Super League is looking at outlawing scrums for the rest of the 2020 season and introducing other rule changes “largely to make the sport of rugby league safer in the current public health situation.”
The recommendations were made by the Rugby Football League’s Laws Committee. They will now be considered by Betfred Super League, Championship and League 1 clubs ahead of a RFL board meeting in early July.
The changes would be for the remainder of the 2020 season, which could resume in August. The RFL and Super League suspended play on March 16 owing to the global pandemic.
The Toronto Wolfpack (0-6-0) are currently on hiatus in England and have not played since March 11, when they blanked Huddersfield Giants 18-0 in the fifth round of the Challenge Cup.
The Laws Committee said medical experts presented “strong evidence” showing getting rid of scrums would “considerably reduce the threat of potential exposure to and transmission of COVID-19 between players during matches.”
World Rugby, the governing body of rugby union, has also put forward optional rules limiting scrum options. Rugby union is the more popular 15-man version of the game, with rugby league the 13-man version.
Scrums in rugby union are contested, while those in rugby league almost always aren’t – and are simply a way to restart the game.
Wolfpack coach Brian McDermott says he believes the future of scrums in the game deserves a longer conversation. He worries the congested schedule that likely lies ahead when the season resumes will take a toll on players, more so if the game is played without the break in the action that scrums can provide.
“I wanted to keep the tempo of our game as controlled as possible, and getting rid of scrums right now in this truncated season, I’m not sure what the objective is. Because all I can see is that it’s going to speed the game up,” he said.
Instead, McDermott would like to see unlimited substitutions during a game to help ease the load on his players. Teams are currently allowed four players on the bench, with eight interchanges a game.
Some of the suggested changes have already been adopted by the NRL, including the “six again” rule that was adopted when the Australian league resumed play two weeks ago.
The new rule allows the majority of ruck infringements to be penalized by a restart of the tackle count, rather than leading to a stoppage in play with a penalty.
Other changes under consideration:
- When a team kicks out on the full, play will be restarted by a play-the-ball rather than a scrum.
- The restart after a mutual infringement (such as the ball hitting the referee or a trainer) will be a play-the-ball rather than a scrum.
- Restrictions on the legal point of contact for a third defender in an upright tackle, which must now be above the knee.
The argument is the proposed changes help speed up restarting play after a tackle, reducing the number of players in each tackle and the amount of time spent in close contact.
“These are major recommendations, but these are unprecedented times, presenting the game with unique challenges,” Ralph Rimmer, the RFL’s chief executive and chair of the Laws Committee, said in a statement.
Rimmer said the changes will also help align the rules across both hemispheres.
McDermott approached the Laws Committee about substituting another sanction for a penalty in the case of minor technical ruck infractions, arguing the punishment often outweighs the crime, with the team awarded the penalty gaining field position by a kick to touch followed by a restart of the tackle count.
He says the downside, after watching the NRL in action, is that while the six-again rule makes for a fast-paced game, it makes it difficult for the team on defence to stop the players on offence and regroup without conceding a penalty.
“I think it’s too damaging,” he said.
“The concept I like ... but in actual fact, what we’re seeing is a tempo and momentum which is near impossible to stop because there’s no break in the game.”
McDermott favours the other rule changes and welcomes the proposed restrictions on the third defender in an upright tackle. Often, the third man in goes low, looking to pin the ankles to stop the momentum of a big forward rumbling ahead.
“It’s a tackle with good intentions, but quite often what happens is the guy making the tackle misses his target,” McDermott said. “I don’t think too many people in the game do this intentionally, although there have been some people and some clubs who are renowned for doing it intentionally.”
“But it’s an incredibly hard target to go for with your shoulders without getting it wrong. ... There’s a real danger. We’ve seen way too many players get way too injured [on] too many occasions,” he added.
The Laws Committee also recommended suspending a rule punishing teams for making late changes to their 21-player matchday squads by the removal of an in-game interchange.