Picture: 123RF/RADUTUTA
Picture: 123RF/RADUTUTA

The decision facing World Rugby is clear: wait about two months before sending players back into combat and avoid deeply unpalatable law changes‚ or yield to commercial imperatives and risk emasculating one of all of sport’s most testosterone-driven pursuits.

World Rugby‚ the sport’s governing body‚ is considering a range of options to get the professional game back on track and it may include making the most fundamental changes to the sport since William Webb Ellis took matters into his own hands many moons ago.

Due to the lockdowns imposed worldwide, the sport is conflicted between its commercial survival and making law changes so fundamental it picks at the seams of the game’s soul.

The changes under discussion may compromise one of rugby’s basic tenets: the preservation of an even contest in which the team without the ball is not unduly prejudiced only because they are not the team in possession.

If passed, the laws under discussion will result in less of a scramble for possession, giving the team in possession an unfair advantage‚ unless additional new laws are introduced to prevent that.

Whether it be scrums‚ line-outs or rucks, the sport’s lawmakers have always sought a fair contest for its combatants‚ though the rolling maul for many is still a gross deviation from that virtuous endeavour.

Dominant pack

If laws are to be tweaked, scrum resets would almost certainly be outlawed‚ line-outs might be uncontested‚ while the rucks will be conducted in a spirit of entente cordiale.

The team with the more dominant pack would no longer be able to decree “my ball is my ball‚ and your ball is my ball”.

SA’s top referee, Jaco Peyper, who has been workshopping potential changes in virtual meetings‚ said tough decisions have to be made that will ensure the game’s survival while preserving its integrity.

“We try to strike a balance between what is good for the laws and what is good for the game‚” he said.

World Rugby have to look at ways to make the game more acceptable during Covid-19. But what do you change‚ and by how much?

World Rugby may be better served to wait two months to come out of its hiatus than make sweeping law changes.

“These things are discussed at forum level before it’s taken higher up where guys like Rassie [Erasmus‚ SA director of rugby]‚ Eddie Jones [England coach] and Ian Foster [New Zealand coach] and the like want to protect the integrity of the game‚” said Peyper.

It is unlikely‚ but if laws are rewritten it will change the game fundamentally‚ including the combatants it attracts. Some teams may opt not to contract as many tight forwards because there will be fewer collisions.

“The problem is if you remove too many things then it will no longer be rugby‚” said Peyper. “There are lots of discussions about how we can speedily get back onto the field, but it will be a while still.”

Peyper said his employers have sought to bring clarity to uncertain times.

“SA Rugby has been crystal clear in the way they have managed everything during lockdown. They have been so organised and we have been well informed throughout‚” said Peyper.