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World Rugby has announced groundbreaking initiatives to increase the pace of the game and make it more universal.
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World Rugby has announced groundbreaking initiatives to increase the pace of the game and make it more universal.

The International Rugby Board is contemplating decreasing the height at which tackles can be made in elite level matches and implementing a 20-minute red card trial worldwide in order to attract a wider audience to the sport.

The governing body will consider reducing the number of substitutions and reviewing the use of the television match official in order to increase the pace of the game and enhance its entertainment value.

The plan – set to be delivered in five stages – comes on the back of World Rugby’s Shape of the Game forum last month, designed to make the game more entertaining. More immediate changes include ­cracking down on the use of water carriers and encouraging referees to call “use it” and ensure scrum-halves play the ball more quickly from rucks, but it is World Rugby’s longer-term proposals that could have a significant impact on the game.

A team of experts will evaluate the outcomes of the tackle height experiments conducted in 11 unions, and determine if they are suitable for high-level rugby. When the Rugby Football Union initially announced the lowering of tackle height in early 2023, there was controversy due to conflicting information on the extent of the reduction. The trial has been more successful than anticipated, but implementing it at the elite level would be a significant shift.

A new trial for red cards has been proposed by World Rugby, where the player who is expelled will be replaced after 20 minutes and can no longer return to the game. This proposal will be voted on at the council meeting in May, as part of a larger examination of disciplinary and punishment procedures.

The idea has gained a lot of popularity in the southern hemisphere, as it would prevent matches from being negatively impacted by controversial red cards, like the one given to Freddie Steward in England’s loss to Ireland last year. Those who are against this proposal worry that implementing more lenient penalties during the current head injury legal battles may send the wrong message.

A different team will be responsible for examining studies on how exhaustion and the frequency and timing of substitutions affect the elite game. They aim to identify possible solutions that can increase field space while reducing the risk of injuries. Eddie Jones and Bill Beaumont, both prominent figures in rugby, support the idea of reducing substitutions.

World Rugby is seeking to revamp the TMO protocol, which has received significant backlash for causing a high number of lengthy interruptions in gameplay. As evidenced by last Saturday’s match, there have been ongoing concerns about the TMO’s decision to get involved and bring attention to specific incidents, such as Ben Earl’s no-arms tackle, which resulted in a penalty and ultimately led to France’s victory over England.

World Rugby is considering establishing new minimum standards for technology providers, as there have been several complaints about the lack of replays during the Six Nations. A working group will also conduct a thorough evaluation of the breakdown, with a focus on safety and enhancing the viewing experience for fans.

Starting on Tuesday, during the initial stage of the plan, athletes will be required to move the ball faster once it has been secured in a ruck/breakdown situation. This is essentially an effort to eliminate the slow-moving “caterpillar” ruck. Additionally, hookers will need to keep a complete brake foot in order to enhance stability and safety during the scrum engagement process. There will also be a restriction on how often water carriers can come onto the field during play.

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World Rugby has recommended several changes to the laws that will be voted on in May. One change involves closing a loophole known as “Dupont’s Law”, which aims to reduce the use of kicking tactics. Currently, the law states that players in front of the kicker are considered onside once the receiver has passed the ball or moved five meters with it. French player Antoine Dupont has previously taken advantage of this loophole, leading to prolonged kicking battles. Other proposed changes include removing the option for a scrum from a free-kick and banning the “croc roll” tactic.

Unions and competition owners will be encouraged to implement a series of closed law trials including using a shot clock for scrums and lineouts, marking the ball inside the 22m line from a restart, ­insisting the ball must be played after a maul has been stopped once, rather than twice, greater protection for the scrum‑half and allowing the referee to play on if a lineout is not straight if it was not contested.

Beaumont stated that our actions are driven by our dedication to becoming more pertinent at a global level and motivated by our desire for improvement. This entails being brave and welcoming change by emphasizing the entertainment aspect, making our stars more approachable, and simplifying the language used to describe rugby to those who have yet to develop a passion for it. Our progress has been swift.

The sport community has come together in a unique and devoted manner to prepare a set of improvements to present to the council in May. I’m eager to engage in the conversations.

Source: theguardian.com