Scrums are back and moves made to cut injury time-wasting in 2022
SCRUMS will return to rugby league in 2022 - and injured players must leave the field of play for treatment in order to reduce the scope for gamesmanship.
They are two of the three changes to the laws that the RFL Board has approved for next season which were recommended by last month's meeting of the Laws Committee.
The other is the reversion of the ball steal rule to the 2020 position - where a ball can only be stripped from the attacking player in a one-on-one tackle.
This season, the sport here had follow the NRL rule, whereby the ball could legally be stripped by a single defender even if other defenders had previously been involved in the tackle.
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However, it was widely felt that that alteration 'led to negative play, provided a negative look to the game and was very difficult to officiate.'
The return of scrums - which have been absent since rugby league returned from the Covid-enforced lockdown in August last year - will be welcomed by most people and perhaps be the biggest sign yet that the game has fully emerged from the pandemic.
The committee recommended this decision in the expectation that vaccination rates across the professional game will be sufficiently high to significantly reduce the risk of close contacts causing disruption to the fixture list – a rate of 85% across the professional game by December 31.
Scrums were suspended in all domestic rugby league as an “emergency law” 14months ago after the committee received advice that they would lead to numerous players being required to isolate as close contacts of positive cases.
But the availability and efficacy of vaccines have substantially changed that situation, with fully vaccinated players no longer required to isolate as close contacts and the risk of transmission and severity of illness being reduced for those who are vaccinated.
The committee, which includes representation from Super League, Championship, League 1, match officials, coaches, medical personnel and media - heard evidence that vaccination rates are already approaching the 85% threshold that has been judged to be a reasonable.
At a number of clubs, the rates are already in excess of 90% and clubs have been urged to encourage their players to ensure full vaccination by the end of this year
In some cases – for example new overseas players, younger players, or those with recent Covid infections – a “statement of intent” would be accepted.
Scrums should also return in all community game settings in 2022 and the Laws Committee will continue to monitor the situation, with the ability to suspend scrums if the required vaccination rate isn’t achieved, or if community prevalence and/or Covid cases in the sport increase.
Players receiving treatment just after their side has conceded a drop-out, for instance, have become irritatingly commonplace this season and that has led to the other ruling being put in place.
In today's RFL statement, it said: "It is becoming increasingly noticeable that at key times in games, players are being treated on field for injury and the referee has no option but to stop the game.
"This has resulted in complaint from coaches, increased length of games and frustration from media and fans that the flow of the game is disrupted.
"The Board has therefore accepted a Laws Committee recommendation to adopt the NRL policy relating to injury stoppages. This will ensure the effective treatment of players remains a priority without encouraging gamesmanship whilst retaining an entertaining spectacle."
That will be widely applauded although it will be interesting to see how it is policed given the potential severity of some injuries.
The Laws Committee meeting consisted of: Dave Rotheram - RFL Chief On-Field Officer, Chair; Gavin Wild – RFL Compliance Manager, Secretariat; Ken Davy – Executive Chair, Super League Europe; Robert Hicks – RFL Head of Governance, Full-Time Match Official; Steve Ganson – Head of Match Officials; Paul Sculthorpe – England Performance Unit; Carl Hall – League 1 Clubs; Paul Harrison – Championship Clubs; Kris Radlinski – Super League Europe Clubs; Dave Woods - Media; Dr Gemma Phillips – Clinical Advisory Group; Laura Fairbank – RFL Head of Medical and Integrity; John Kear - Coaches