Rugby: World Rugby reveals radical plans to speed up game, increase appeal

Referee Wayne Barnes of England talks to New Zealand stand-in captain Ardie Savea.
Referee Wayne Barnes of England talks to New Zealand stand-in captain Ardie Savea. Photo credit: Getty Images

World Rugby has revealed plans aimed at "reimagining rugby's entertainment factor", including 20-minute sanctions for red cards, speeding up rucks and mauls, and a set time to complete scrums and lineouts, officials confirmed.   

The governing body is concerned slow play and negative tactics may turn new viewers away, with a focus on "enhancing ball in flow, reducing stoppages and increasing welfare outcomes."

They will trial a law that says the ball must be played after a maul has been stopped once, not the current twice, and for the ability to mark the ball inside the 22 from a restart.

A specialist working group will also be set up to explore a revised punishment for red card offences whereby the sanctioned player's place on the field can be taken by a teammate after 20 minutes, nullifying the numerical advantage for their opponents.

However, also under consideration are stronger off-field sanctions for foul play that could see players suspended for longer periods.  

World Rugby will also look at the number and timing of replacements "to create more space on the field while improving injury rates", potentially nullifying the Springboks' famed 'Bomb Squad' that was used to win the last two World Cups.  

In place immediately, referees must tell players to use the ball at the base of a ruck/breakdown sooner, which in turn sets off a five-second timeframe for them to do so. This is to stop teams from stalling ahead of the next phase of play.  

The World Rugby Council will also consider further amendments at their May 9 meeting, including an adjustment to the onside law when there are kicks in open play.  

The current law allows for what is termed 'kick tennis' where teams trade territorial kicks into each other's half that often only end when one side either puts the ball out of play or there is an error.  

 Richie Mounga kicks ahead under pressure.
Richie Mounga kicks ahead under pressure. Photo credit: Getty Images

A trial is currently underway in Super Rugby Pacific in which players in front of the kicker can only be played onside by the kicker himself advancing, or by a chasing teammate that started behind the kicker.  

At the moment, players are onside when the kick receiver runs five metres, but cannot move until then, which makes for statues on the field as the ball flies over their head and not much entertainment for spectators.  

World Rugby will also ask unions to implement a set of trials in their domestic competitions that will put a limit on the amount of time taken for scrums and lineouts to be completed, similar to the 'shot clock' for penalties and conversions.