Five rule changes that would be game-changing for rugby

With the NRL averaging 18 more minutes of ball-in-play time (55½ minutes) and the AFL operating a soccer-like system (80 minutes of ball-in-play time), rugby union (37 min 23 sec) has been criticised and ridiculed for its constant stoppages, kicking, and penalty goal attempts.

The events that make the game so unique are now the things that are holding it back from appealing to the casual fan.

Even long-time fans of the game claim (rightly or wrongly) “the game isn’t what it used to be”. On top of this, the players are also being pushed more and more into penalty kick attempts, a time-consuming exercise that is far less entertaining than a try.

So how do we achieve a more exciting brand of rugby? In this article, we put forward five rule changes that will help speed up the game, increase ball-in-play time, and set a game up to be one of fast paced, exciting rugby.

1. Shot-clocks for set piece, penalty goal attempts, and kick offs

The first rule proposed is the introduction of shot-clocks into the game to ensure a quicker restart of play and less time spent watching forwards take a breather. Games regularly have more than 13-14 minutes of the match spent packing scrums.

With an average of 12 scrums a match in 2021, that’s more than a minute per scrum. Lineouts are better but still the time it takes to set up a throw in is roughly 25-30 seconds.

Finally, kick offs currently have no time limit set for them to occur, leaving teams the opportunity to intentionally slow the game down.

Our proposal is that World Rugby should introduce:

20 second shot-clocks for scrums and lineouts (referees told to speed it up during resets)
20 second shot-clock for kick offs after tries
Penalty must be taken 45 seconds after decision is made
If any team fails to set up in time, a penalty will be awarded to the opposition, from where the lineout/scrum/penalty attempt would be or on halfway for kick offs. These new laws will force teams to spend less time vegetating and more time playing.

2. Penalty goals reduced from three points to two

This one may be unpopular, but it may just be the solution to teams opting to go for goal too often. In Round 2 of Super Rugby AU last year, we saw the Rebels almost beat the Reds, despite not scoring a single try.

The Reds scored two tries and four penalties to be the Rebels who scored seven three pointers! Seven! That’s not to say the Reds weren’t guilty of the same, four is certainly more than enough.

A way to solve this could be to alter the points system, reducing the value of a penalty goal. This makes teams far less likely to opt for the three and go for a try more often.

Some say this will lead to defending teams conceding more penalties as they care less about conceding a penalty goal, but referees still have the discretion to sin bin players for intentional/repeated offences.

What does less players on the field also do? Opens up more try scoring opportunities, that’s what.

James O'Connor of the Reds converts a penalty
James O’Connor kicks for goal. (Photo by Jono Searle/Getty Images)

3. Allow the TMO to review the game as play continues and decide how to act in that time

Far too much time is spent by officials staring at the big screen and deciding what punishment an action deserves. Instead, let the TMO make a decision while the referee plays advantage (if possible).

At the moment, TMOs are instructed to show angles to the on-field officials and allow them to make a final decision.

By making the TMO like a second referee, minimal time is spent deliberating. Of course, this would require more standard law interpretation between referees and TMOs and may even require pairing them together so that calls are consistent between them.

4. Make throwing the ball away an offence

Oh, this is a big one. Earlier this year, Fijian Drua coach Mick Byrne criticised Australian sides for throwing the ball away when they conceded a penalty, accusing them of deliberately slowing the game down.

This behaviour robs the team of an opportunity to take a quick tap and robbing us of a more free-flowing game of rugby.

If this rule is introduced, a player who does not hand the ball straight to the opposition after a penalty will cost their team 10 metres. In my opinion, the more quick taps the better!

5. Get rid of marks in the 22

This is probably the least pressing issue in this article but nevertheless needs to be brought up. This is simple and quick way to get more ball-in-play time and let the players play rugby rather than simply kick the ball back to the opposition.

Honestly don’t know why this law was ever introduced but let’s get rid of it and provide more advantages to the team applying aerial pressure on attack.


Five rule changes that would be game-changing for rugby