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Flying wedge has wings clipped in latest World Rugby law trials

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Malcolm Couzens/Getty Images)

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The latest World Rugby package of law trials will result in the de-powering of the flying wedge. The amendments, approved by the World Rugby executive committee after detailed examination by the specialist law review group and high performance rugby committee, follow widespread consultation with stakeholders across the sport, including players, coaches and competitions.


These law trials will be trialled globally in competitions that start after August 1 and after a period of one year, laws that are deemed successful in meeting the objective of increasing safety while enhancing the spectacle will be tabled for World Rugby council to determine whether they are adopted into law at its May 2022 meeting, a full year ahead of Rugby World Cup 2023 in France. 

The trials include two that have been operational in pilot trial environments – the goal-line drop out, which has been seen in Super Rugby Trans-Tasman and the Rainbow Cup – and the 50:22, which was most recently operational in Super Rugby AU. According to World Rugby, both have the potential to increase space and decrease defensive line speed which in turn could have welfare benefits. 

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John Kirwan on why Fiji and Japan must be allowed to join the Rugby Championship
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Three trials, meanwhile, focus specifically on reducing injury risk at the breakdown. The first will see the introduction of sanctioning of clear-outs that target the lower limbs. The second will outlaw the practice of multi-player (three or more) pre-bound pods. The third area will tighten the definition of what is permissible in the practice of one-player latching. High profile names such as Eddie Jones, Ian Foster, Sam Cane, Dan Leavy, Rachael Burford, Wayne Barnes and Jaco Peyper were involved in this breakdown review.

Welfare-focused law trials approved for global trial

  • 50:22/22:50: This law trial is intended to create space via a tactical choice for players to drop out of the defensive line in order to prevent their opponents from kicking for touch, reducing the impact of defensive line speed – operational in Super Rugby AU.
  • Goal-line drop out: This law trial is intended to reduce the number of scrums, reward good defence, encourage counter-attacking and increase the rate of ball in play – operational in Super Rugby AU, Super Rugby Aotearoa, Super Rugby Trans-Tasman and the Rainbow Cup. 

Welfare-focused breakdown law amendments approved for global trial

  • Pre-bound pods of players: Outlawing the practice of pods of three or more players being pre-bound prior to receiving the ball – the sanction will be a penalty kick.
  • Sanctioning the lower limb clear-out: Penalising players who target/drop their weight onto the lower limbs of a jackler – the sanction will be a penalty kick.
  • Tightening law relating to latching: One-player latch to be permitted, but this player has the same responsibilities as a first arriving player (i.e. must stay on feet, enter through the gate and not fall to the floor) – the sanction will be a penalty kick.

Sevens law trials 

  • The group approved a two-year extension of the trial whereby a team may nominate and use up to five replacements (this is in addition to substitutions to cover HIA, blood, injury or foul play incidents). The substitutions can be made on a rolling basis. In the event of extra-time, a sixth replacement can also be utilised
  • The group recommended to council that in-goal assistant referees will no longer be permitted where there is a TMO present at a competition

In addition, the executive committee approved sevens-specific law amendments that aim to benefit welfare and accessibility. Recommended to council in November, they permit unions law flexibility at a community level, including weight-banded matches, reduced tackle height and limitations to scrum and lineouts. 

Joe Schmidt, the World Rugby director of rugby and high performance, said: “Law review is fundamental to a sport that is constantly evolving and at the heart of our aspiration to make rugby as safe and accessible as possible. 


“This process has been truly collaborative, bringing together coaching, playing, officiating, law and medical experts to consider the future playing of the sport. I would like to thank everyone involved to date, including the specialist breakdown review group, and look forward to seeing the trials in operation on a global basis from August.”



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