Tag Archives: laws

A look at the NRL’s updated rules in 2013

2013 NRL Telstra Premiership logo

The NRL has written explanations of the laws and interpretations to be used by referees in 2013.

(There are also videos on each page for browsers in Australia. If you can’t see those, here’s Dan Anderson talking more generally last month.)

The changes cover several areas of the game:


Former coach Roy Masters has written an interesting piece on refereeing around the ruck here. He notes an idealogical clash between coaches who oppose wrestling tactics in the ruck and those that believe the delay they create are a fair reward for good defence.


Ideas to improve scrums #2: North American inspiration

In a previous post looking at the future of scrums, the suggestion was to create conditions that encouraged the more imaginative football that fans want to see by initially restricting the movement of defenders so that they were less prepared to counter attacks.

The post ended: “Possession is sacred in rugby league. Is this enough encouragement to risk it?” Perhaps not.

Risk averse teams running the ball from a scrum are still likely to be content with a possession-protecting, unimaginative hit up for the first tackle because they know there are another five tackles waiting to be used. But what if there weren’t?

A first down measurement in American football

Inspiration: a down is measured © BrokenSphere / Wikimedia Commons

A rugby league take on a North American idea

This suggestion uses the straightforward threat of taking possession away if a team doesn’t get far enough on the first tackle.

In American and Canadian football, teams need to progress a necessary distance to receive another next set of downs.

A version of this could be tried in rugby league: on the first tackle from the scrum, a team could be required to advance the ball x metres to be given the full set of six tackles.

If they don’t manage it – whether it’s due to good defence or through poor play – they will be limited to two tackles in total: forfeiting four.

Only allowing the team in possession one more tackle if they don’t reach the required distance from the scrum will allow officials to rule on what will happen next straight after tackle one is completed. The referee could use calls such as “not x [metres], last tackle [next]” or “full set [of six tackles], tackle one”.

This should lead to more exciting play from the scrum as well as allowing for the possibility of creative play on the second/last tackle too.

Lacking the measuring chains used in gridiron codes, the necessary distance could be indicated using a touch judge’s flag, with match officials giving rulings just as they do with other areas of the game such as offside.

With both teams incentivised, the necessary distance set wouldn’t need to be set too far to give spectators more chance of seeing the best of attack and defence at a scrum.

Possible changes in tactics

Coaches and players will invariably look at adjusting their scrum tactics to suit the changes. They might:

  • Bind more tightly and push in the scrum, to force the opposing team’s forwards to remain there and be slower in unbinding to join the defensive line.
  • Feel less inclined to give away a differential penalty (leading to them losing ground before facing six tackles), because even if they don’t win the ball, there is an opportunity to limit their opponents to two tackles. This would mean that referees could drive up the standard of scrummaging.


There are also 40/20s to remember. Excepting them from this change to retain the reward for a skilful kick would be a minor issue, as they are so uncommon.


Worth a trial?

The future of the scrum

The scrum and its future is a recurring debate in the game, though one which hasn’t resulted in moves for major changes.


Photo credit: Gerard Barrau

Scrums are boring.

Scrums don’t work.

Scrums could work.

The debate

For several reasons, including the heritage of the game, the opportunity for variety in play and the reality of tactics, two opinions are heard often. One to retain the scrum, perhaps with a call for the ball to be put in straight in the hope it restores a contest, and the other to replace the scrum with a handover.

While other successors to the scrum are sometimes suggested, none have gained traction in the imagination. I don’t think that tweaking the existing scrum is where the answer lies either. Not only are players in a modern rugby league scrum safer, but our sport has a tradition of putting the action where the audience can see it.

The aim

In fact, I think our usually uncontested scrums can carry on just as they are, while the laws around them are changed to encourage more entertaining play once the ball comes out.

We want to see attacking plays from scrums, not just a hit-up by the first receiver. So why not adjust the offside laws to help the team with the ball?

The suggestion

Allow players outside of the scrum to stand just behind the scrum’s rearmost foot. This will reduce the benefit gained from a hit-up, but could lead to breaks elsewhere with rehearsed attacking moves and reduced reaction time for defenders . If trialled, this change may be found to be enough but rugby league defences are good. So, just in case, ban sweepers.

To be clear: a player from the non-feeding team could be found offside by being too far away from the scrum or for being too close.

The non-feeding team’s backs could be required to remain inside their “scrum area”, a 5 metre strip of field measured from the back of the scrum, until the ball was out. Defenders would have to make decisions quickly, as attacking moves unfolded.

This rule accepts that the team with the feed will nearly always win possession. But should a team win against the head, perhaps they should be rewarded with a zero tackle to compensate them for their “scrum area” disadvantage on the initial tackle.

Possession is sacred in rugby league. Is this enough encouragement to risk it?

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