Former Bulls Director of Rugby and seasoned South African coach Alan Zondagh tackles some of the issues around rugby’s current laws.
Here are some recommendations that could assist in improving the game of rugby for the future.
1. The referees and TMO’s
1.1 The referee and two touch judges are responsible to apply the laws between the four lines in the field of play. No TMO gets involved during the game except when there is dangerous or foul play. The three of them must be held responsible for applying the laws during the game.
Reason: Will speed up play and will assist to minimise all the stoppages in rugby.
1.2 The TMO’s job is as follow:
- During the match will assist the referee with what happens when crossing the goal line. Try or no try. Video footage to be used to assist.
- During the match will notify the referee of dangerous or foul play only (by radio). TMO will give number of player and sentence.
- No video footage will be showed during the match for normal play in the field of play.
Reason: Will speed up play
- After the match the TMO will work through the video to identify any foul play by players. The TMO will prepare the video clip or clips and sentence and send it to the relevant team for action. Red Card and sentence. This decision is final.
Reason: Players will know that any transgressions will be picked up and this will assist in minimising foul play and off the ball infringements.
1.3 Referees must be strict on…
- Defenders behind the last man’s feet at rucks. Touch judges to play an important role here.
- Binding of loose-forwards at scrum time until the ball is out.
- Defenders at lineout crossing the 15 m before the ball is out and the lineout is over
- The tackler releasing the ball carrier immediately
- Ball carrier placing the ball immediately
- Players in front of the kicker must stand still (not move at all) until put onside before chasing
- Players in front of the ball from kick-offs and drop-outs
Reason: Will improve attacking play
- 4 Referees must stop coaching on the field and minimise their talking and instructions. Decision to be made what to say when and the definition of each call.
Referee only to use 5 calls:
- “Tackle” – when the tackle is made – gives clear indication to the start of off -side lines and gate.
- “Ruck”- when players arrive at the tackled area and the ruck is formed.
- “Play” – when the ball is out and defenders can put pressure on the attack.
- “Crouch” – the start of the scrum.
- “Stay” – when kick is made and players in front of the kicker has to stand “dead still” until put onside.
Reason: Players will learn to play within the laws of the game without being told what to do and transgressing the laws until they are told otherwise.
2. The tackle
2. 1 Firstly define “the tackle”
A tackle is when a defender tackles the ball carrier and they both go to ground, go off their feet and ball carrier held by the tackler or tacklers on the ground.
- Both/all players are then deemed as “dead players”.
- Off-side lines and the “gate” is applicable immediately.
- Any players (attackers or defenders) approaching the tackle area must join through the “gate” (parallel to the touch lines). Cannot join at an angle.
- Attacker must release (by placing or passing) the ball immediately.
- Defender must release the ball carrier and roll away (get out) and not allowed to get up on his feet to play the ball. He can take up a position behind the off- side line or behind the ruck as part of the defensive line.
Reason: It will simplify and clean up the tackled area.
2.2 It is not a tackle if the ball carrier runs into the defender and the defender pushes the ball carrier to the ground and the defender stays on his feet.
- The defender can then play the ball. Work for a turnover as long as he stays on his feet.
- The ball carrier can get up on his feet and continue playing without releasing the ball. This is not a tackle.
- No off-side lines. It stays general play.
Reason: It gets rid of the indecision by referees when the defender must release the ball carrier or not.
2.3 Players approaching the tackled area
- Must come through the gate (parallel to the touch lines).
- Must stay on their feet.
- Can play the ball with their hands (attackers and defenders).
- Any players going off their feet onside or offside – Penalty.
Reason: More players will get involved in the tackled area to fight for the ball. Less players on defence. More space available for attack.
2.4 Clearing players off the ball in the collision area.
- This is the most dangerous part of the current game. Legal thuggery !!!
