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19th Nov 2023

World Rugby considering law change that would impact on Ireland more than most

Patrick McCarry

World Rugby

“I think we need to step on the gas and say, ‘Yeah, let’s consider all things’.”

The most recent World Cup saw an awful lot of box-kicking, rolling mauls, big moments hinging on scrum calls and the never fun caterpillar rucks. World Rugby is constantly looking at ways to improve the game, though, and there could be law changes afoot.

Heading into the World Cup, in France, the big topic of debate was the bunker review system, which placed players that were yellow-carded on the clock. An extra match official, studying additional footage and angles, could report back to the referee, within the 10 minutes of that sin-bin period, and either concur with the yellow card call, or recommend a red.

The bunker review came into play several times during the tournament, notably when All Blacks captain Sam Cane had his yellow card upgraded to red in the final defeat to South Africa. The bunker review will be looked at again by the governing body, but it is expected to stay in 2024, and beyond.

During the tournament, World Rugby vice chairman John Jeffrey spoke with The Crowd Goes Wild, a New Zealand sports show, about the game’s need to be ever-evolving. One of Ireland’s most potent weapons was discussed in that interview. Should law changes go ahead, it would really impact upon Andy Farrell’s side.

World RugbyCraig Casey executes a box-kick against Italy, at Aviva Stadium. (Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile)

World Rugby and some possible law changes

During his interview with James McOnie, World Rugby vice chairman John Jeffrey, who played 40 Test matches for Scotland, discussed some possible law changes and areas that could improve the game.

One part of the game Jeffrey would like to see less of is the big ruck set-up that sees a steepling box-kick going up to be contested. Ireland and South Africa have earned the reputation of being masters of the box-kick to control games, win territory and sew discord in opposition game-plans.

“We’re in the entertainment business now,” said Jeffrey. “Is the game entertaining now, as it is? No.

“It’s got to be entertaining to watch and entertaining to play, so we need to be smarter with our laws. We’re starting to do that at World Rugby, having these ‘Shape of the Game’ conferences. Ball in play time in the first two weeks of this World Cup [was] sadly down on the last World Cup.

“There’s too many kicks in the game. Can you ban box-kicking? … I think we need to step on the gas and say, ‘Yeah, let’s consider all things. Let’s think outside the box’.”

Back in 1995, when rugby was about to turn professional, the ball in play time was down at around 25 minutes. That has, slowly but surely, increased over the past 28 years. The average at the 2023 World Cup was around 34 minutes, with Ireland’s quarter final loss to New Zealand topping the chart at 41 minutes, 35 seconds.

South Africa, the world champions, did not feature in the Top 10 for ball in play time at the tournament. All Blacks head coach Ian Foster was critical of the Boks’ pool stage loss to Ireland as the ball was only in play for just over 27 minutes.

One law change that could impact on box-kicks, and speed up the game, would be taking out the caterpillar rucks – player and player from the team in possession attaching onto a ruck to give the kicker space to make their play.

If the kicker has less time and space to get the ball clear and airborne, it may reduce the amount of times we see box-kicks in a game.

We had a slew law changes World Rugby put forward after the 2019 World Cup, many of which are now in place. It will be interesting to see what changes are coming down the pike after the recently wrapped World Cup.


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