New season to begin without scrums as 20/40 rule introduced

Clubs will kick off the 2021 rugby league season without scrums but they could be re-introduced later in the year if there is a let-up in the coronavirus pandemic.

Scrums were removed from matches and replaced with a handover of possession when Super League restarted last August in an effort to reduce close contact and minimise the risk of Covid-19 transmissions.

The Rugby Football League’s laws committee has decided the emergency rule should remain in place when the Challenge Cup, featuring Championship and League 1 clubs, gets under way on the weekend of March 20, although with the shot clock application removed.

Dave Rotheram, the RFL’s chief on-field officer, said: “With Covid-19 remaining prevalent in society, the re-introduction of scrums could present additional risk to the health of the players and would significantly increase the number of close contacts in a match which could lead to more postponements.

“Therefore the decision was made to maintain the position as at the end of 2020 for the start of the 2021 season.

“However, the laws committee agreed that the public health situation should be kept under constant review and that scrums should be reintroduced as soon as possible, with the expectation that scrums will remain in the International Laws and therefore feature in the Rugby League World Cup in the autumn.

“The committee agreed that scrums could be re-introduced to certain parts of the game and not others, again depending on the public health situation.”

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The recommendation was approved by the RFL board at its meeting on Wednesday, when directors also agreed to retain the six-again rule which enables referees to restart the tackle count instead of awarding a penalty for certain offences around the ruck area.

In addition, several rule changes proposed by the committee were approved, including flexibility for the attacking team on the lateral positioning of scrums, a reward for 20/40 kicks and a handover of possession for an incorrect play-the-ball.

However, the RFL has opted not to copy the NRL’s move to double the value of drop goals to two points if they are kicked from at least 40 metres out and decided against extending the six-again rule to include 10-metre offside infringements.

The committee, sitting virtually, heard from NRL head of elite competitions Graham Annesley about the new laws to be introduced in the NRL for 2021.

Rotheram said: “The RFL have been keen to achieve as much consistency as possible between the laws applied in both hemispheres, both in domestic competitions and through the International Laws.

“A greater degree of harmonisation was achieved through the law changes introduced for the resumption of the 2020 season – notably the adoption of six-again – and that process will continue with the law changes introduced for 2021.

“However, we remain unconvinced by the arguments for introducing a two-point drop goal, believing this to be a fundamental change in the laws of the game which could have unintended consequences in discouraging teams from seeking to score tries, especially late in each half.”

The committee included RFL chief executive Ralph Rimmer, Super League executive chairman Robert Elstone, referees coach Phil Bentham, former Great Britain international Paul Sculthorpe, GMB Players Union representative Garreth Carvell and Wakefield coach Chris Chester.

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