The RFL Board has approved three changes to the Laws to apply for the 2022 season which were recommended by the September meeting of the Laws Committee: the return of scrums, the reversion of the ball steal rule to the 2020 position; and a requirement for injured players to be removed from the field of play for treatment.
The committee recommended that scrums should return in 2022, in the expectation that vaccination rates across the professional game will be sufficiently high to significantly reduce the risk of close contacts causing disruption to the fixture list – a rate of 85% across the professional game by December 31, 2021.
Scrums were suspended in all domestic Rugby League as an “emergency law” when the sport returned in the summer of 2020 following the initial Covid-enforced lockdown, after the Laws Committee received advice that they would lead to numerous players being required to isolate as close contacts of positive cases.
The Laws Committee judged that remained the case when they reconsidered the situation before the 2021 season, while confirming the desire for scrums to return as soon as safely possible. But the availability and efficacy of vaccines have substantially changed that situation, with fully vaccinated players no longer required to isolate as close contacts and the risk of transmission and severity of illness being reduced for those who are vaccinated.
The Laws Committee heard evidence that vaccination rates are already approaching the 85% threshold that has been judged to be a reasonable – and that at a number of clubs, the rates are already in excess of 90%.
Clubs have been urged to encourage their players to ensure full vaccination by the end of 2021. In some cases – for example new overseas players, younger players, or those with recent Covid infections – a “statement of intent” would be accepted.
Scrums should also return in all community game settings.
The Laws Committee will continue to monitor the situation, with the ability to suspend scrums if the required vaccination rate isn’t achieved, or if community prevalence and/or Covid cases in the sport increase.
At the start of 2021 season, a new ‘ball steal’ law was introduced bringing domestic laws in line with the NRL and the International game, whereby the ball could legally be stripped from the attacking player by a single defender even if other defenders had previously been involved in the tackle. However, stakeholders felt that this law had led to negative play, provided a negative look to the game and was very difficult to officiate.
Therefore, the Laws Committee recommended to the Board for approval that from the start of the 2022 season, the ball steal law reverts to its previous interpretation – where a ball can only be stripped from the attacking player in a one on one tackle.
It is becoming increasingly noticeable that at key times in games, players are being treated on field for injury and the referee has no option but to stop the game. This has resulted in complaint from coaches, increased length of games and frustration from media and fans that the flow of the game is disrupted.
The Board has therefore accepted a Laws Committee recommendation to adopt the NRL policy relating to injury stoppages. This will ensure the effective treatment of players remains a priority without encouraging gamesmanship whilst retaining an entertaining spectacle.