Safety concerns prompt referees to get tough on breakdown fouls
Referees are to implement a crackdown on foul play at the breakdown when the Premiership returns tomorrow after safety concerns were raised by players.
The initiative is part of World Rugby’s “law application guideline” designed to reduce the risk of injury and speed up the game by producing quicker ball.
The new emphasis will include a greater expectation on tacklers releasing the ball carrier and rolling away immediately to the side, while ball carriers will be allowed one dynamic movement after being tackled, with an onus on presenting or releasing the ball more quickly.
Clubs have been told that there will be stricter officiating of how players arrive at a breakdown, with any side entry resulting in a penalty, as will those who recklessly dive into collisions.
Officials hope the initiative will reduce the risk of players targeting their opponents’ knees and legs by ensuring the height of the breakdown is increased after warning it had become “dangerous”.
“Players were launching themselves into the breakdown, everything was happening very low down and players were off their feet and there was a lot of criticism so the whole idea was to make the breakdown safer,” said Rugby Football Union referee Tom Foley.
“It means we won’t get players targeting the joints and the legs of the tacklers. Players were really concerned about the way the breakdown was being refereed.
“The interpretation of side entry was allowing players to target the knees and legs and potentially injure them. This is why this is being introduced.”
The law application was approved by a group of international coaches, including former Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt, players, referees, medics and lawmakers at a World Rugby meeting in March. The interpretations resulted in a spike of penalties in the opening rounds of the Super Rugby Aotearoa in New Zealand and although the RFU has been liaising with the clubs during the lockdown about the change of emphasis, Foley warned there could be a similar outcome when the Premiership resumed.
“There will be an element of calibration,” said Foley. “It is six months since anyone has done anything in anger, but we would like to think the work we have already done will mean we don’t get huge swathes.
“But if a game has had 30 penalties and it probably needed 30 penalties, then so be it.”
Concerns: Former Ireland coach Joe Schmidt was part of a group that approved the change on foul play at the breakdown