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Rugby union needs to simplify the rule book

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Roar Guru
16th April, 2021
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Another season, another competition, and another set of law changes for the newly formed Rainbow Cup involving teams from England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and (hopefully) South Africa.

The only constant change in the game of rugby union seems to be the various and differing set of laws being introduced with each new season, all in the name of making the game more attractive.

However, these continuous law changes haven’t done much good, except for making the game even more complicated to follow as a spectator and participate in as a player and referee.

World Rugby’s infatuation with constant law changes season after season is becoming a continual burden on the game. With each season that passes, there is constant tinkering and meddling of rugby’s laws by the officials running the game. Some have had the desired impact of making the game more free-flowing.

What is being touted is the red-card replacement after 20 minutes for the Rainbow Cup, which I fully agree with. It makes for an overall fairer contest, not leaving teams and fans shortchanged by watching an unequal contest. Laws such as creating space by back lines being five metres from a scrum, as an example, have benefited the game overall, allowing for more space for players to attack with the ball.

The new laws of late have left much to be desired, as has been voiced by various players, in particular Crusaders captain Scott Barrett and Blues forwards coach Tom Coventry during Super Rugby Aotearoa in New Zealand.

Scott Barrett of the Crusaders celebrates scoring a try

(Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

“I like to see teams rewarded for constant attacking pressure, and getting held up over try line and getting a scrum off the back of that is good for the game,” Coventry said regarding the goal-line drop out instead of five-metre scrums for the attacking team being held up over the try line.

He makes a salient point about rewarding the attacking team. Rugby has become so defence-orientated that this law change again favours the team without the ball as if rugby needs the deck stacked more against teams on attack.


The captain’s call, which allows the captain of a team to query a passage of foul play or knock-on leading up to a scoring opportunity, only confuses the refs and fans alike. Barrett said: “It just slows up play. There’s TMOs for a reason, the game is already becoming stop-start enough. The refs, as well as the assistants, they’ve got good eyes for the game. You don’t want the game slowing down and the refs second-guessing their own decisions.”

This came after a captain’s call that benefitted the Crusaders in their clash against the Hurricanes a few weeks back.

One of the main reasons football has been and remains such a globally popular sport is because their laws haven’t changed dramatically over a long period of time.

Yes, VAR has certainly created animosity and frustration of late. However, overall, football has remained popular because of the simplicity of the game’s laws.

Match referee Adam Kersey views the VAR review

(Albert Perez/Getty Images)

Rugby is of course a far more complicated game with many more moving parts during its contest and thus all the more reason for trying to simplify the game, as opposed to adding more rules or changing the existing laws under the guise of creating a more attractive game without any real benefit to the game in its applications.

These laws only serve to make the game more of a stop-start affair and more defence-orientated, with a lack of reward for the team with the ball and further confounding referees and TMOs in their decision-making whereby they are doubting themselves further.

This alludes to constant criticism of referees by the pundits and fans alike. Instead of celebrating the skills of players, inevitably the newspaper scribes will be writing about the ref’s performance and what they got wrong over the weekend.


While hindsight is 20/20, the rules and laws of the game need serious introspection and that introspection should be one of simplifying a complicated game.

World Rugby need to look at the rule book and draw from past experiences and experimentations of laws and decide once and for all what rules and laws will stay and what needs to be consigned to scrap heap for good.

With that said, the implementation of laws giving favour to the team with the ball in hand at the time should always be favoured. Rugby has become a game where it’s easier to play without the ball, which goes against the very reasons we enjoy and watch the sport.

I just hope those changes will be for the benefit of the game as a whole for one final time and not be changed for the sake of change.