The View from the Orphanage.

‘So, Ref., what law changes have we got this season…?

A typical question as the season approaches. But the short answer is that there will be no changes in the Laws of the Game (available at at the start of this season because the Rugby World Cup will be played in New Zealand in September and October. The Laws of the Game can only be changed by the International Rugby Board’s Laws Committee (irb), a body made up of representatives from around the world. Some local variations are allowable by the irb, for example the Under 19 variations in England where, e.g. scrums can only wheel 45% before they are reset, with no ‘turnover’ of put-in.

Therefore, what might happen after the World Cup is over? Current indications are that there will be no changes for January 2012, but are more likely to be introduced for season 2012/13. It is clear that the two areas of most concern are the scrum and tackle. Scrum first. Anyone watching the game on TV, be it Premiership, Six Nations or Tri- Nations, will groan at the constant resetting following collapses. Although I included Tri-Nations, my impression is that collapses are not so frequent, but still present. We all say that Australians can’t scrummage and they therefore want radical changes to ‘de-power’ the scrum, have more ‘ball-in-play’ time and therefore more ‘bums on seats’. Australians have to compete with Australian footie and rugby league, both more popular ‘down-under’. Northern hemisphere law makers argue that de-powering the scrum will de-power the game and change its nature, for the worse. Another factor in the debate is that the evidence is clear; scrums and tackles are the areas where the most serious injuries occur, world-wide.

It’s not clear yet what effect the Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage sequence has had, but that doesn’t stop us all having a view. For what it’s worth, this referee would rather it continued, in the interests of safety, until there is clear evidence that it isn’t preventing injuries. You should expect a slow delivery of the command from Manchester & District Referees. We’ll return to the refereeing of the scrum in the future.

The other key issue is the tackle, the source of most penalties and confusion in the game for players, spectators and some referees as well. The theory is easy. The tackled player must be allowed his options (place/pass/pop/release the ball) by the tackler, who must release and roll away (and preferably get to his feet to be back in the game in the tackle zone). Arriving players must come thro’ the ‘gate’ and stay on their feet. The practice is much more complex, given the dynamism of this phase of play. It is imperative that the referee is there to control and hopefully prevent offences. It’s less clear how the lawmakers can tackle (!!) this problem. Squeeze ball might be outlawed. One thing that we will see is the enforcement of the irb’s edict on high tackles, issued August 2011. The memorandum states that:-

“This type of dangerous play must be dealt with severely by Referees and all those involved” where high tackles, dangerous tackles (e.g. stiff arm, taking out opponents by neck or head, not in possession of ball – e.g. when ‘clearing out’ at ruck/maul) are cited as the examples. The memo continues “Referees and Citing Commissioners should not make their decisions based on what they consider was the intention of the offending player. Their decision should be based on an objective assessment (as per Law 10.4(e) and Law 10.4(f)) of the overall circumstances of the tackle or the clear out.”

So, it’s the consequence of the action, not the intention that counts most. Manchester referees will certainly be given this memorandum. They will also be told to operate with ‘Contextual judgement’ – more of this in a future article. So the message is simple, keep your tackles below the neckline and no grabbing of the shirt collar.

Finally and briefly, there are changes at Level 9 and below (our first XV are Level 7, the seconds level 9 and the thirds level 11) to replacements. ‘Rolling’ subs will be allowed, but have a look at the University of Salford Leagues website ( It’s not clear yet what their position will be for this season. The detail of the change is available on, under News.

Enjoy your season.

Geoff Cove
Manchester & District Rugby Union Referees’ Society.