Scrums banned from free-kicks, 20-min red cards and shotclocks: World Rugby tries to speed up the game


Seven months after the Springboks sensationally elected for a scrum from a mark inside their 22-metre line during their run to a fourth Webb Ellis Cup, World Rugby has tweaked the law to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

Springboks fullback Damian Willemse called for a scrum in the first-half against France during last year’s World Cup quarter-final.

The move was orchestrated by returning Springboks head coach Rassie Erasmus, who believed France benefited from not wanting to play any rugby inside their half and not having to move around their forwards by scrummaging – a strength of South Africa’s.

???? Rassie Erasmus on Damian Willemse’s scrum call in the France 22.#RWC2023 | #RSA

???? Forever Sports

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Yet, for the neutral supporter, the move slowed down a game that rarely has more than 40 minutes of ball-in-play.

As such, World Rugby has made it illegal to call for a scrum from a free kick.

The law now states: “It will no longer be possible to choose a scrum from a free-kick. Free-kicks must either be tapped or kicked to encourage more ball in flow.”

Damian Willemse on THAT scrum call at #RWC2023 ????

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The changes were a part of three permanent law changes confirmed by World Rugby on Thursday designed to make the game more watchable, which will come into force from July 1 ahead of the mid-year Tests.

Other changes concern kicks in open play, with the so-called ‘Dupont Law’ outlawed. By doing so, it will no longer be possible for a player to be put onside when an opponent catches the ball and either runs five metres or passes the ball.

The third change outlaws the ‘crocodile roll’, which concerns a defending player in the tackle area at the ruck.

World Rugby has made it illegal for teams to call for a scrum from a free-kick (Photo by Tom Jenkins/Getty Images)

In making the changes, World Rugby said it sought to “increase rugby’s accessibility and relevance among a broader, younger fanbase by embracing on-field innovation and reimagined presentation of the sport with compelling storytelling.”

Other changes part of a suite of six “closed law trials”, including 20-minute red cards, and shot clocks for scrums and lineouts, as well as a reduction from 90 second conversions to 60 seconds, will also be trialled during the under-20s World Championship.

Interestingly, throws that aren’t straight will only be policed if a lineout is challenged in the air. The move is designed to ensure back-to-back stoppages are limited, thereby sucking the oxygen out of the match.

“I would like to thank my colleagues from across the game for embracing the spirit of this comprehensive review of rugby’s entertainment factor,” said Bill Beaumont, the World Rugby chairman.

“With calendar certainty, including new competitions and all men’s and women’s Rugby World Cups set through to 2033, our major events are defined, our content set.

“There is unprecedented long-term certainty, and this work is vital to ensuring that the on-field product is befitting of the opportunities that we have in front of us, a superb sport that is enjoyable to play and watch and helps attract a new generation to get into rugby.

“Personally, I believe that the law amendments and suite of closed trials will add to the entertainment factor. As with all trials, we will comprehensively review their effectiveness and take feedback from across the game. The revised red card sanction process is such an example, and it is important that we trial, assess and make definitive decisions based on data and feedback.”

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