- It’s riddled with obstruction, illegal tackling of players that are not part of the ruck, dangerous rucking, missile type clearing, sealing off etc…
- Can only clear a player that has his hands on the ball by rolling him off the ruck to the side or using hands and arms to push him off the ruck (same technique as used in a tackle) while staying on his feet. Players are not allowed to clear a player and land on the ground (off their feet) beyond the ruck – Penalty against the player landing on the ground on the other side.
Reason: It will minimise the “missile type clearing” and thuggery at rucks.
IMPORTANT: A maul cannot turn into a tackle. This is currently the situation if a ball carrier is held up by defenders while on his feet. As soon as his knee touches the ground the referee shouts “release”. Then the defenders have to release.
This should not be allowed.
The benefit must go to the defensive side.
Firstly the attacker made a wrong decision to go into the contact.
The “use it or loose it” principle must apply. If the ball does not appear on the attacking side it’s a scrum to the defenders.
A maul cannot change into a tackle.
2.5 Ruck changes to NO Ruck
If the defending side manages to get all their players out of the ruck (or tackle area), the ruck is over and the referee calls “PLAY”
Reason: This will speed up play and force the attacking side to act faster. We see this often that all the defenders are out of the ruck and then the Nr 9 still takes his time to kick the ball with 3 to 4 players in front of him protecting the kicker.
2.6 Simple decision at tackle
- On ground – no play
- On feet and onside – can play
2.7 Ball carrier assisted in contact.
The supporting player cannot go off his feet over or on the ball carrier that makes contact with the ground. He cannot put his hands on the opposition side of the ball carrier on the ground.
He can only bind onto his player on the ground but must still be on his feet.
Reason: This will stop the “sealing off” by these supporting players. The technique currently used by most teams. Most of the pick and go techniques that are used by teams are illegal because players are falling on the wrong side of the ball carrier on the ground. There is no legal way to stop the pick and go near the line or when teams are playing down the clock.
3. The maul – needs an overhaul
3.1 First change the law that allows a team to kick for touch at a penalty and get possession at the lineout.
This should only be allowed if you kick for touch from a penalty within your own 22m. then it’s your throw-in at the lineout.
Taking a penalty kick from outside your 22m you can do the following:
- They either go for distance and territory but then it’s opposition ball.
- If they choose a lineout, they must take it opposite the penalty mark on that side of the field.
- They can take the scrum, take a tap penalty, kick an up and under etc…
Reason: It will minimise mauling near the goal line which results in penalties and subsequent yellow cards. It has also become a boring part of the game.
Teams use the maul to force a penalty to move downfield to gain territory and possession. Most mauls turn into penalties.
3.2 Sack the maul anywhere anytime by pulling the maul down. Not allowed to take away the legs or pick up the legs as per the laws currently.
Reason: Will minimise the number of penalties at the maul. Teams will find ways and means to keep mauling. The maul will become more dynamic and play will be faster.
Currently if a team wants a penalty all they have to do is call a maul. Nine out of ten times the team mauling gets a penalty.
*Note: In my 40 years of coaching I have never experienced an injury in the maul at training or in a match after it collapsed. It’s not a dangerous part of the game.
3.3 When the ball reaches the last player in the maul, the ball is out and the referee calls “play”.
3.4 When extra players join a maul they are not allowed to bind in front of the player that has the ball in the maul. They must bind on him or it is obstruction.
Reason: Will make the maul more dynamic and speed up play.
4. The static ruck or phase ball
4.1 Ball behind the ruck/phase. The ball is out when a player behind the ruck puts his hands on the ball. The referee then calls “Play” and the opposition can move up for defence.
Reason: It will speed up play by Nr 9’s and the attacking teams.
5. Card system needs a revamp – too many yellow cards.
5.1 Yellow card for “continuous infringements.
- Player off the field for 10 minutes but replaced immediately.
- Carded player can return – decision of the coaching team.
- Yellow card is logged with player – 2nd yellow card automatic one match suspension.
Reason: This will make sure rugby is played 15 vs 15 most of the time.
5.2 Red card for “dangerous & foul play”
- Player off the field for 10 minutes – may not be replaced immediately. Can be replaced with another player after 10 minutes. Red card player cannot return to the field.
