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World Rugby to trial laws aimed at improving player welfare

July 14, 2021 GMT

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — World Rugby will trial goal-line dropouts among five law amendments which will be implemented in global competitions from August and are designed to reduce injuries.

The sport’s governing body approved the trials on the recommendation of its Law Review Group and High Performance Committee after consultation with players, coaches, competition organizers and medical officials.

“Rugby’s laws are fundamental to its accessibility, appeal and safety,” World Rugby chairman Sir Bill Beaumont said. “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.”

Reducing the potential for concussion is among the main priorities for the game.

“Four of the five trials that will be implemented have an underlying focus on potential welfare advancements across the game,” World Rugby said in a statement.

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Two of the amendments have have been operational in pilot trial environments — the goal-line drop out and the 50:22 rule for kicks in general play have been used in some of the Super Rugby competitions.

“Both have the potential to increase space and decrease defensive line speed, which in turn could have welfare benefits,” World Rugby said. “Three trials focus specifically on reducing injury risk at the breakdown following detailed evaluation.”

The first of the breakdown law amendments will see more sanctions imposed on clear-outs which target lower limbs. The second will outlaw three or more players forming pre-bound pods and the third will tighten the definition of what is allowed in the practice of one-player “latching.”

After a year the trials that are deemed successful will be considered for inclusion in rugby’s law book from May 2022 — a year before the Rugby World Cup in France.

The 50:22, an adaptation of rugby league’s 40:20 system, is said to reduce defensive line speed by causing players to drop out of the line to prevent opponents kicking for touch. The goal-line dropout is to “reduce the number of scrums, reward good defense, encourage counter-attacking and increase the rate of ball in play.”

At the breakdown, the formation of pods of three or four players which are bound before receiving the ball will be penalized. Players who drop their weight on the lower limbs of a tackler will also incur a penalty.

World Rugby has announced that a panel of concussion consultants will be made available at the game’s elite level to provide independent expert opinion on whether a player should return to play following the successful completion of the six-stage graduated return to play process.

It will be mandatory for for team doctors to seek a review by the panel if a player has a confirmed concussion and is set to return to play within 10 days.

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Players deemed higher risk — who have been concussed in the last three months, twice within 12 months or five times in a career — will have to undergo an ICC review when they are deemed fit to return to play irrespective of the time taken to return.

Similar panels have been formed at previous Rugby World Cups.

International Rugby Players board member Dr. Sharron Flahive said the extra layer of review had a positive impact during the last Super Rugby competition in Australia.

“It also gives a secondary level of evaluation for the player prior to return, as players will always retain an urgency to get back on the field,” Flahive said.

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