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World Rugby defends law changes amid backlash over scrum proposals

South Africa's scrum-half Cobus Reinach passes the ball from a scrum during the France 2023 Rugby World Cup quarter-final against France

World Rugby has defended its decision to overhaul scrum laws despite a backlash over the changes.

Alan Gilpin, World Rugby’s chief executive, has responded to criticism of the decision to remove the option of calling a scrum from a free-kick by noting that “you get criticised by some parts of rugby’s audiences if you don’t evolve the game, and get criticised by others for tinkering too much”.

The scrum tweak will come into effect on July 1, along with banning crocodile rolls and ‘Dupont’s Law’ in the kicking game, with 30-second shot clocks also set to be trialled for scrums in World Rugby competitions including the World Under-20 Championship.

Former referee Nigel Owens was among the voices to criticise the move, which was also described in these pages as part of “an insidious depowering of the scrum”. And while scrums from free-kicks have been rare in recent years, Damian Willemse’s call for a scrum from a mark during the quarter-final between South Africa and France led to a surge in interest. Ox Nche, the South Africa prop, reacted to the announcement by saying: “If we don’t want the scrum in rugby then we should just start watching rugby league, I guess.”

Asked about the reaction to the move and other changes to the laws, Gilpin, speaking at the launch of the Global Rugby Player Foundation, said: “As in every conversation we have, we try and make sure the players are at the heart of it. Omar [Hassanein, International Rugby Players CEO], Conrad [Smith] and Rachael [Burford] and others are very much part of the shape of the game discussions. We want a game that is true to the heritage and fabric and history of rugby, but recognise we have to make the game as safe as possible with those inherent values, and as best as it can be as a spectacle. It’s a balance.

“We’ve had these forums with all those stakeholders together - the science, medics, match officials, player and fan groups – where we have those different debates around that balance. Whatever you come up with, one part of the audience is going to be critical regarding the scrum. What we have to do is play these trials out. There is a lot of work going on, whether it’s the 20-minute red card, scrum, the introduction of shot clocks which I think was really effective last year. Reviewing how sanctions are applied, are they working, do fans and players understand them.

“It’s funny, you get criticised by some parts of rugby’s audiences if you don’t evolve the game, and get criticised by others for tinkering too much. That is all part of the debate, and that’s fine. But we’re going to trial these things and try to learn what works and doesn’t work.”

Hassanein, also present at the event, added: “That’s why it is so important that there is player representation in the room, because to Alan’s point, the consequences of a law change could have a more dire effect than the law change itself. The players will tell you exactly how a law change is going to have an impact.”

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