Referees are to implement a crackdown on foul play at the breakdown when the Gallagher Premiership returns on Friday after safety concerns were raised by players.
The new emphasis will include a greater expectation on tacklers releasing the ball carrier and rolling away immediately to the side while ball carriers will be allowed one dynamic movement after being tackled with an onus on presenting or releasing the ball more quickly.
Clubs have been told that there will be stricter officiating of how players arrive at a breakdown, with any side entry resulting in a penalty, as will those who recklessly dive into collisions.
Officials hope the initiative will reduce the risk of players targeting their opponents’ knees and legs, by ensuring the height of the breakdown is increased after warning it had become “dangerous”.
“Players were launching themselves into the breakdown, everything was happening very low down and players were off their feet and there was a lot of criticism around that so the whole idea was to make the breakdown safer,” said RFU referee Tom Foley.
“It means we won’t get players targeting the joints and the legs of the jackalers. It was something that the players were really concerned about in the way the breakdown was being refereed.
“The interpretation of side entry was allowing players to target the knees and legs and potentially injure them. This is why this is being introduced.”
The new law application was approved by a group of international coaches, including former Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt, players, referees, medics and law-makers at a World Rugby meeting in March.
The new interpretations resulted in a spike of penalties in the opening rounds of the Super Rugby Aotearoa in New Zealand and, although the Rugby Football Union have been liaising with clubs during lockdown about the change of emphasis, referee Tom Foley warned there could be a similar outcome when the Premiership resumes.
“I think there will be an element of calibration and everyone getting used to this,” said Foley. “Let’s be honest it is six months since anyone has done anything in anger but we would like to think some of the work we have already done will mean we don’t get huge swathes, week to week.
“But when we look at a game on Monday morning and it has had 30 penalties and it probably needed 30 penalties, then so be it.”