Six new Laws, but still no scrums, for the start of the 2021 season

The RFL Board today ratified recommendations from the RFL Laws Committee for the 2021 season.

The Laws Committee held a virtual meeting on January 20 and received presentations regarding the Covid pandemic and head contact and concussion.

The Committee also heard from NRL Head of Elite Competitions, Graham Annesley, about the new laws to be introduced in the NRL competition for 2021.

The emergency law introduced for the restart of the 2020 season in July, in response to the situation regarding Covid-19 – removing scrums and replacing them with a handover of possession – will be retained (with the shot clock application removed).

However the situation will be kept under review, and the hope is that the emergency law will be removed, and that scrums will return, before the end of the 2021 season – certainly at Betfred Super League level, given the need to prepare players for the Rugby League World Cup in the autumn (with Rugby League’s International Laws still including scrums).

In addition, six law changes for 2021 have been recommended and approved, which will be applied at all levels of the game. These changes include flexibility for the attacking team on the lateral positioning of scrums; a reward for 20/40 Kicks; a handover of possession for an incorrect play-the-ball; and the removal of scrums when the ball goes into touch.

The full details of the six law changes are on the RFL website by clicking here.

The Laws Committee considered, but rejected, two further law changes that have been introduced by the NRL for 2021: extending the “Six Again” Law that was introduced in 2020 for ruck offences, to include 10 metre offside infringements; and awarding two points for drop goals kicked from outside the 40 metre line.

Dave Rotheram, the RFL’s Chief On-Field Officer, said: “Thanks are due to the members of the RFL’s Laws Committee, which comprises a range of experts from all sections of the game, and also to Graham Annesley, who attended the meeting and explained the background to the law changes introduced by the NRL in 2020 and 2021.

The RFL have been keen to achieve as much consistency as possible between the laws applied in both hemispheres, both in domestic competitions and through the International Laws.

“A greater degree of harmonisation was achieved through the law changes introduced for the resumption of the 2020 season – notably the adoption of “Six Again” – and that process will continue with the law changes introduced for 2021.

“However we remain unconvinced by the arguments for introducing a two-point drop goal, believing this to be a fundamental change in the laws of the game which could have unintended consequences in discouraging teams from seeking to score tries, especially late in each half.

“The Laws Committee were also not persuaded of the merits of extending Six Again to cover 10 metre offside infringements.

“Regarding scrums, medical and scientific evidence was the key, as when the initial decision was made to suspend them for the restart of the 2020 season. With Covid-19 remaining prevalent in society, their reintroduction could present additional risk to the health of the players, and would significantly increase the number of close contacts in a match which could lead to more postponements.

“Therefore the decision was made to maintain the position as at the end of 2020 for the start of the 2021 season. However the Laws Committee agreed that the public health situation should be kept under constant review, and that scrums should be reintroduced as soon as possible – with the expectation that scrums will remain in the International Laws and therefore feature in the Rugby League World Cup in the autumn.

“The Committee agreed that scrums could be reintroduced to certain parts of the game and not others, again depending on the public health situation.”

Robert Elstone, Executive Chairman of Super League Europe and a member of the Laws Committee, said: “Super League always welcomes changes that add excitement for our fans and showcase the unique qualities of our players. Also, we welcome alignment of rules across the two leading Rugby League competitions – so it was especially helpful to hear directly from Graham Annesley to understand the reasons for this season’s changes in the NRL, and to get closer to them on future potential changes.”

Attendees at the RFL Laws Committee meeting on January 20 were:

Ralph Rimmer – RFL Chief Executive
Matt Barnes – RFL Head of Legal, Secretariat
Phil Bentham – RFL Match Officials Coach
Robert Hicks – RFL Head of Governance, Full-Time Match Official
Laura Fairbank – RFL Head of Medical
Paul Sculthorpe – England Performance Unit
Dave Woods – Media
Dave Rotheram – RFL Chief On Field Officer
Garreth Carvell – GMB/Players
Danny Wilson – RL Academies
Carl Hall – League 1 Clubs
Dr Gemma Phillips – Clinical Advisory Group
Robert Elstone – Executive Chair, Super League Europe
Kris Radlinski – Super League Europe Clubs
Paul Harrison – Championship Clubs
Chris Chester – Head Coaches
Prof Ben Jones – Head of Performance, EPU

Law Changes for 2021 (Summary):

1.         20/40 Kick – Where a player kicks the ball in general play bounded by their own dead ball line, 20 metre lines and touchlines and the ball finds touch (other than on the full),  at a point on the touchline between the opponents 40 metre line and the goal line. The kicking team shall then recommence play with a tap kick.

The tap kick will be taken 20 metres in from the touchline and in line with where the ball first crossed the touchline but no closer than 10 metres from the goal line and may only be taken when the Referee blows his whistle to restart play.

2.         Ball Steal – The ball can be stolen from the player in possession at any stage prior to a tackle being completed and when there is only one defender effecting the tackle.

If there are two or more defenders effecting the tackle and the ball is stolen a penalty should be awarded except if the player in possession is attempting to ground the ball for a try.

3.         Lateral position of scrums – Where play is recommenced by a scrum, both teams must be properly bound and packed within 30 seconds from the time the Referee has verbally indicated that the “scrum clock” has started.

The team with the loose head and feed may elect, within 5 seconds of the Referee verbally indicating that the scrum clock has started, to move the scrum to:

(a) 10m in from touch

(b) 20m in from touch

(c) Centre field

Each team must nominate two players on the team sheet prior to the match as able to inform the referee where the scrum should be set. If both nominated players are off the field, one additional Player may be nominated to the Touch Judge by the Head Trainer during the match. If the team does not elect to move the scrum, the scrum will be formed at the point of the infringement, but not closer than 20m from the touch line or 10m from a goal line.

4.         Restart of play after ball crosses the touchline – Play the ball restart after the ball, or player carrying the ball finds touch. (Would previously have been a scrum.)

The play the ball will be 10 or 20 metres from touch or mid-field, nominated within 10 seconds by the captain. The default position will be the 20 metre mark.

5.         Incorrect Play the Ball – A handover is to be ordered where players do not make a genuine attempt to play the ball with the foot. (This would previously have been a penalty.)

6.         Scrum Break – Where players break early before the referee has called “out”, the referee will award a penalty. The team receiving the penalty will have the option of re-forming the scrum. If the scrum is re-formed and players again break early, a further penalty will be awarded and one of the offending players will be sent to the sin bin.

Scrums – Emergency Law Amendment

Due to the current state of the Covid pandemic, it is recommended to continue with the emergency law introduced in 2020 with scrums removed.

This will be kept under constant review and, when safe to do so on medical and scientific advice, scrums can be reintroduced during the season.

However, the shot clock application will be removed.

The play the ball restart will be 10 or 20 metres from touch or mid-field, nominated within 10 seconds by the captain (as defined above) and the default position will be the 20 metre mark.

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