Premiership will not adopt World Rugby’s law trials to reduce virus risk

Gerard Meagher

The Premiership will not be adopting any of World Rugby’s law trials designed to reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission, the Guardian understands. The law trials, announced by World Rugby on Thursday, include eliminating reset scrums and choke tackles, the introduction of an orange card for high tackles and reducing the “use it” time from five seconds to three.

All the trials, which are optional, are designed to reduce the risk of transmission among players by bringing down contact in rucks, scrums and mauls by 25-50%.

The trials come after a study by World Rugby’s medical experts but adopting them is at the discretion of each union. The New Zealand union will not be adopting them when Super Rugby Aotearoa begins next month and while the Premiership would need approval from the Rugby Football Union it does not intend to seek it.

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A Premiership Rugby spokesperson said: “We are undertaking a review of all aspects of the game to ensure the safe return of Gallagher Premiership Rugby, but don’t anticipate any law changes.”

The Premiership still does not have a return date with clubs not yet cleared to return to training in any form despite government guidelines saying that they can. Despite fears remaining over player safety and concerns over testing procedures, there is no appetite to introduce World Rugby’s law trials. It was hoped that progress would be made at a meeting with PRL, the RFU and the Rugby Players’ Association on Thursday but it is believed a more definitive plan is now likely next week. 

“There are challenges,” Exeter’s director of rugby, Rob Baxter, told BBC Radio Devon. “But the big thing for me - and it’s something I’m a little disappointed about, when I hear other coaches and some players talk about the subject - is we seem to be finding all the reasons not to play. If anything, we’re creating a safer environment for players and staff than in everyday life. It’s far, far safer than going to the supermarket, where you’re touching things other people may have picked up and put back, and where people often break the two-metre rule.”

World Rugby says that the trials are entirely optional and while unions can apply to implement one, some or all of them at either elite or community level, they are more likely to be adopted in the latter. The RFU says it is conducting its own research for all leagues in England below the Premiership which could include measures not raised by World Rugby. It is understood that there is opposition to any law changes from some clubs in the Championship, however. 

“The RFU recognises the work World Rugby has done on temporary law trials,” a spokesperson said. “The RFU has its own review under way looking at the options for a return to training and return to play rugby for clubs in England. When government advice on social distancing measures are lifted, specific RFU guidance will be announced and provided to clubs.”

With regards to the scrum, as well as doing away with resets, the proposed changes include no scrum option from a penalty or a free-kick, a goalline drop-out when an attacking player is held up over the try-line and that hookers must use a “brake foot” to aid scrum stability. The sanction for not doing so would be a free-kick.

For high tackles, an orange card would lead to the offending player being removed and following the use of Hawk-Eye and consultation with the television match official it would be upgraded to a red card, a penalty or a yellow card, which would mean 15 minutes off the pitch.

World Rugby’s study found eliminating upright front-on-front tackles would “decrease the frequency of high-risk exposure events by 20%”.

The two proposals for the maul are that no one can join if they are not in the maul from the start and that there can be only one forward movement. Sanctions for both would be a free-kick.

At the ruck, as well as reducing the “use it” time, there would be no scrum for infringing the “use it” rule – instead a free-kick would be awarded.