Brian O'Driscoll warns against dangers of rule trials 'sanitising' rugby

By Brendan O'Brien

Brian O
Brian O'Driscoll, a member of the International Rugby Players Board, stressed that rugby is a "gladiatorial" game and that the scrum, in particular, can't simply be diluted in the rush to get the sport back up and running.

Brian O'Driscoll has warned that rugby should not rush back to the field of play in the coming months if the game has to tinker too much with its DNA in the bid to satisfy new health and safety protocols.

World Rugby has today revealed a list of optional domestic law trials designed to reduce the risk of coronavirus transmissions, among them the scrapping of reset scrums, choke tackles, and an orange card for high tackles.

The English Premiership has already stated that it will not be adopting them and the New Zealand union has also declared it will not be using any for its Super Rugby Aotearoa competition which starts in June.

"It's a balance between getting the game back but also not sanitising the version of what we know and love," said O'Driscoll on the Analytica 2020 online conference to raise funds for Pieta House. 

If you can't play the game as we have seen it ... if you have to go with stark modifications, there is no point in resuming.

"I know we are all desperate to see rugby back again, no more than all the unions around the world that are haemorrhaging money at the moment, but you have to showcase it. If you give a bad version of the previous game you will lose support for it."

O'Driscoll is a member of the International Rugby Players Board which has discussed the matter with World Rugby, as well as other potential law changes that were already on the table long before Covid-19 became a thing.

The former Ireland and Lions skipper, while fully supportive of the need to seek advice from all the relevant experts, stressed that rugby is a "gladiatorial" game and that the scrum, in particular, can't simply be diluted in the rush to get the sport back up and running after this unexpected hiatus.

Reference was made to how important that set-piece was to South Africa in capturing the World Cup just over six months ago, and how Leinster's ability to wrest scrum dominance from Northampton in 2011 was such a turning point in that season's Heineken Cup final.

"So you absolutely can't take away the fabrics of the game that are hugely important, and I say that as an outside back. Yes, we want to see more open rugby but [the scrum] is still a pivotal part of the game.

"Here's hoping that, with the way things are going at the moment, we will see some rugby that is planned for August and we will get a transition of sorts into getting rugby on people's TVs anyway."

The suggested law changes

    Among the law trials:
  • Removing scrum resets.
  • Taking away the option of a scrum for a penalty, a free-kick, or when an attacker is held-up in-goal.
  • Reinforcing high tackle guidelines to reduce face-to-face contact and the introduction of an "orange card" for potential red-card offences.
  • The player is removed with the offence checked by the Television Match Official. If deemed a red card offence, the player doesn't return. If not, they return after 15 minutes.
  • Removing the choke tackle, with referees calling a "tackle" rather than a "maul".
  • Awarding a free-kick rather than a scrum for when a team fails to "use it" at a scrum, ruck, or maul.
  • Speeding up rucks by cutting the "use it" time from 5 seconds to 3 seconds.
  • Restricting the number of players who can join a maul and the time spent in the maul.

Most Read in Sport