IrishRugby.ie caught up with top IRFU international referee Alain Rolland to get his take on the global law trials that come into effect in the northern Hemisphere this month.
Following the annual meeting of their Council held in Dublin during the month of May, the International Rugby Board and its member Unions have sanctioned a global trial of five aspects of law amendments.
Aspects of law approved for trial include limiting the time that the ball is available at the back of a ruck and the positioning of taking a quick lineout throw.
These trials, in addition to some other experimental laws, will commence at the start of next season in each Hemisphere (August 2012 in the north and January 2013 in the south) and will be applicable to both international and domestic competition.
Speaking to IrishRugby.ie in relation to the introduction of these laws, experienced Irish referee Alain Rolland was eager to stress that the five laws that are being experimented upon are only being tried out as things stand, and may not necessarily be followed up on beyond the trial period.
“We’ve been asked to try these out during the season, and a decision is going to be made as to whether any of them will be used as is,” he said.
“They’re not written in law right now. These are trials that have been set out by the IRB Council.
“They are trial laws for us to see and needless to say, feedback will be given to the IRB from all the respective Unions as to how they found they went, to see which ones will be kept, which ones will be changed and which ones need to be shelved.”
However, the former Ireland scrum half does not envisage teams having a major problem with the laws that are being introduced, and is intrigued to see how teams adapt to the changes when the action recommences in the coming weeks.
“There are a lot of teams that won’t have any issues with what is being introduced. There will be one or two teams that will have played a slow game, and it is a bit more of a change for them because of the way that they will play it.
“Overall, I think they are to be welcomed. It will be interesting to see how things go, and it’s only really when you get into the thick of it and do games with them, that you will be able to make an informed decision as to whether they’re good for the game or not.”
Also of interest to Rolland, who acted as assistant referee in last year’s Rugby World Cup final between New Zealand and France, are a number of additional laws that are being tried out in the coming months, including a potential extension of the current TMO system.
“In relation to substitutions in international matches, it’s just bringing it in line with other competitions. There’s nothing major there. In relation to players’ clothing, it’s just putting in law that players can use GPS in their jerseys.
“They’ve made an allowance in relation to additional items of clothing for women. While male players aren’t allowed to wear long tights, it’s being put in law that the women can,” Rolland explains.
“The next thing is obviously it was outlawed that you couldn’t have one sole at the top of your boot. Whereas, there is a new configuration of boot potentially on the way where there is a single stud up at the top of the insole, which has now been approved.
“There are two trials going on for the TMO. England are trying one version of it in the Aviva Premiership, and then in South Africa, the Currie Cup are trying another version of it which is extending the protocol as to what a TMO can do in relation to assisting a referee.
“Nothing is going to be introduced here as far as we are aware until reports of those two trials come back. If there is going to be a change it probably will be the start of the next season here in the northern Hemisphere.”
Most crucially of all, however, is a proposed change to the scrum which will reduce the number of commands from four to three and will, in the view of Rolland, minimise the high level of collapses that we are currently seeing at scrum time.
“The biggest thing is obviously the scrum going from four commands to three. That’s going to be a big change for players and referees alike where you’re going to have three commands rather than four commands under the Law 21 (g) of the scrum. You’re going from the ‘crouch, touch, pause, engage’ to ‘crouch, touch, set’.
“This will hopefully minimise a number of collapses on the basis that players should hopefully be in a better position to keep the scrum up, and there will be less anticipation as to when ‘set’ call (is made).
“The ‘set’ call is a very small one as opposed to a double-barrelled ‘engage’, which is very long. With the way they are going forward, I think it will be interesting to see how that develops.”
ROLLAND ON THE FIVE GLOBAL LAW AMENDMENTS
Law 16.7 (Ruck): The ball has to be used within five seconds of it being made available at the back of a ruck with a warning from the referee to “use it”. Sanction – Scrum.
“They’re obviously trying to speed up the game. In effect, once there is static ball at the base of the ruck, and if the half-back doesn’t play it away, or whoever is standing in the scrum half position, the referee will give an instruction to whoever is there to play the ball.
“That kicks off the clock, they have five seconds to use it and if they don’t, as it’s stated, it’s a turnover and a scrum for the opposition.”
Law 19.2 (b) (Quick Throw-In) For a quick throw-in, the player may be anywhere outside the field of play between the line of touch and the player’s goal-line.
“What happened previously is if the ball went into touch, the player who caught it could take it quickly from where he was. If he elected not to do so, then the lineout would take place back where the touch judge was.
“Because it obviously went straight in they would gain ground back to where the ball was kicked in, straight opposite to where the ball was kicked.
“Now what’s going to be allowed to be done is if that player kicks the ball, he can in effect go anywhere from where he is to his own goal-line or up to the line of touch, and can play the ball at any stage.
“So, his options are no longer limited to taking it immediately from where you are or have a normal lineout from where the ball went in.
“They now have an opportunity to go from where the ball was caught and up to where the line of touch was going to be given. So, he could even give the ball on the run.”
Law 19.4 (who throws in) When the ball goes into touch from a knock on, the non-offending team will be offered the choice of a lineout at the point the ball crossed the touchline; or a scrum at the place of the knock on. The non-offending team may exercise this option by taking a quick throw-in.
“The thing about here is, if a ball as stated has been knocked on into touch, before this ruling you had no choice but to bring it back for the scrum.
“A referee, if the team hasn’t elected to play it quickly, can ask the non-offending team would they like the option of an advantage which would lead to a lineout, or do they want to play the scrum from the knock on.”
Law 21.4 Penalty and free-kick options and requirements. Lineout alternative. A team awarded a penalty or a free kick at a lineout may choose a further lineout, they throw in. This is in addition to the scrum option.
“As it states, they’re giving the option assuming the offence is a lineout offence. Rather than having to kick the ball back into touch, they can just enact it straight away.
“It could come into play at any stage, but what it brings into play is if there was 40 minutes or 80 minutes on the clock and the time is dead, under the previous ruling if the referee had been asked do we have time for the lineout, the answer would have been no because the time was up. Whereas now, they can elect to have the lineout because they no longer have to kick it.
“It’s also more apparent from the free-kick option because if it was a free-kick they wouldn’t have been able to kick it into touch and retain possession. Because from a free-kick needless to say, if the ball goes into touch, they wouldn’t be kicking it into touch because if they’re not inside their own 22, it would be straight in and they would lose possession straight away. Whereas now they can just elect to have a lineout option.”
A conversion kick must be completed within one minute 30 seconds from the time that a try has been awarded.
“That’s how long they have, and the only time that can be stopped is if there’s any injury or if the referee has called a time out, then it will be extended from that.
“The only thing teams will have to be aware of now is two fold. Number one, if a player scores a try, throws a ball into the grandstand and there is mass celebration for whatever reason, the clock is running.
“The onus is on them, they have to ensure that the kick is done within the allocated time. If the try is scored and what happens straight afterwards is the ball is taken by the kicker and he is getting himself sorted, there will never be an issue of not having it done within the minute and 30 seconds.
“It only becomes an issue when people are doing other things after the try is scored.
“I can’t foresee it as being a major issue. Now that they’ve put it in that there is an allocated time, if a player wants to take his full minute and 30 seconds, we cannot make him go any faster than that.”
“So, if there is 78 minutes and 30 seconds on the clock he can stand there and let it run to 80 and take the kick. That’s the other side.”