only slightly – but rewarding a team for kicking the ball into in-goal encourages a negative mindset – and more kicking. Also, kicking the ball with enough power to reach the goal-line but not enough to roll dead has become a skill in itself in the sport – which is a troubling avenue for rugby to go down. If the goal-line drop-out has to remain, then it should be for held-up, try-scoring opportunities only. If a team kicks the ball over the try line and the opposition touch it down, then it should revert back to a 22-metre drop-out.

7. Solve disparity in card severity

This is simple. No one disputes that Sam Cane’s tackle in the World Cup final was more severe than Siya Kolisi’s. But was the former’s really that much more severe than the latter’s to result in a punishment that was so much harsher? Cane off the field for the whole match; Kolisi for 10 minutes – and millimetres, split-seconds decided it. 

Sam Cane in the sin bin
Did Sam Cane really deserve to miss the rest of the World Cup final given Siya Kolisi's ilegal tackle merited only 10 minutes off? CREDIT: AP Photo/Christophe Ena

Cane absolutely deserved a harsher sentence – which, along with his subsequent citing and three-match ban – he received, but did New Zealand deserve to play the rest of the match with 14 while the eventual champion Springboks were forced to do so for just 10 minutes? Absolutely not. Of course, punishments need to be staggered to mirror degrees of severity but right now rugby has either life sentences or nights in the cells. It cannot continue. A 20-minute orange card for head contact could be the answer.

8. Reward jackalling that is only clearly and obviously legal

Easier said than done with the whistle in hand, but certainly an easy directive to enforce at boardroom level. Banning the jackal in its entirety might be the answer – a philosophical shift to rugby’s engineering would require more research – as like so many facets of the sport, the defensive side gains too much of an advantage. As Telegraph Sport revealed in the World Cup, some referees at rugby’s showpiece were favouring the defensive side as often as 70 per cent of the time in terms of breakdown penalties. That is not the fault of the officials, who deserve sympathy in this area. There are often millimetres between a legal and illegal jackal, and the only way to discern the difference accurately and regularly is by getting on your hands and knees and using a magnifying glass.

As it stands, players take advantage of this, knowing that they might get away with an illegal jackal and that, in any case, it is worth the risk. Referees give the benefit of doubt to the defender too often. Unless a jackaller is clearly and obviously legal – with absolutely no floor contact and no knee resting on the ball-carrier – then they should not be rewarded with a holding-on penalty. And, as highlighted in entry No 1, if they are not supporting their own body weight, then they should be penalised immediately – not afforded a warning by a loquacious referee.

9. Prohibit dummying at scrums and rucks – already in law

This is already enshrined in rugby’s laws, yet scrum-halves get away with murder in this area, dummying mainly box-kicks but also passes from rucks, scrums and mauls. It is yet another example of the kicker being king. Prohibit the dummying and allow more pressure on the clearance.

South Africa's Faf de Klerk charges down a kick from New Zealand's Finlay Christie
More pressure on the clearance should be encouraged CREDIT: REUTERS/Stephanie Lecocq

10. Abolish the nonsensical ‘direction of hands’ forward-pass law

No one knows what a forward pass is anymore. If anyone even dares to contest that they do, they are either a wizard or a liar. Passes which look blatantly forward are cleared owing to the direction of the attacker’s hands, while passes which often look marginal are analysed to within an inch of their life. There is probably a television angle to prove that most flat-looking passes in a match travel either forwards or backwards, such is the trickery of the camera.

Rugby must return – without the TMO’s input – to a more anecdotal approach to forward passes. If it looks forward, it is. If it doesn’t, it is not.

Nov 14, 2023, 21:20

Agreed on all of those except for the scrum dominance only being a free kick and less involvement of the TMO

Without the TMO involvement there would be far too many bad calls made by the ref

The TMO’s need to start doing a better job though - they are still getting too many calls wrong

Some of the jackalling calls are ridiculous where the jackalling player hardly has control of the situation or good control over the ball

The hands backwards rule with a forward pass is a load of crap - hand direction should have no influence. Forward is forward regardless of hand direction

Nov 14, 2023, 22:21

Yup, the scrumhalf job has become so easy. The ruck annoys me endlessly. First they form a hum centre pied, then the scrumhalf can put his hands on the ball, without being tackled. 

Then you have the big boys, standing off the edge of the ruck to shield the kick. 

I would say their should be a 5 meter radios around the ruck, if you are not part of it then you need to be standing further away from the ruck. These boks kicks are an unfair contest. 

They should let the hooker be a hooker. None of this feeding under the 8th man feet. Neither should an 8th man put his hands in the scrum. If you are losing scrum dominance then tough luck. 

