Picture: 123RF/WAVEBREAK MEDIA
Picture: 123RF/WAVEBREAK MEDIA

London — Rugby union could see the introduction of orange cards after World Rugby unveiled trials of 10 temporary optional laws to cut the risk of coronavirus infection.

They include a drastic reduction in the number of scrums in a match, limiting numbers in a maul and speeding up rucks.

In rugby union, a yellow card leads to 10 minutes in the sin bin with a red card seeing a player sent off. The suggested orange card, which would apply only to the professional game, is designed to reinforce high-tackle guidelines and reduce face-to-face contact.

It would apply to potential red-card offences, with a player removed from the field while an incident is checked by the television match official. If deemed a red-card offence, the player would not return.

If not, the player would return after 15 minutes. Measures would be implemented at the discretion of individual unions based on the risk of virus infection in their countries and government guidelines.

“We have extensively evaluated the perceived risk areas within the game,” said World Rugby chair Bill Beaumont.

One persistently thorny problem for professional rugby union, long before Covid-19, has been the time it takes to reset a scrum. But Thursday’s proposals include doing away with scrum resets, to be replaced by free kicks or penalties.

Where “no infringement occurs” it goes to the team with the scrum put-in.

World Rugby estimated the changes could reduce scrum contact exposure  more than 30%. Hygiene protocols put forward by the global governing body include using hand and face sanitiser and washing the ball.

Players would, where possible, be asked to change their kit at halftime and have been advised to avoid prematch huddles, hugging teammates in celebration and spitting.

When training, scrum practice should be against a machine rather than another set of forwards, with high-risk transmission exercises such as scrummaging and mauling avoided within 48 hours of a match.

England’s governing Rugby Football Union (RFU) said it “recognised” World Rugby’s work but that it had its own review under way looking at options for returning to training and playing.

Many in the game fear rugby could lag other sports in making a return because it is a full-contact sport, but Australian rugby league restarted on Thursday with a match between the Brisbane Broncos and Parramatta Eels.

With this year’s Six Nations still to be completed and the whole July programme of international matches in the southern hemisphere postponed due to the pandemic, rugby union faces the prospect of big financial losses worldwide.

World Rugby, however, has put in place an £80m funding package for the global game. There are hopes the postponed Tests can be played later in 2020.

AFP