World Rugby have agreed a wide range of law variations for the global community game designed to increase player welfare and playing numbers, and which can be implemented from January 1st, 2022.
There is widespread support among all unions, including the IRFU, who will introduce the variations at all levels below national competitions, meaning they will not come into effect in the All-Ireland League.
During last week’s World Rugby council meeting this initiative was approved for community rugby worldwide, and will see the introduction of consistent law variations across 10 areas under a project titled Game On Global.
The law variations include flexibility in the number of players, game duration, pitch size and ball size, as well as variations to scrums, lineouts and kicking rules. Modified contact, weight-banded matches and lowered tackle height are also included to further advance player welfare. Unions can pick and choose from the menu of variations dependent on their context and purpose.
World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont said: “The community game is the heart and soul of our sport, it is the foundation upon which our house is built and today represents a landmark for rugby around the globe with the introduction of optional community law variations for our national member unions.”
The IRFU are supportive of the measures as they believe it will lead to more games being played and will keep more rugby players active, with the pandemic having underlined the need to remove barriers to participation, and to be as flexible as possible to keep rugby sustainable.
The IRFU ran a pilot scheme of Game On in Ulster in 2018/19, the last completed season. Wales were one of the nations to do a wider roll out and the IRFU have kept in touch with them on implementation.
They don’t see the variations coming into effect for national competitions, and hence they won’t be seen in the AIL, but they will be administered locally and the union will work with the provinces to provide a range of options in order to have more games played. They will also introduce these variations on January 1st.
The degree to which the variations will be implemented is up to the provinces to a certain extent. The 2018/19 trial in Ulster extended to the Kukri Ulster Rugby Championship Divisions 1-3, so they may apply at that level again, with the addition of women’s competitions.
The Munster Junior League has two women's divisions and five men's conferences in addition to separate competitions in North Munster and South Munster for junior teams (or AIL 2nds/3rds teams). There's also the women's division and the four junior divisions in Connacht.
Leinster have five women's divisions and five junior men's divisions, as well as the Metro League which has 10 divisions of players, with many describing themselves as social players. Participation numbers are substantially bigger again when you move into age grade and schools.
"It's simply about getting more games played more often," said IRFU competitions manager Kevin Beggs. "Since we first piloted Game On in Ulster, we've been liaising with other member unions who've rolled out this type of programme across the community game.
“It’s about being flexible where we can. If teams in a local game can only field 13-a-side, we’d rather 26 people represent those clubs on a rugby pitch than none at all.
“We are positive about the impact it can have on participation rugby across the four provinces and we look forward to working with them on it.”