Agree on free kicks in the scrum. The line out throw is either skew and the ball gets turned over. Only when it is a dangerous scrumming technique should it be a penalty. 

Free kicks, can't call a scrum. 

Nov 14, 2023, 22:30

Bullshit on free kicks for a scrum as you get no advantage from a free kick. It has to remain a penalty.

I love the scrum battle - it should be properly rewarded with a penalty

If the opposition can’t scrum tough luck you don’t deserve to win the game

Nov 15, 2023, 00:19

In the old days there weren’t penalties on scrums you won a tight head ie it was the equivalent of a turnover.

Nov 15, 2023, 00:36

In the old days there weren’t penalties for scrums you won a tight head ie a dominant scrum was the equivalent of a turnover. The current practice in scrums has to be one of the few instances in sport where you are penalized if you are bested.

There was also no hit, you fully engaged and could only push when the ball was fed.

Scrums weren’t the tedious production they are today.

Nov 15, 2023, 05:44

Things are heading in the right direction for me.

I want more tmo involvement, not less. We have the technology, use it. The argument here is that since some calls are still not accurate, the whole TMO thing doesn't work. That's terrible reasoning. It is working. The game is currently being adjudicated to a level that it has never before been and it will only improve as more tweaks and adjustments are made.

The scum is a major focal point in the game and a penalty is a just reward for winning a scrum.

If you're not getting a penalty for a scrum then why even have props in your ranks? How many scrum penalties are there in a game? Maybe 5 on average? Okay, well since the poster thinks they should only be free kicks...I'll happily give away 5 free kicks a game... even 10, and instead play 3 out and out fetchers in my front row.

For the scrum to remain important, the punishment for a poor scrum needs to remain high. Else, why bother?

Nov 15, 2023, 05:55

To many rules hinders the flow of the game…games are being dragged out because of long periods of TMO involvement…and sometimes that time for on field decisions , is a waste as they get it wrong in anycase…

Nov 15, 2023, 08:26

I want more tmo involvement, not less.

How much more, Plum? Where does it end? Every ruck, every contest the TMO should run replays to check that no one's knee briefly touches the ground while they're contesting, calling play back time after time if they spot something? No thank you. That will flat out ruin the game. Rugby is far too fast and dynamic for that type of pedantry to ever be a good thing.

Nov 15, 2023, 08:39

Look, unless you accept closer scrutiny of play, you are by default preferring interpretation and how the ref feels on the day.

Remember when Bizzie was sent of for a perfect tackle?

That's what we'll end up going back to.

Players know what can and can't be done. Sure, TMOs don't catch everything and sure they still make mistakes but you can throw the baby out with the bath water simply because things aren't perfect.

If your knee should touch the ground then it shouldn't touch the ground. That's a law and if you break it you get penalised.

I don't see the problem.

This WC was officiated better than any other I can remember. I want more of that and less of the ref deciding who should win.

Nov 15, 2023, 08:52

Remember when Bizzie was sent of for a perfect tackle?

That was just pathetic refereeing by weak officials who succumbed to the Carter aura. Any other player at the end of that tackle and there was no problem.

My problem with increasing TMO involvement is the extent to which it will slow down the game, how much dynamic play will be cancelled because of some little issue spotted on a replay. Imagine playing 10 phases and then the TMO calls everyone back 50m to some shit that happened 3 minutes ago. Imagine that multiple times a game. Big nope. The players don't get the benefit of slow motion replays to correct their mistakes, which can have as much an influence on the game as a bad referee call. Rather give me a fast, dynamic game than a perfect game (which will never be achieved anyway).

Nov 15, 2023, 10:08

TMO are vital but they need to do a better job. Watching numerous replays should never lead to an incorrect call

I’d rather have time wasted with a review than rely on the on field eye of a ref. Nothing more infuriating than an incorrect call - like the NZ try like Farrells hit on Esterhuizen at Twickers a few years back, like the try the Irish scored on the EOYT

Nov 15, 2023, 15:34

A total screw-up thus far.

Nov 15, 2023, 16:49

Touch, pause, engage in scrums were introduced in the professional era. Scrums used to only push once the ball was put in the scrum

Nov 15, 2023, 20:07

It's far from a total disaster.

I can never see myself choosing flow over accuracy.

And it's not like the current system is totally stunting the game.

This WC was one of the best in history..

There were some bad calls but think back to previous WCs...there have been far worse competitions marred by clanger after clanger.

It's going in the right direction as far as I'm concerned.

Would the ABs have gotten that Joubert win over France in the current system? Never in a million years.

Nov 15, 2023, 20:22

Agreed Plum

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