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Laws: What should change and what not

LAW DISCUSSION: @rugby365com law guru Paul Dobson is going to take a look at which laws he feels should be changed and which should remain unchanged.


Dobson responded to a request from a reader.

Here he starts with a general introduction!

Reader Sean: “Rugby365, I wonder if you could do an article, if you haven’t done so already, as to what rugby laws if any you reckon could or should get changed, amended or scrapped post-COVID-19 that could help either in speeding up the game or conversely slowing it down a bit whether it be in scrums, penalties, yellow cards/red cards, 22 drop-outs, refs/TMO calls and such…

“Which things should never get changed cause they are part of the fundamentals of the game and so  stays untouched.”

Paul Dobson: Let’s start from the end and first of all look at things that should not change, the ways of playing that are fundamental to the game, but – never fear – we are going to suggest some changes.

However, perhaps we will look more at seemingly accepted application, which could well be changed without changing what is written in the laws.


One cannot undervalue the importance of the laws.

They are what make rugby unique – different from every other game on earth.

The laws of a game determine how the game is to be played. Change the laws and you change the game. If the great poet Gerard Manly Hopkins had been interested in rugby, he might have spoken of the laws of rugby as the inscape of the game – the inner distinctive beauty of the game, “the distinctive design that constitutes individual identity”.

The laws of the game deserve our respect. They are precious.


The laws of the game make provision for the underlying principles of the game – those without which the game does not exits. In the chapter on Principles of the Game, the laws state: “The contest for possession of the ball is one of rugby’s key features.”

A match is a contest and within the match, there are contests which are fundamental to the game – tackling, scrumming, line-outs, rucks, mauls, catching kicks, and tactics to outwit opponents.

The type of contest and skill fundamental to the game make it the wonderful game for all shapes, sizes and abilities that it is – the differing parts that make the whole.

(Continue reading below … )

What rugby has done in recent years is more and more adapt laws to make the game safer. There was a time when there was no sanction against high tackles or tackles in the air. They were just an accepted part of the game – like passing the ball. “Tackle low” was a frequent shout from the touchlines at a time when that meant tackling below the waist. A high tackle was above the waist. Now it is above the shoulders and seriously illegal. Tackling is in itself a dangerous practice but the laws look to make tackling as safe as possible.

There was a time when scrums went down by mutual agreement, then by “my ball, my call”, without any referee input. Now the referee regulates the setting of the scrum, and the length of time and effort that it takes to get play going again can be annoyingly long with resets and uncertainty about the cause of collapse. But there has been – mercifully – no repeat of the days of many a catastrophic injury at scrum time.

These are by way of introductory thoughts. We shall go into more detail later, always bearing in mind that rugby is not just about the high-profile game that is broadcast on television, not even just about schools’ 1st XVs. The laws are meant for all rugby – the club’s seventh team, the schools Under-9D. The entertainment of televised rugby is good for the income it generates and as a propaganda tool, but it is a tiny proportion of the rugby played.

In summary, when we discuss possible law changes, we shall keep in mind the principles of the contest and the game for all. And it may just be that that will concentrate more on application than alteration.

* In the next column will look at the APPLICATION of laws!


* Also worth reading: Dawie Snyman’s take on the laws

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