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World Rugby unveils five-point plan to improve the game

Scotand's Duhan van der Merwe in action with England's George Ford and Ben Earl
Scotand's Duhan van der Merwe in action with England's George Ford and Ben Earl

World Rugby have vowed to improve the pace of the game with five initiatives which include speeding up the calls of “use it” at scrum time and giving scrum-halves greater space and protection.

The moves follow the conclusion of the 2024 Shape of the Game forum held in London, with the recommendations made “to reimagine the spectacle and grow rugby’s share of attention within an increasingly competitive global sports and entertainment market”.

Playing, coaching, officiating, competitions and fan experts representing five specialist committees (men’s and women’s high performance, professional game, professional leagues and community rugby) were all part of the new initiatives, with the forum this year focusing long-term instead of on short-term advancements, as was the case in the past.

The five recommendations include:

  • Speed and flow
    Focus on aspects which keep the game moving including speeding up the “use it” call by referees at the breakdown, removing repeated scrums options, expanding the remit of the shot clock, a review of the offside law from kicks, and exploring moves to provide the scrum-half with greater space and protection at the base of scrum, rucks and mauls.

  • Language and presentation of the game
    A renewed passion and urgency to focus on building rugby’s attention share via a fan-focused view of how the game is marketed, a consistent approach to presentation of the sport across all media environments and a focus on the moments in the game that really engage fans.

  • Women’s game
    A dedicated focus on female rugby and adapting laws, recognising the unique characteristics, strengths and opportunities that exist to attract a new audience.

  • Player welfare and wellbeing
    A player-driven approach to advances in welfare, including a removal of the ‘croc roll’ and examining the breakdown.

  • Disciplinary process review
    Streamlining the sport’s disciplinary and sanctioning processes to aid efficiency, consistency and fan understanding.

The timing of the new procedures is pertinent following comments made by Wales head coach Warren Gatland after Saturday’s defeat to Ireland regarding the amount of ball in play time and his referencing the way the game was officiated. Gatland said at the time: “I was disappointed with that first-half. It was difficult to get momentum. I think it was only 13 minutes ball in play time. When we talk about the laws of the game, trying to be positive and make it more attractive for the fans. I’m not sure the players of both teams were responsible for the amount of stoppages in that first-half.”

The removal of repeated scrum options, while speeding up the game, is likely to draw opposition from those concerned about the set-piece’s importance in the modern game. Reviewing the offside law for kicks has also been a hot topic - often referred to as Dupont’s Law after the France scrum-half Antoine Dupont exploited it; receiving players need run the ball only five metres before the previously offside attackers are allowed to approach and then tackle them. It featured heavily in the latter stages of France’s win over Scotland.

Shot clock timers were introduced by World Rugby at the end of 2022 and used at Rugby World Cups for the first time last year, with Owen Farrell one of its first victims after his time expired while preparing to take a kick against Samoa.

‘Croc roll’ injuries have also been an important issue among elite players for some time, with England flanker Jack Willis suffering a serious injury against Italy back in 2021 which kept him out of any involvement with England for over a year.

Sir Bill Beaumont, the World Rugby Chairman, praised the moves by saying: “Shape of the Game 2024 represents an important milestone in defining the future of our sport. It is born from a need and opportunity to grow rugby’s audience by considering how the on-field product and off-field experience can cement long-term growth within a new calendar that delivers long-term certainty of exciting content from expanded Rugby World Cups to new global competitions.

“It is fantastic to see such a strong desire from all stakeholders – players, coaches, match officials, competition owners, unions and regions – to evolve the game to set us up for success, not just at the elite level, but at the community game. I would like to thank everyone for their forward-thinking and collaborative contributions.”

Alan Gilpin, World Rugby’s Chief Executive, added: “Rugby is in an attention economy. The attractiveness of the product in all its forms, combined with the excitement of the event experience, the content we create and stories we tell, is central to the sport’s growth as a whole.

“We will not look at actions or law tweaks in isolation, rather consider the changes we should make to definitively move the needle to make the game more relevant, attract new fans and deepen engagement with existing fans, and simplify the sport to make it more accessible.”

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