MLR Officiating team at the 2023 Eastern Conference Final

Navigating Rugby’s Updated Rulebook: MLR & World Rugby Law Revisions

 

Since 1823, when William Webb Ellis, the iconic figure behind rugby’s creation, first picked up the football at England’s Rugby School, the game has seen numerous adaptations. Although many laws from the original form of the game live on today, the laws of rugby, like in legislation, can be changed for the betterment of the game and those involved.

Different competitions, unions, and game variations can adjust rugby laws to enhance the on-field product while respecting the protection of players on the pitch.

Like the birth of the United States, Major League Rugby (MLR) is tweaking the original English laws for both a new international and North American audience. The current revised laws in MLR complement the quick American flair made popular globally by MLR in recent years. 

New laws of rugby are not just unique to MLR. World Rugby, the driving force behind the sport as the governing international federation, has undergone numerous transformations to the laws of rugby within the last few years. Similarly to MLR, many of the new rugby laws revolve around the speed of the game, enhancing fan experience, and adjustments to assist match officials and players as coaching tactics and strategies continue to evolve

While both organizations modify laws to improve gameplay and player safety, the new MLR and World Rugby rugby laws are not always the same. The following sections explain how different parts of the game have changed between the two organizations and how it will impact gameplay.

Scoring

In World Rugby laws, the scoring system that is most familiar to the modern rugby fan has stayed the same into 2024:

  • Try: Five points
  • Conversion: Two points
  • Penalty try: Seven points
  • Penalty goal: Three points
  • Drop goal: Three points

 In 2021, Major League Rugby decided that they would adjust the MLR competition rugby laws to heighten the match experience for all parties involved, including the fans. MLR has created a brand of high-speed and exciting rugby, so laws were adapted to maintain a fast game flow.

Seven-point try:
One of the main initiatives that were taken to keep the rapid pace of the game flow in MLR was to automatically award seven points for any try scored directly under the posts. This law is instrumental in retaining the quick nature of the American game and eliminates a few minutes of dead time in a match.

Instead of waiting 60 seconds for the conversion kicker to take a kick that is made nearly 100% of the time, the points from the conversion are given automatically when the try is scored directly under the posts.

This rule change also gives incentive to players to fight or run that extra bit under the posts (labeled by two lines in the try area behind the posts) to automatically secure seven points for their team. 

Conversion:
In the case that a try is not scored directly under the posts and a conversion needs to be taken, the kicker will now have 60 seconds as opposed to 90 seconds, the traditionally allotted time by World Rugby. The kicker will also be provided with a clear kick clock that will begin to count down after the try is scored. The 60-second kick clock will also be used in penalty goal kicking. 

 

Gameplay

With the free-flowing gameplay in rugby, changing laws regarding play on the pitch is extremely precise to specific actions and contests of the match. Recently, questions revolving around laws in the scrum have been discussed by both MLR and World Rugby officials.

Scrums:
With the same theme of upholding high-speed gameplay, upgrading the on-field product, and protecting player welfare, MLR has decided to limit the number of scrums to two per incident. This means that teams will have two chances to successfully contest in a scrum. 

After World Rugby’s 2024 Shape of the Game conference in London, the federation has also taken a similar approach to limiting the scrum in the future of rugby. World Rugby is planning to remove repeated scrum options. Like MLR, World Rugby as a whole is on a mission to reduce dead-ball time to create an even more lively match experience. This means fewer options for scrums and scrum resets.

Another aspect of the scrum contest that is changing in MLR law is the offside line is now at the feed line/channel of the scrum. By moving the offside line to the channel of the scrum, the attacking team will have uninterrupted access to the ball at the back of the scrum. This will also provide the scrum half with more protection at the base of the scrum.

Offside:
The former offside line; the defending scrum half, is now no longer able to pressure the attacking scrum half. As a result, the defending scrum half can now choose to retreat to the defending base of the scrum and join in defense. 

World Rugby is also adamant about providing scrum halves with more space and protection at the base of the scrum, maul, and ruck; being one of their main initiatives at their recent conference. 

50:22 kick:
In 2021, World Rugby officially introduced the 50:22 kick law as part of their player welfare initiatives. In the 50:22 law, if the attacking team kicks the ball from within their own half and it lands behind the opposing team’s 22-meter line before bouncing out of touch, the attacking team will get the throw-in at the lineout. Since introducing the new kicking law to matchplay, it has become a popular tactic for the Free Jacks and other clubs in all levels and competitions to place the attacking team in a scoring position.

Player welfare:
In terms of player welfare, World Rugby has discussed outlawing the ‘crocodile roll’ move. The movement was formerly used by players to remove an opposing player from the breakdown by grabbing them by the torso and using their body weight to roll them over. The crocodile roll has caused several serious injuries over the past decade and World Rugby is looking to put an end to the dangers caused by this amphibian action and clean up the breakdown as a whole.

In many unions and regions across World Rugby’s community trials for new laws, the high tackle line has been moved to the sternum area of the body. World Rugby’s community trial framework for high tackle judgment will not be used in MLR competition, as tackles are expected to be made from below the shoulders.


Yellow & Red cards

Yellow cards:
The rugby law for yellow cards is the same for both World Rugby and MLR. When a yellow card is shown to a player by the referee, the player must leave the pitch for 10 minutes and they will not be able to substitute any reserve player. If a yellow-carded player later commits another yellow-card offense, the player must be sent off with a red card.

Red cards:
In the traditional rugby laws used by World Rugby, a player being shown a red card by the referee will immediately leave the pitch and take no further part in the match. The red-carded player may not be replaced.

When a red card is shown to a player in MLR, the team loses a player for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, the player can be replaced with another reserve player from the bench. The player who committed the red-card offense can’t return to the pitch and will face subsequent disciplinary procedures concerning their conduct in the offense.

As we embark on our journey into the evolving landscape of rugby, join us in experiencing the exciting future of the New England Free Jacks and Major League Rugby firsthand! Attend matches, engage with fellow fans, and explore the camaraderie of the rugby community. Whether cheering for the Free Jacks or taking to the pitch yourself, rugby offers an inclusive experience for all!  

Written By:

Colin Elliott

Staff Writer, Intern, @ New England Free Jacks

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