A new face for rugby in COVID-19 times

The World Rugby Law Review Group proposed temporary and optional changes to rugby rules to minimize player contact and reduce the possibility of COVID-19 transmission.

On March 11, the World Health Organization qualified the situation experienced in the world in regards to COVID-19 as a public health emergency. As an international pandemic, the impact has been very significant in several sectors of activity, namely in sports. Indeed, governments of various countries in the world have been progressively implementing multiple measures, of a legal and administrative nature, which aim precisely to respond to the effects of the virus on society.

The situation we face today, caused by the pandemic mentioned above, had a considerable impact on every physical activity practice, and this was reflected in the stoppage of all professional championships, many of them cancelled. Training levels ended all competitions and events such as the European Championship and the Olympic Games were postponed until next year.

At this time, people are slowly starting to deconfine. There are already some competitions returning, with health and safety measures put in place to protect athletes and the general population. Rugby, a sport that has always been avant-garde and ahead of its time, particularly in sports policies and technologies, decided to move forward with changes to the rules of the game to adapt it to the present situation.


The ten proposed changes

These temporary and optional measures, suggested by the World Rugby Law Review Group, do not require their application by federations. Instead, they seek to reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission between players by limiting contact by 25 to 50% on scrum, rucks and mauls.

The ten measures suggested by this organisation are:

  • Remove reset scrum when no infringement occurs (e.g. collapse);
  • Hookers must use a "brake foot" to aid scrum stability;
  • No scrum option for a penalty or free-kick;
  • Goal-line drop-out when an attacker is held up in-goal or knocks on in-goal;
  • Reinforce the high tackle sanction framework: introduction of the orange card for red card high tackle offence;
  • Remove choke tackle and reward for the defensive team;
  • Ruck “use it” duration time down from 5 to 3 seconds;
  • No scrum for failure to “use it” at the scrum, ruck or maul;
  • No one can join a maul if not in at the start;
  • Only one forward movement at maul.

In addition to these measures, mandatory hygiene guidelines and recommendations to be applied during training were given, such as:

  • Obligatory hand and face sanitisation pre- and post-match;
  • Regular ball sanitisation before, during and after matches;
  • Single user water bottles/hydration;
  • Changing of jerseys, shorts and headgear at half-time where possible;
  • Prevention of huddles and celebrations involving contact;
  • Prevention of spitting and nose clearance.

For training:

  • Forwards units: high-risk transmission activities such as an eight-person scrum should be undertaken against the machine to limit exposure; packs should be trained separately;
  • Scrum and maul practice should take place at the end of a training session, preferably a day before a "down day" to allow 24-48 hours before collective training;
  • High transmission risk training should be avoided within 48 hours of a game.

Move Sports applauds World Rugby for being on top of such matters and for trying to come up with solutions that may come to allow rugby competitions to be resumed. We also applaud the fact that these are proposals and not mandatory rules, thus allowing each rugby federation to chime in with their own proposals and opinions on the subject. The debate has been jumpstarted and we're sure rugby will come out stronger!

As far as we are concerned, we remain attentive to all proposals and opinions coming out that might provide the best possible experience for all athletes who will come to compete in our own Portugal Rugby Youth Festival, while safeguarding the health and safety of both young athletes and rugby fans alike.

If you want to know more about the proposals being put forth, please follow this link: https://playerwelfare.worldrugby.org/?documentid=226