World Rugby launches a far-reaching array of reforms

Independent panel will assess when players should return to play from concussion

World Rugby’s law trials include the introduction of the so-called 50:22 kick, the goal-line drop out and new restrictions on clearing out at rucks. File photograph: Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images

World Rugby’s law trials include the introduction of the so-called 50:22 kick, the goal-line drop out and new restrictions on clearing out at rucks. File photograph: Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images

 

World Rugby has launched a far-reaching array of reforms to the sport on and off the field, including radical law changes which will come into effect from August 1st.

In what marks a significant mission statement by World Rugby and a marked change of pace in reforming the game since Alan Gilpin became the body’s new chief executive last March, a new panel of independent consultants will assess when players should return to play after suffering concussion.

In announcing these changes, Gilpin said: “Our mission is to be the most progressive, open and collaborative sport when it comes to the welfare of our players at all levels.”

To that end, World Rugby has identified identification of six specific ‘pillars’ which will be the body’s primary focus. The first vows to do more for former players who have felt disconnected from the game since retirement, and entails a commitment to set aside €11.75m per year toward a long-term healthcare programme.

There will be a dedicated focus on the women’s game including research investment in both the community and elite women’s game, with specific law reviews.

Another is to make greater use of science and research. In response to the harrowing interviews with former players who are suffering from the early-onset of dementia and the pending lawsuit against World Rugby and some of the Unions, the game’s governing body will also introduce a new panel of ‘Independent Concussion Consultants,’ who will help to assess when professional players should return to action after head injuries.

The ICC will provide expert opinion in determining when a player should return to action after successfully completing the current six-stage ‘graduated return-to-play protocols’ following a concussion.

Henceforth, all teams will be compelled to obtain a review by the ICC if a player sustains a concussion and is lined up to return to play within 10 days. An ICC review will also be mandatory when players who are deemed to be “higher risk” are due to return to play following a concussion, irrespective of the period of recovery.

A player is deemed “higher risk” if they have been concussed within the last three months, have had two or more concussions in the last 12 months. Or have had five or more concussions since starting to play rugby

The new ICC panel will come into being at international level this month.

The new law trials will also come into being in the professional game from August 1st, with the community game to be examined further, meaning that for the time being and perhaps forever more the sport will look quite different at the two levels.

These law trials include the introduction of the so-called 50:22 kick, the goal-line drop out and new restrictions on clearing out at rucks.

Clearly, this will all be a work in progress and there will be many tweaks going forwards as the data will be analysed in depth to monitor the effects of these law changes

The breakdown has become something of a mess and outlawing clearing out by the “lower limb” looks like it will have the dual effect of making it simpler to referee and to provide more player safety.

Current coaches were on the working group that formed the breakdown adaptations, but clearly Joe Schmidt’s imprint is all over these law changes, as is Dr Eanna Falvey’s, not least with regard to creating the panel of ‘Independent Concussion Consultants'.

There will still be more to do but it’s a very promising start.

The key law changes are:

- The introduction of the 50:22 kick. The attacking team will now be rewarded with the lineout if the ball is kicked from their own half and bounces into touch inside the opposition’s 22. The intention of the law is that the defending team would have to leave more players in the back field, thus creating more space in the defensive line and reducing the speed and frequency of head-on collisions, although there lurks the fear that this could lead to even more kicking in the game. Nonetheless, it is a difficult skill, and there aren’t too many Ronan O’Garas around. How he would have loved this rule as a player.

- The goalline drop-out. If the attacking team have the ball held up over the goalline, they will no longer be rewarded with a five-metre scrum. To reduce the number of scrums and pick-and-go collisions on the goalline, the defending team will drop out from under their posts.

- Tighter clear-out restrictions at the breakdown. Players clearing out can no longer target the lower limbs of the jackler.

- Outlawing the “flying wedge”. This will end the practice of pods of three or more players being bound prior to receiving the pass. The new laws will stipulate that only one person can latch on to the ball-carrier, providing the support player remains on their feet.

World Rugby’s action plan is based around six principal commitments:

1. A focus on former players: advancing best practice in care, information and support for former players struggling or concerned about their health.

2. Innovation led by science and research: doubling investment in player welfare, including working with a wide range of scientific institutions to continue to research and advance our understanding of the impact of head injury. World Rugby will continue to bring together a variety of scientific perspectives on concussion in sport to learn from each development in the science and focusing investment into concussion and head impact in rugby studies in particular.

This means further targeted investment in research and technology to improve player safety and optimise Head Injury Assessments and the application of the Graduated Return to Play protocols.

3. Continue to review and evolve the laws of the game to safeguard players: the two initiatives announced today - global law trials and the introduction of Independent Concussion Consultants - are the first of a series of actions planned in this area.

This includes a dedicated focus on a more flexible approach at community level as well as a global forum on the game later this year, and acting on the outcomes of the ground-breaking study by the University of Otago in New Zealand to make any required adjustments at the community and under-age levels. The following working groups will continue to monitor their respective specialist areas: Head Contact Process, Breakdown, TMO, Scrum and Community law.

4. A dedicated focus on the women’s game: recognising both the growth potential and unique nature of women’s rugby. Measures will include dedicated research investment across community and elite women’s rugby and women’s game specific law reviews.

5. Continued investment in education: World Rugby will strengthen the provision of information, tools and resources to everyone involved in the game when it comes to head impacts and player welfare. This will include a new recognise and remove head injury education programme and app, a best-practice safe tackle technique programme for the whole game, and rollout of the activate injury prevention warm-up programme with proven concussion and injury prevention benefits across all unions and regions.

6. Open engagement with the rugby family: In partnership with unions, World Rugby will consult widely and deeply across the community and professional game, for men’s and women’s rugby. Where this means embracing non-traditional channels and platforms to reach rugby fans and players, “we will do so”.

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