New Season, New Rules, New Game??!!

You’ve been playing rugby since the age of 6. The odd advancement boggled the mind slightly – going from tag rugby to full contact; changing from 5 men to 8 men in the scrum; lifting in the lineout; and finally reaching the Promised Land. A 15-aside game!

However, when rugby players arrived at pre-season this year they were faced with not only brutal fitness tests but also a new set of rules, introduced by the International Rugby Board – the Experimental Law Variations (ELVs). As the name hints, these new measures are on trial and have been since the beginning of 2008 in the Super 14 competition in the Southern Hemisphere – where fast and flowing rugby is almost a pre-requisite – and are designed to make the game more open and exciting for the neutral through placing emphasis on keeping the ball alive.

Changes include:

Distance from scrums: Backlines must stay at least five metres behind the back of the scrum. Previously, they had to be level with the back foot of the scrum. This will help players to break the gain-line, thus making defending more difficult.
Collapsing Mauls: Previously unable to collapse a maul, teams are now able to pull another player to the floor between the shoulder and the hips. If they ground it by grabbing their opposition outside this area, it is still an offence.
Passing back into the 22 to kick for territory: If the ball is passed back inside 22-metre area from a team-mate outside the 22-metre area in order to kick the ball directly into touch, there will no longer be any ground gained, with the ensuing lineout taking place from where the kick was taken.
Line Outs: Each team only requires at least 2 players in the line-out. Furthermore, the scrum-half and hooker, when defending the lineout must both be 2 meters away from the line-out. Finally, when taking ‘quick line-outs’, a player will no longer be required to throw the ball in straight, as it can now go backwards.

But what do all these new rule changes mean for the players and the game of rugby? Initially trialed in the Super 14s, the ELVs are not such a progressive measure down-under where expansive rugby has been pioneered for decades. However, enforcing these laws on the British game, where more emphasis is placed on forward play and set-pieces, will bring a whole new dimension. Sides with a more dominant forward style will undoubtedly be inhibited as strong packs could well suffer from the opposition’s ability to collapse mauls.

Impact Sport asked the opinion of Stuart Lakin, University of Nottingham’s Rugby Club 2nd XV captain. “The rules have opened up the game a lot more,” he commented. “Our side has benefited with both a fast set of backs and a skilled back row, so we can now keep the game alive. But, the key is adapting to the rules quicker than your opposition”.

It is at grassroots level however where the ELVs could become especially problematic. If a team has been playing a forwards based game, dominating rolling mauls and line-outs, the ELVs are going to force these teams to change their tactics, whether they like it or not. Does the International Rugby Board have the right to decide what tactics a team uses? I always thought that was the coach’s decision…

Jean-Luc Bragard and Max McLaren


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