Rugby season under new trial rules promises exciting brand of play

Alvin Otieno

Shujaa"s Alvin Otieno (right) makes a try against Morans during their semi-final match at the Safari Sevens at Nyayo National Stadium on October 31, 2021.

Photo credit: Chris Omollo | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Kenya Rugby Referees Associations have already announced that the new trial rules will be used this season starting with the – play-offs quarter-finals last weekend.
  • Spectators will not mind one bit. After more than a season of being locked out of stadiums because of Covid-19, the gates are open for fans this session.
  • I am certainly looking forward to seeing action under the new rules. It promises to unleash an attractive brand of rugby, if our clubs are so inclined.

Video Assistant Referee (VAR) was first introduced into the laws of football by the International Football Association Board (IFAB) in 2018.

By this time many other sports had long adopted video technology to help in officiating -- cricket, rugby, tennis, just to name a few.

VAR is a match official who reviews decisions made by the centre referee using video recording.

In my opinion, VAR has not had much effect on how the game is played on the pitch, but it has certainly raised a lot of heated debate on the stands, with many purists, laggards to a fault, claiming decisions reviewed have only added controversy to the situation.

They want VAR withdrawn. Really? Change is sometimes painful.

Admittedly, football has always been averse to change with its leaders saying they want minimal interference to the flow of the game and minimal influence on the officials handling the game. Keeping things as human as possible.

Do not fix it; it is not broken, seems to be the football thinking.

Nevertheless, football did make a major change to its rules in 1992 when the back-pass rule was introduced after the debacle of the 1990 World Cup that saw teams adopt dour, defensive strategies.

The rule went a long way in eliminating negative football where teams could engage in time wasting with players knocking the ball around in their own half and passing it to the goalkeeper to hold with his hands.

The rule prohibited the goalkeeper from holding a back pass with their hands.

I think football needs to continuously revise the laws to make the game fairer, more exciting, safer etc.

For instance, I personally feel penalty goals should be introduced for a foul committed to an attacking player who was almost certain to score, or a deliberate handball by a defending player to stop a goal-bound shot.

Ghana should have won their 2010 World Cup quarter-final match against Uruguay in all fairness, but the rules denied Asamoah Gyan what would have been the winning goal. 

I could go on. Yellow card offences should attract a “sin bin” – temporarily being withdrawn from the field of play - punishment like in rugby, so that the opposing team benefits in real time.

That is why I like rugby and its willingness to review and change the rules to make the game safer, more exciting, easier to play etc.

I am particularly excited about some of the new rules, the global law trials, introduced by World Rugby on August 21.

There are two particular ones that I will be keenly following – 50:22 and goal line drop-out.

The 50:22 rule states that: “If the team in possession kicks the ball from inside their own half indirectly into touch inside their opponents’ 22, they will throw into the resultant lineout. The ball cannot be passed or carried back into the defensive half for the 50:22 to be played. The phase must originate inside the defensive half.”

In the previous law touching on this play, a team kicking the ball inside their own half indirectly into their opponents 22 would lose possession to the defending team. In other words, the defending team would throw in the resultant lineout.

The change is intended, according to WA to “primarily encourage the defensive team to put more players in the backfield, thereby creating more attacking space and reducing defensive line speed.”

What this means is that an attacking team will likely have wide channels to run into with the defending team conceivably fielding several players in their back territory to mark any kick into their own 22 and prevent a lineout.

Anybody who has played rugby will tell you one of the past attack ball is that coming out of a lineout, more so, one inside the opponent’s 22.

Attacking, running rugby with the ball going wide is exciting to watch, and I give this trial law a tick with 100 per cent on its side.  

The goal line drop-out rule states: “If the ball is held up in in-goal, there is a knock-on from an attacking player in in-goal or an attacking kick is grounded by the defenders in their own in-goal, then play restarts with a goal line drop-out anywhere along the goal line.

Previously, the defending team would restart from the 22 with a drop-out or five yard with a scrum-down.

World rugby states that the primary intention of the law is to encourage variety in attacking play close to the goal line and to increase ball in play time by replacing a scrum with a kick that must be taken without delay. An opportunity for counter attack is also created.

Clearly, World Rugby are favourable to change, want to see more flowing, attacking, read exciting, rugby and are willing to tweak and twirl the rule book to that end.

Kenya Rugby Referees Associations have already announced that the new trial rules will be used this season starting with the – Nationwide League play-offs quarter-finals last weekend.

Spectators will not mind one bit. After more than a season of being locked out of stadiums because of Covid-19, the gates are open for fans this session.

I am certainly looking forward to seeing action under the new rules. It promises to unleash an attractive brand of rugby, if our clubs are so inclined.

May the best teams win their respective leagues.

Welcome!

You're all set to enjoy unlimited Prime content.