The latest rule changes to be trialed on the rugby field

Here at Hutchinson Thomas, our history is grounded in the roots of rugby, with many of our past and present partners taking up important roles in Wales’ national sport. One of our founding partners, Lewis Cobden Thomas, made two appearances for Wales in the 1880s, and ever since our passion for rugby has continued throughout the decades.

Fast forward to the current day, and Hutchinson Thomas partners Robert Williams, Roger Morris, Simon Thomas and Rhian Williams all hold roles as judicial officers in rugby union at the highest level. In their roles, they deal with rugby hearings arising out of red cards, citings, and off-field misconduct from the Guinness Pro14, European Professional Championship Rugby (EPCR), Six Nations Rugby and World Rugby.

This year, rugby is seeing the introduction of a whole host of new developments and rules, and our partners are intrigued to see how these changes will play out on the pitch in the upcoming season.

In a bid to tackle player injuries, a set of new laws have been recently introduced to the game from August 1, which are to be trialed globally for one year. Laws that are considered successful in increasing safety and improving the spectator experience will be put forward to the World Rugby council to be fully adopted into law ahead of the Rugby World Cup 2023, hosted by France.

Here are the latest rules to be introduced into rugby law for 2021, and what this could mean for the game.

50:22 rule

If the attacking team kicks the ball from their half and it bounces into the opposition’s 22 before going into touch, the attacking team will now get the lineout throw. This is a big switch from the current rule which allows the lineout throw to the defending team, and a potentially game-changing alteration.

This law is intended to create space via a tactical choice for players to drop out of the defensive line in order to prevent their opponents from kicking for touch, reducing the impact of defensive line speed.

Goal line drop out
This new law will mean that play restarts with a goal line drop-out anywhere along the goal line under the following two circumstances:

  1. When an attacking player carrying the ball is held up in the in-goal area, or knocks the ball on in the in-goal area.
  2. When an attacking kick, other than a penalty or drop goal attempt, is grounded by the defending team in their in-goal area.

World Rugby has stated that this new law is intended to ‘reduce the number of scrums, reward good defence, encourage counter-attacking, and increase the rate of ball-in-play.’

Flying wedge
Defined in the World Rugby rule book asAn illegal type of attack, which usually happens near the goal line, either from a penalty or free-kick or in open play. Team-mates are latched on each side of the ball-carrier in a wedge formation before engaging the opposition. Often one or more of these team-mates is in front of the ball-carrier.’

If a team is found to use this attack, it will now result in a penalty. This is intended to protect the tackler who can be faced with the combined force of three opposing players, thus limiting the risk of injury.

Cleanout and jackal safety
A sanction is being introduced for clean outs which target or drop weight onto the lower limbs.

The jackal turnover is when a defending player attempts to strip the opposition player of the ball on the ground while supporting their own weight, with their head often low to the ground. These players are known as Jacklers.

The new definition of a ‘Jackler’ states:They must remain on their feet to contest directly onto the ball. If previously involved in the tackle, they must first clearly release the ball carrier before contesting for the ball.’

Red card
Although this only applies to the upcoming Rugby Championship, a change in the rules will see new conditions in place when a player is given a red card or two yellows. In the new law, a red-carded player will still be sent off and that will be the end of their game, but now they can be replaced by another player after 20 minutes.

The aim of this is to limit the damage to the overall contest and spectacle of the game, as often, when a player is sent off early, their team have been seen to have a clear disadvantage for the remainder of the game. This will improve the spectator experience, but some critics say that it will also impede the severity of consequences for foul-play and is, therefore, less of a deterrent to teams.

It is promising to see the safety of the players being taken into consideration and championed, and hopefully these rules will limit serious injuries on the rugby pitch. Over the coming months, and with a variety of upcoming championships to watch, it will be very interesting to see how these new rugby laws will affect how the game is played and experienced across the world.