Following in the footsteps of Super Rugby Aotearoa, Major League Rugby and Super Rugby AU, the PRO14 confirmed last week three law variations will be trialled in the Rainbow Cup.
I’ve given a brief summary of what they will entail, but more can be read about them on the PRO14 website.
Replacement for Red Card player after 20 minutes
Explanation: If a player receives a red card they will be removed from the field for 20 minutes. After this, the team can replace the offending player and bring their numbers back up to 15. The offending player cannot come back on. Players who already have been tactically replaced can be used as a replacement for the suspended player but injured players are not allowed.
Over the last few years World Rugby have stressed the importance of player welfare and cracking down on high tackles in order to curb the amount of concussions. Last year news broke that former players would be joining a concussion lawsuit against World Rugby, the RFU and WRU. It feels like this is a backward step from the rugby blazers along with the new head contact process released at the beginning of March.
The theory behind this move is that red cards ruin games. This isn’t the case as we’ve seen in the Six Nations this year with Wales v Ireland, Scotland v Wales, France v Wales and Ireland v England all remaining competitive in games after the red cards.
Ulster v Zebre is the counter point, but even with 15 men each side, the home team were comfortably the better side. It was a non-contest either way. Red cards don’t ruin matches but foul play does.
Verdict: No place in sport
Explanation: Each side is allowed one challenge per match that can be used for try-scoring and foul play incidents or to challenge any decision in the last five minutes of the match. If the challenge is successful, the team keeps their challenge but will lose it if it is unsuccessful. Once a challenge is referred, the TMO will review footage with the match referee making the final decision. Challenges can only be made up to 20 seconds after the referee has blown his whistle for a stoppage in play and only incidents from the last passage of play can be challenged. They cannot be used once play has restarted after a quick tap or lineout and cannot be used on set piece decisions unless foul play is involved.
It seems like a decent call in order to improve accuracy and hold officials to account. But should there be any need for a Captain’s Challenge when there is a TMO watching the game and communicating to the referee to anything he’s missed or needs another look at it?
I’m on the fence with this one as we’ve seen in the season’s Super Rugby Aotearoa competition the best and worst of it. Round 3 saw Crusaders awarded a penalty try however Chiefs’ captain Sam Cane challenged the call saying there was a knock on in the build up. The referee ruled against Cane saying that a Chiefs player had knocked the ball backwards even though there was clear footage showing a knock on.
The error has to be clear and obvious for the decision to be overturned, similar to cricket’s referral system. The decision will still be weighted towards the referee and hasn’t necessarily been a success with the above example, while Crusaders’ Scott Barrett has publicly criticised the trials.
Verdict: What’s the point?
Goal line drop-out
Explanation: A goal-line drop out will be taken for any knock-ons that occur in-goal, if the ball is held up in goal or when the ball is grounded by a defending player in goal after a kick through. From the drop out the ball must cross the the goal line and travel five metres.
On average 20% of game time is lost due to scrums and their never ending resets so removing the threat of a 5m scrum from knock ons or the ball held up over the line will provide relief for the defensive side. For the attacking side it removes a vital attacking platform and could be argued would decrease the likelihood of a try being scored. On the whole, I don’t think there’s any harm in trialling this variation in the competition.
Cynics will say it allows the attacking team to kick the ball in goal from their own 10m line for possession further up the field. With goal lines between five and ten metres in length it does require a certain amount of accuracy in order to land the ball there.
Verdict: Worth a punt
The FRU reaction
On the whole I’m sceptical, especially about the red card. Possibly the only trial that I’m in favour of – golden point to seperate two sides that are level at the end of 80 minutes – has not been introduced but there is probably no need for it due one sided nature of the majority of PRO14 teams.
It’s important to stress that these are only trials. But as they’re in effect in other leagues around the world, I hope it’s not a sign that we will be continuing with them regardless if they are a success or no.