Parents and spectators looking forward to the new season of schoolboy rugby may be bemused by numerous new rule changes brought in by both the International Rugby Board (IRB) and the South African Rugby Union (SARU), which have been given an unqualified thumbs up from the Discovery SharkSmart programme, which itself aims to make school sport safer and fairer for all.
One of the most significant changes has come from SARU’s amendments to the scrum rules which aim to greatly reduce chances of catastrophic cervical spinal injuries during the set piece by altering the engagement procedure, whilst the IRB’s eleven new laws seek to improve the game both from a player’s and a spectator’s point of view.
“The most notable change safety wise is the change in the call at the scrum and the subsequent actions related to each of the three new words,” explained Allan O’Connell, chairman of the Durban Referees Sub-Society.
“Instead of the former ‘Crouch. Touch. Pause. Engage’ call referees will now use ‘Crouch. Bind. Scrum’ at all amateur levels.
“There are a couple minor variations to the engagement procedure which apply to each of the various age groups differently however, the common thread throughout the amateur levels is that the ‘hit’ between the two packs has been significantly reduced or, for some age groups, removed all together.
“It is hoped that the changes will significantly reduce the chance scrums collapsing and hence minimising the chance of spinal injuries occurring.
“There will now also be a far greater focus on the scrum contest itself rather than the importance of having a good ‘hit’.
Whilst some of the newly introduced IRB law amendments apply only to the top tiers of the game, amateur and age group levels will still be heavily influenced – particularly in line-outs and rucks – by some of the global body’s changes hoped to have a positive impact on the speed and appeal of the game as a whole.
“One of the exciting changes that has been made to the game globally is the requirement of teams to use the ball within five seconds of it becoming available at the base of a ruck,” said O’Connell.
“Goal kickers now also have ninety seconds from the time the try is awarded to take a conversion kick compared to the previous sixty seconds from the time the kicking tee arrived.
“A lineout or a scrum may be chosen by the non-offending team when the ball is knocked on into touch and should a free kick or a penalty be awarded at a lineout then the non-offending team may opt for another lineout.
With players’ safety a primary focus of the Discovery SharkSmart programme it isn’t surprising the organisation has given SARU’s attempts to reduce the risk of injury at scrum time its full support.
“Schoolboy rugby is taken very seriously in KwaZulu-Natal, and these rule changes will make the game safer without detracting from the excitement and flair that we enjoy from schoolboy rugby in this province,” said Dr Glen Hagemann, the director of the Discovery SharkSmart programme based at the Life Healthcare Sharks Medical Centre.
“Neck injuries in the front rows have been the source of concern for some time now, and a couple recent cases have highlighted the need to reduce the danger at the engagement, which the new rule looks set to do.
“The onus now falls on the coaches and players to understand the new rules, and why they have been introduced. The referees have all been trained in the new rules, and respecting the role of the referee is central to the rugby ethos we are trying to promote.
“The programme’s slogan “Play Safe, Play Fair” explains what we are hoping for from these rules changes and encourages all those involved in the game in general but particularly rugby players at school level, to play the game in the right spirit,” Hagemann added.