World Rugby has announced welfare-focused initiatives within a package of law amendments that will be trialled globally in competitions that start after 1 August 2021, reflecting the sport’s ongoing commitment to injury reduction at all levels.

Supporting the priority mission of head impact reduction and in line with the international federation’s six-point welfare action plan announced today (Wednesday 14 July) four of the five trials that will be implemented have an underlying focus on potential welfare advancements across the game.

The trials, approved by the World Rugby Executive Committee after detailed examination by the specialist Law Review Group and High Performance Rugby Committee, follow widespread consultation with stakeholders across the sport, including players, coaches and competitions. Confirmation of the global trials represents a key step in World Rugby’s quadrennial law review process.

The trials include two that have been operational in pilot trial environments – the goal-line drop out, which has been seen in Super Rugby Trans-Tasman and the Rainbow Cup – and the 50:22, which was most recently operational in Super Rugby AU. Both have the potential to increase space and decrease defensive line speed, which in turn could have welfare benefits.

Three trials focus specifically on reducing injury risk at the breakdown following detailed evaluation by a specialist Breakdown Working Group. The first will see the introduction of sanctioning of clear-outs which target the lower limbs. The second will outlaw the practice of multi-player (three or more) pre-bound pods. The third area will tighten the definition of what is permissible in the practice of one-player latching.

After a global trial period of one year, laws that are deemed successful in meeting the objective of increasing safety while enhancing the spectacle will be tabled for World Rugby’s Council to determine whether they are adopted into law at its May 2022 meeting, a full year ahead of Rugby World Cup 2023 in France.

Welfare-focused law trials approved for global trial
• 50:22/22:50: This law trial is intended to create space via a tactical choice for players to drop out of the defensive line in order to prevent their opponents from kicking for touch, reducing impact of defensive line speed – operational in Super Rugby AU
• Goal-line drop out: This law trial is intended to reduce the number of scrums, reward good defence, encourage counter-attacking and increase the rate of ball in play – operational in Super Rugby AU, Super Rugby Aotearoa, Super Rugby Trans-Tasman and the Rainbow Cup

Welfare-focused breakdown law amendments approved for global trial
• Pre-bound pods of players: Outlawing the practice of pods of three or more players being pre-bound prior to receiving the ball – the sanction will be a penalty kick
• Sanctioning the lower limb clear-out: Penalising players who target/drop their weight onto the lower limbs of a jackler – the sanction will be a penalty kick
• Tightening law relating to latching: One-player latch to be permitted, but this player has the same responsibilities as a first arriving player (i.e. must stay on feet, enter through gate and not fall to floor) – the sanction will be a penalty kick

When making its recommendations, the Law Review Group undertook an evaluation of each area against its objectives using an assessment of both statistical data and coach, player, referee, medical and fan feedback.

World Rugby Chairman, Sir Bill Beaumont, said: “Rugby’s laws are fundamental to its accessibility, appeal and safety. It is our mission to ensure that the laws are the best that they can be for everyone playing the game and this law review process has players and player welfare at heart as the approvals show.”