Six Nations 2023: The new rules explained as World Rugby clamps down on time-wasting

A faster game, more ball in play time and a better spectacle is the goal of the new regulations

World rugby’s new law applications came into effect on January 1st with the clear message that the game needs to be speeded up, a by-product of which would be increasing the ball-in-play time. Match officials have been instructed to avoid unnecessary delays and to expedite traditional “clock killers”, scrums, lineouts and television match official referrals.

Players who wander off with the ball after their team has been penalised will also face sanction in the concession of a freekick. The breakdown and knocks-on will also be subjected to greater scrutiny, albeit referees merely more rigorous in applying the existing laws.

The Six Nations is the first Test match tournament in the northern hemisphere at which the new applications will be in play. Wales host Ireland at the Principality stadium under an English officiating team, led by match referee Karl Dickson. In the corresponding fixture at the Aviva stadium last year the ball-in-play time was a fraction over 36 minutes – South African Jaco Peyper had the whistle – so it’ll be interesting to draw a comparison with the 80 minutes in Cardiff.

Under the auspices of speeding up the game, World Rugby stated that “players and match officials are reminded of the following existing laws which must be strictly adhered to and that elite matches would use a shot clock as trialled in France’s, League Nationale de Rugby (LNR).”


A place-kicker will have 90 seconds (playing time) from the time a try was awarded to take a conversion, even if the ball rolls over and requires to be replaced on the tee. The kick will be disallowed if not taken in that timeframe.

A penalty kick at goal must be taken within 60 seconds (playing time) from the time that the team indicate their intention, once again there will be no additional time if a ball falls from the tee. A failure to comply will see the kicking disallowed and the opposition awarded a scrum.

Under the broad auspices of speeding up play, a player will concede a free kick if they are adjudged to be deliberately wasting time, the same sanction will apply to teams who dally unduly or go into a prolonged conclave ahead of forming a lineout.

Teams must be ready to form a scrum within 30 seconds of the mark being made by the referee, who may then punish any undue delay by awarding a freekick.

World Rugby director of rugby Phil Davies said: “World Rugby, member unions and competitions will work with broadcasters and match hosts to implement on-screen [stadia and broadcast] shot clocks for penalties and conversions to ensure referees, players and fans can view the countdown, mirroring what happens in the LNR and Sevens.”

Davies added that the current protocol is aimed at identifying and ensuring clear and obvious offences are dealt with on-field, that some reviews are currently taking too long and that “the match official teams – led by the referee - should attempt to make speedier decisions and limit replays where not necessary.”

Two water carriers will be permitted on the pitch only after a try is scored. Under an umbrella heading of “penalising negative player actions,” referees have been asked to be strong on players being deliberately trapped in a ruck and in penalising the first arriving players who do not try and play the ball.

Referees have also been asked to be sharp in penalising players who put hands on the ground to support body weight, other than briefly to maintain balance and stability. Players must endeavour to stay on their feet at a ruck and also in a maul.

World Rugby also provided clarity on deliberate knocks-on, that “a player must not intentionally knock the ball forward with hand or arm [sanction, a penalty]. But it is not an intentional knock-on if, in the act of trying to catch the ball, the player knocks on provided that there was a reasonable expectation that the player could gain possession.

“Players must endeavour to catch the ball. Referees are asked to show good judgement when deciding if a player has a reasonable expectation of catching and gaining possession, and then in determining a sanction.”

So there you have it, a faster game, more ball in play time and a better spectacle, all on World Rugby’s wish list as the Six Nations begins this weekend.

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer