Inside World Rugby’s ‘law labs’ – where the future of the game is shaped (2024)

Tucked away in World Rugby’s announcement on Thursday regarding a number of new law trials being rolled out from the start of July – including 20-minute red cards and 30-second clocks for scrums and line-outs – was the news that ‘rugby laws labs’ are being set up “to test out new law innovations”.

Telegraph Sport can reveal that the locations for rugby’s laws labs so far include two universities in the United Kingdom and one in South Africa, with scope for another location in France.

The move to set up the labs comes from Phil Davies, the former Wales international and head coach of Leeds Tykes, Scarlets, Cardiff and Namibia, who was appointed as World Rugby’s director of rugby in 2022.

Law ideas have previously gone straight from meeting rooms to in-game trials before being passed or discarded. Creating the law labs, Davies explains, offers a middle ground to test out law variations on the training field, rather than dropping them straight into competitions.

In recent times the trials have been signed off by a number of World Rugby committees with referees Wayne Barnes and Hollie Davidson, coaches Andy Farrell, Jacques Nienaber and Gregor Townsend and former players Jamie Roberts, Rachael Burford and Conrad Smith all involved, along with a number of executives including the RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney and chief financial officer Sue Day, plus World Rugby’s chief executive Alan Gilpin.

Working with universities was previously a key part of World Rugby’s research into the rollout of instrumented mouthguards, used to measure the frequency and intensity of head acceleration environments to monitor concussions, which were first trialled with Cardiff Met University. The labs, according to Davies, will essentially try “to take theory and turn it into practice a little bit quicker”.

Davies explains: “It was a bit of a missing link you had brilliant research going straight into match practice, rather than having an opportunity to try it in coaching practice and then move forward with a bit more data from a practical point of view.”

‘Astonishing amount of data’

Coaches at the universities involved will record video footage of specific drills which will then be sent back to World Rugby for analysis.

The labs will focus initially on scrum forces, while also assessing the responsibilities of the tackler at the breakdown. That area was first discussed four years ago by Richie Gray, the breakdown coach who has previously worked with South Africa, Scotland and Fiji as well as NFL franchises, and Joe Schmidt, who is now head coach of the Wallabies and previously worked as World Rugby’s director of rugby and high performance.

Davies explains: “Rolling east and west immediately, what does a legal jackal look like, what is the ball carrier’s responsibility – it’s all those types of experiments which we can try with the assist tackler, or the jackaler if you like.

“I’m not sure how it would look practically, but it’s things like that which we can trial and see what it looks like in a training environment. Then, if we feel there is validity around it, we can take it into a closed trial.”

Through Rhys Jones, World Rugby’s game analysis manager, there are 80 games ‘coded’ each weekend around the world, giving World Rugby an ‘astonishing’ amount of data, as Davies puts it. Understanding that information and putting it into practice is the challenge.

“If you look at the breakdown, on average at the moment there are 187 breakdowns in a game, and the referee is blowing their whistle 4.4 per cent of the time. If someone tells you that you have 95 per cent success rate in a certain area of your business, you would be pretty happy about that. It’s about how we apply the data and what story that data tells us in relation to how we improve the game.

“When you think how technical rugby union is, the number of contests and level of technical skill at speed and force in play, it’s incredible, you know? That’s why at some times it’s important to look at the data and paint a wider picture, to give it a bit more perspective. Instead of ‘ah, there is too much kicking, too many scrum resets’ – sometimes we will look at the data and it’s not necessarily the case.”

Coaches including Exeter’s Rob Baxter have not held back in their criticism of the sport trying to change too much too quickly, with goal-line dropouts, 50:22 kicks, shot clocks for kicks at goal and the instrumented mouthguards all recent innovations.

The key for Davies, and World Rugby, is finding the right balance between improving safety and spectacle while trying to avoid unnecessary tinkering.

“Modern society is running at 200 miles an hour, let alone 100 miles an hour. Things are evolving so quickly, it’s only right and proper that you address things in the game to improve the safety and the spectacle,” adds Davies.

“I think the balance is right, it’s there. A lot of the time the data can give you that balanced perspective in order to make changes, or to go back and reaffirm what is in the law book rather than making change for change’s sake. It’s a fine balance, but we do well in the respect that we are always looking at how we can improve.”

Inside World Rugby’s ‘law labs’ – where the future of the game is shaped (2024)


What are 5 key rules for the sport of rugby? ›

  • No shoulder pads or helmets in rugby.
  • The ball must be pitched backwards to your teammates. ...
  • There is no blocking to assist your runner.
  • Everyone runs with the ball and tackles equally. ...
  • When you are tackled you have one second to let go of the ball and purposely “fumble” the ball.

How many rules are there in a game of rugby? ›

The rules are known as laws, and it is usually recognised that there are 21 laws in the world of Rugby.

What is the 13 man rule in rugby? ›

The team must nominate a player to leave the field. A remaining substitute (front row player) must be used in the front row of the uncontested scrums. Another player must be nominated to leave the field to allow him/her to come on to the field to play. The team plays with 13 players for the remainder of the match.

What is 7 in rugby? ›

Flanker is a position in the sport of rugby union. Each team of 15 players includes two flankers, who play in the forwards, and are generally classified as either blindside or openside flankers, numbers 6 and 7 respectively. The name comes from their position in a scrum in which they 'flank' each set of forwards.

What is a maul in rugby? ›

A maul occurs when the ball carrier is held by one or more opponents and one or more of the ball carrier's team-mates holds on (binds) as well (a maul therefore needs a minimum of three players). The ball must be off the ground.

Where is rugby most popular? ›

The sport is followed primarily in Great Britain, Ireland, France, Georgia, Oceania, Southern Africa, Argentina, and in recent times also, Italy, Japan, South America, the United States, Canada and Eastern Europe.

Can you block a kick in rugby? ›

The defending team who committed the penalty cannot rush the kicker or block the kicking attempt. If the attempt at the 3 points is missed, then the ball rolling on the ground is a live ball, and play will resume when either team scrambles to pick up the loose ball.

What are the basic rugby rules? ›

The most basic law of the game is that no player is allowed to throw the ball forward to a teammate. In rugby, passes have to be thrown sideways or backwards to a teammate while the other ways to move the ball towards the opposition's goal line to score points is by kicking or running with the ball.

What are the rules in the sport of rugby? ›


Participants may only pass the ball backwards or sideways with no blocking allowed; using a variety of phases such as lineouts, mauls, rucks and scrums to retain possession during play. Rugby is unique in that play is continuous even after players are tackled on the field.

What is a 5 in rugby? ›

A second-row forward, the right lock wears the number 5 on the back of his jersey. In the scrum, the right lock pushes from behind the props and hooker. While the left lock is expected to have good jumping ability, the right lock needs to possess explosive power.

Why are there so many rules in rugby? ›

The Laws of rugby are developed with two central principles in mind: firstly, to allow players to play within the spirit of the game, and secondly, to protect the welfare of all players. Video Player is loading. World Rugby's Head of Technical Services Mark Harrington on the process that underpins law trial reviews.


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