Rugby World Cup: Latest World Rugby law directives include shot clock from January 1

World Rugby has announced a package of directives for implementation from January 1, including the use of a shot clock to hurry up kickers taking conversions and penalty kicks at goal. Speeding up the game, less reliance on TMO reviews, fewer water carrier interventions, the penalizing of negative player actions, and clarity on deliberate knock-ons will all be measures aimed at improving the sport ahead of the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

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Rugby World Cup: Latest World Rugby law directives include shot clock from January 1
Rugby World Cup: Latest World Rugby law directives include shot clock from January 1

Last month’s Shape of the Game conference in London resulted in attendees instructing World Rugby to speed the game up, enhance the spectacle and advance safety for both the short and long term.  Despite a law change moratorium that is in operation twelve months out from the men’s Rugby World Cup, Rugby World Cup officials have come up with a series of directives under five different headings with a view to improving the sport. 

A statement read: “World Rugby has announced a series of law applications which will be implemented game-wide from January 1, 2023”.

The guidelines, which are designed to assist match officials, players and coaches and to enhance fan experience are part of a drive by the international federation to speed up the game and reflect key outcomes of the Shape of the Game conference in November. With France Rugby World Cup 2023 fast approaching, the new directives are designed to support a quicker, more entertaining game while balancing safety and spectacle. From January 1, the following will apply.

Speeding up the game

Players and match officials are reminded of the following existing laws which must be strictly adhered to: 

  • Law 8.8d Conversion. [The kicker] takes the kick within 90 seconds (playing time) from the time the try was awarded, even if the ball rolls over and has to be placed again. Sanction: Kick is disallowed; 
  • Law 8.21: Penalty Kick: The kick must be taken within 60 seconds (playing time) from the time the team indicated their intention to do so, even if the ball rolls over and has to be placed again. Sanction: Kick is disallowed and a scrum is awarded;
  • Law 9.7d: A player must not waste time. Sanction Free-kick;
  • Law 18.12 Lineout: Teams form the lineout without delay. Sanction: Free-kick;
  • Law 19.4 Scrum: Teams must be ready to form the scrum within 30 seconds of the mark being made. Sanction: Free-kick.
Rugby World Cup: Latest World Rugby law directives include shot clock from January 1
Rugby World Cup: Latest World Rugby law directives include shot clock from January 1

The whole sport is encouraged to apply these guidelines to speed up the game and elite matches competitions will be encouraged to use a ‘shot clock’ as trailed in the LNR/FFR competitions.  World Rugby director of rugby Phil Davies said: World Rugby, member unions and competitions will work with broadcasters and match hosts to implement on-screen (stadia and broadcast) shot clocks for penalties and conversions to ensure referees, players and fans can view the countdown.

Less reliance on Television Match Official (TMO) reviews 

Match officials are reminded that the current TMO protocol is aimed at identifying and ensuring clear and obvious offences are dealt with on-field. Davies added: There was an excellent debate at the Shape of the Game conference on this topic, including leading match officials, coaches and player representatives. It was agreed that reviews can often take too long, suggesting the offence being reviewed is not clear and obvious.

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While we can always enhance the technology interaction to speed up the process, the match official teams led by the referee should attempt to make speedier decisions and limit replays were not necessary. World Rugby will be working with match official managers to ensure consistent application of the process. 

Fewer water carrier interventions

The global law trial on limiting the number of water carriers to two, and reducing the times they enter the field, has successfully reduced unnecessary stoppages. However, creating set windows for water breaks has created the impression of disrupting the game, even if that water was taken during a natural stoppage. 

Davies added: “Following discussions with stakeholders, an amendment to the current global law trial covering water carriers will allow water onto the field when a try is scored. Participating competitions and unions are reminded of the 60/90 second limits on kick times. Only in a game with no tries, should a natural stoppage be used.” 

This amendment to the current trial protocol was supported by the technical zone/water carrier working group. This group includes players, coaches, referees and competition representatives. 

Penalizing negative player actions

Reinforcing rugby’s values, referees will be asked to be strong on negative player actions. For example, trapping players into ruck, and first arriving players (the jackler) not aiming to play the ball. Players are reminded about their responsibilities not to hold the ball or walk off with the ball at penalties this reduces attacking options by the non-offending team and slows the game down unnecessarily and will be sanctioned.

Rugby World Cup: Latest World Rugby law directives include shot clock from January 1
Rugby World Cup: Latest World Rugby law directives include shot clock from January 1

Penalizing players with hands on the floor to support body weight

Players who put their hands on the floor at tackles, rucks and mauls are subject to sanction, although judgement can be used if the player is using the ground briefly to maintain their own balance and stability.

Law definitions and relevant clauses:

  • Off feet: Players are off their feet when any other part of the body is supported by the ground or players on the ground;
  • On feet: Players are on their feet if no other part of their body is supported by the ground or players on the ground; 
  • Tackle law 14.8a Other players must: Remain on their feet and release the ball and the ball carrier immediately, and 14.8b Remain on their feet when they play the ball;
  • Ruck law 15.12: Players must endeavour to remain on their feet throughout the ruck;
  • Maul law 16.9: All other players in a maul must endeavour to stay on their feet. 

Clarity on deliberate knock-ons

What is and what isn’t a deliberate knock-on often causes debate. All participants are reminded of the following existing laws: 

  • 11.3 A player must not intentionally knock the ball forward with a hand or arm. Sanction: Penalty;
  • 11.4 It is not an intentional knock-on if, in the act of trying to catch the ball, the player knocks on provided that there was a reasonable expectation that the player could gain possession. 

Players must endeavour to catch the ball. Referees are asked to show good judgement when deciding if a player has a reasonable expectation of catching and gaining possession, and then in determining a sanction.

Rugby World Cup: Latest World Rugby law directives include shot clock from January 1
Rugby World Cup: Latest World Rugby law directives include shot clock from January 1

World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont said: “As a sport, a movement and a family, we must always challenge ourselves to be better. That means taking time to consider what fans and players want the future of our sport to be, a future where more people want to play and support the game, where injury risk is reduced and where all involved in the game have their say”. 

These law application guidelines are a step on the road to reimagining our sport and come directly from the Shape of the Game conference in London in November, attended by players, coaches, referees, union CEOs and competition owners. By working together, we can achieve positive outcomes. I would like to thank the match officials specifically for implementing the directives and we look forward to seeing the results.

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