Medical experts propose banning of reset scrums, upright tacklesby Daniel Schofield
World Rugby's medical group has proposed banning reset scrums in a huge shake-up of the sport's laws. Upright tackling, team huddles and spitting would also be scrapped, and players will be required to change kit and headgear at half-time to reduce the transmission risk of COVID-19.
The report recommends players wash their hands and face with soap for 20 seconds before kick-off and at half-time. Match balls should be changed and cleaned frequently.
The recommendations will be put before World Rugby's executive committee, which is expected to meet in the next 48 hours and will then publish temporary law guidelines. Those will then be adopted by individual nations depending on rates of COVID-19.
The report, compiled by Eanna Falvey, Prav Mathema, Mary Horgan and Martin Raftery, was produced with feedback from more than 80 medical officers. It examines transmission risk via sweat and saliva in scrums, rucks and tackles, and breaks down positions likely to suffer the greatest exposure.
Scrums posed the highest risk, making up 50 per cent of high-exposure time during a match. Props and second rows were the most vulnerable, spending an average of 13.4 minutes in -high-transmission risk situations.
Reset scrums were found to take up 3.6 minutes of game time, and banning them would reduce high-risk transmission exposure time by 30 per cent.
A range of options will be examined by the law review group to replace the reset scrum, but the award of a free-kick seems the most likely. Many observers would welcome the permanent removal of reset scrums.
Traditionalists, however, will be fearful that this legislation could be a Trojan horse to attack the bedrock of the game.
Sir Bill Beaumont, the World Rugby chairman, has said that he is exploring the idea of limiting contested scrums within the community game.
World Rugby insists all proposals are limited to the duration of the pandemic, however, it is not hard to envisage the absence of reset scrums becoming permanent, particularly at a time when rugby will be desperate to entice back spectators and television audiences as quickly as possible.
The second main recommendation is to eliminate "upright face-to-face" tackles. Technically, these are already prohibited by World Rugby's laws, so it is likely that referees will be instructed to further clamp down on high tackles. Choke tackles could also be banned as players are encouraged to avoid any face-to-face contact. The study states that the elimination of face-to-face tackles would reduce high-risk exposure events by 20 per cent.
It is unlikely that the executive committee would ignore the recommendations of its own medical experts. However, it will be up to individual unions to apply the law amendments. Countries with a higher level of COVID-19 are more likely to adopt the recommendations wholesale.
Meanwhile, Premiership Rugby has confirmed it will continue a policy of testing all players for coronavirus despite the latest government advice stating that step was not a prerequisite. Premiership clubs need only to ensure players complete a questionnaire on possible symptoms. However, Premiership Rugby is adamant it is committed to following through with a testing programme, which is likely to cost a minimum of £20,000 ($37,250) a week.
That is a high price to pay in the midst of an unprecedented financial crisis, however a testing regime is seen as a prerequisite of the Rugby Players' Association in its negotiations to ensure the safe return to play.
The Telegraph, London