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Law changes locked in for 2023 rugby season

Almost the only thing certain about rugby these days is ongoing change, especially when it comes to the Laws of the Game as more tweaks are made for the 2023 season.

At the World Rugby level, the only change is that the five Laws trialled last year – Goal-line drop-out, the 50/22, and those around the ‘jackler’, ‘flying wedge’, and ‘latching’ –   have been implemented into the book in full. This isn’t surprising as these have well-received across the game, and changes in a World Cup year are uncommon.

Where World Rugby is taking some action is with ‘points of emphasis’ for players and officials, highlighting particular areas:

  • A reminder that time limits exist for taking shots at goal, forming of lineouts and scrums, and time-wasting in general
  • Negative player actions, such as deliberately trapping tacklers into rucks and jacklers not aiming to play the ball
  • Players off-feet at tackles, rucks, and mauls.

Expect these to be referred to in the local game, along with the continual emphasis on high and dangerous tackles.

New Zealand Rugby has, however, decided to continue its programme of trials as it seeks to make a better and safer game with three being introduced this year.

  • The first, and easily the one that has generated the most debate, is the lowering of the tackle height to below the sternum (or as some prefer to visualise it as below the armpit or nipples), with feedback from surveyed participants in grades that trialled this last year being positive. This change applies to the first tackler only, as second and subsequent tacklers can make contact within the current Law, from the shoulders down. This change seems likely to be a major focus in pre-season trainings and matches as players make adjustments to their technique, as well as referees getting used to identifying two different tackle limits.You can also be certain that New Zealand Rugby will have one eye on England, where changes there have lowered the tackle height in their rugby below the professional levels to the belly.

The other two changes relate to the scrum:

  • Halfbacks at all levels will no longer be able to follow the ball through the opposing scrum and put pressure on their opposite trying to clear it. Additionally, should they start at the tunnel and remain there, they must remain within 1m of the scrum. This should lead to much cleaner ball for backlines and promote more attacking play from scrums, though it remains to be seen if teams use the existing provision that allows the non-feeding halfback to drop to the No.8’s feet and then roam across the field more. No.8s will be big fans of this change as not only can they pick the ball up off the back of the scrum without the opposing halfback in the mix, they’ll also have time to get some momentum up before encountering an opponent.
  • The second is the removal of last year’s 1.5m push limit at the Premier level, returning this to the norm enjoyed for the years prior. The limit remains for all other levels of club and college rugby, except for scrums on the 5m line at club level.

But with these additions, there are also some deletions. Last year’s unpopular trial of a compulsory free-kick or uncontested scrum instead of a reset scrum has been removed, as has the requirement trialled at lower college levels that those contesting a high kick must have at least one foot on the ground.

The evolution continues.

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