- Player that received red card will be sentenced by the judiciary.
Reason: This will make sure rugby is played 15 vs 15 most of the time and players will be more cautious to commit foul play. Rugby is not a game made to be played 15 vs 14 or 13.
5.3 Professional fouls only in 22m zone
- Create a Red Zone in the 22m areas.
- All penalties by the defending side in the 22m area will be worth 4 points kicking at the posts. But the penalty has to be taken inside the 22m area. Cannot move the position for the kick outside the 22m line for a better angle.
- The attacking team can still choose a scrum, lineout opposite the mark, tap penalty (quick or slow) or kick.
6. Box kicks
To minimise box kicking and poor kicking this might be an option.
6.1 Defending side (catcher) calls “Mark” anywhere inside his own half of the field when catching an aerial kick. Can catch the ball in the air or with feet on the ground.
Free kick on the mark.
Options: Tap and play only. Tap and play immediately or use a tap penalty move.
Reason: This will minimise poor and monotonous kicking. Will improve intelligent tactical kicking.
7. The scrum – too many resets
7.1 The set-up of the scrum
- Referee calls the mark.
- Hooker of team throwing in the ball stands on the mark. Packs consolidate.
- Referee indicates the position for the defending props (safe distance from attacking props). Referee stands on the opposite side of the scrumhalf putting in the ball.
- Referee calls “CROUCH”. Packs ready for contact.
- Attacking hooker calls “SET” and front rows (with their packs) make contact.
- Nr 9 puts the ball in asap.
- Nr 9 has to put the ball in straight. In line with the shoulders of the props.
- Both hookers have an opportunity to hook the ball.
Reason: To stop wasting time to set the scrums.
To speed up play and to simplify the calling system.
Too many penalties at scrum time currently. Collapsing and resets taking up too much time.
8. Thirty (30) Seconds rule
8.1 A thirty (30) seconds rule can be introduced to speed up play at the following:
- Scrum – from the time the referee makes the mark – 30 seconds to set the scrum and put the ball in by nr 9
- Lineout – from the time the referee makes the mark on the touchline – 30 seconds to put the ball in by the hooker.
- Advantage – 30 seconds to use it or stop and return to the infringement.
- Penalty or Conversion kick – 30 seconds from the time the referee indicates the mark for the kick.
- Restart after a try was scored 30 seconds to kick off
9. Get rid of…
9.1 Chasing down conversions – waste of time and ink and paper in the law book
9.2 Players or assistants next to the field shouting at referee and running up and down the touchline. Must stay in designated area – penalty / later yellow card
9.3 Too many assistants (water boys etc…) on the field – this must be better controlled. Only one nominated person (team doctor) allowed on the field. Only he can ask for extra assistance in conjunction with the referee.
Water available at designated areas next to the field.
9.4 Bench players running onto the pitch when tries are scored. This should not be allowed.
9.5 Teams slowing the game down by faking injuries.
10. Consider for the future
10.1 To play the match in 4 quarters
- 20 min – 5 min water break / strategy
- 40 min – 15 min half time break
- 60 min – 5 min water break / strategy
10.2 Lineout setup
- 7 players at all times plus a Nr 9 (next to lineout) and Nr 2 (in the 5m) – can be any players in the team. This line-up will constitute a lineout just like 8 players constitute a scrum.
Reason: This will allow more positive attacking opportunities from a lineout for the backs.
- Only 4 players in total may be substituted of the 8 on the bench.
Reason: There must be a benefit for teams that are fitter than their opposition. This will allow the fittest team on the day the opportunity to step it up in the last 20 minutes of the game.
The above are some recommendations that might assist the thinking process and hopefully come up with solutions to make the game of rugby more simple to play, spectator friendly and exciting.
Currently the laws of the game are protecting unintelligent, unskilled and robotic players.
Rugby should be a fast, explosive collision game and not slow, pedantic, predictable and boring.