- By Scott MacLean
Wellington club rugby is going to look a little different this coming season.
After several years of stability on the rules front, 2022 will see a raft of changes.
Five of these are from World Rugby’s Global Law Trials package, which are mandated across the globe. Two of these, the 50/22 rule and goal-line drop-out, have become familiar over the last year through their use at Test-level, Super Rugby Trans-Tasman, and in the NPC but the other three – with terms like “flying wedge”, “latching”, and “jackler” – will be far less known.
Let’s take a look at all five:
- 50/22: If a team kicks the ball into touch (but not on the full) in the opponents 22m from inside their own half, then they will get the throw into the lineout. The intent here is to create more space for attacking play by forcing teams to cover this possibility.
- Goal-line drop-out: If the ball is kicked into the opponents in-goal by the attacking team and is made dead by the defenders (either grounded or kicked touch-in-goal or over the dead-ball line) then the defending team will restart play with a drop-kick from their own goal-line. The same applies if the attacking team is held-up over the goal-line. If any other situation occurs, such as the ball is carried back into in-goal by the defenders and made dead, then current law applies. The aim of this change is to reduce the number of scrums and increase the amount of time the ball is in play.
- Flying Wedge: A term that has been in the law book for years, it has been redefined to outlaw the practice of two or more players being bound onto their ballcarrying teammate – more commonly known in this part of the world as ‘pods’ – before making contact with a defender. This is primarily a safety measure to reduce the level of impact on defenders.
- Latching: What is permitted though is one player to be pre-bound in support. However, this player is required to both stay on their feet and in the gate in the tackle and cannot go to ground themselves. This is two-fold; to give the attacking side the opportunity to recycle possession but doing so in a legal way by keeping the player on their feet.
- Jackler: Formalising a term that has been in use in the game for a few years, it refers to the first arriving defender at the tackle who attempts to win possession. Changes here are about protecting this player further, and outlawing dangerous practices to remove this player such as dropping weight onto them – particularly the lower legs – or gripping them around the legs to lever them sideways out of the tackle area.
In addition, New Zealand Rugby have also taken the opportunity to introduce changes of their own. The application of these will depend on the level but two – both relating to the scrum – will apply to the Premier level and could lead to a change in focus for some teams as well as a keener eye for referees, with the intent of these changes being to reduce injuries and increase the time that the ball spends in play.
- Scrum push: Perhaps the big one, all scrums will now be limited to a maximum push of 1.5m with the exception of attacking scrums set on the 5m line so that pushover tries remain a possibility. The current 1.5m maximum without the exception remains in place for college rugby, and WRFU may also retain this for some of its senior grades.
- Scrum reset: Where there hasn’t been an infringement, but the scrum needs to be reset, teams will have the option of either a free-kick or taking an uncontested scrum. This again is about increasing the amount of time the ball is in play and eliminating the frustration of multiple reset scrums.
A third change at scrum time, which will apply to the levels of rugby below club and college Premier, will again make the non-feeding halfback who goes past the tunnel offside at the scrum and restores a law which was removed some five years ago.
Finally, there are two changes which are likely to only apply at the college level to its age (Under 15) and weight (Under 80kg/65kg/55kg) restricted grades. Both were amongst those trialled in the Under 65kg grade last year and will now be applied wider; the first lowers the level of a high tackle from above the line of the shoulders to below the sternum, while the other requires players catching a kick to have at least one foot on the ground.
So, what can we expect to see in 2022? Hopefully more space, more time with the ball in play, a cleaner and fairer contest at the breakdown, and both fewer scrums and more of an emphasis on the scrum being a means to restart play rather than an attacking weapon. Preseason matches will take on a greater importance as teams (and referees!) get used to the changes, and conceivably the teams that do better could be the fast starters once the Swindale Shield gets underway in the first weekend of April.
Rugby’s evolution continues.