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Rolland welcomes IRB law trials
Daire Walsh
August 20, 2012
Referee Alain Rolland signals towards the touchline, Scotland v Wales, Six Nations, Murrayfield, Edinburgh, Scotland, February 8, 2009
Alain Rolland has welcomed recent law trials © Getty Images
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Players/Officials: Alain Rolland
Tournaments/Tours: Aviva Premiership | Currie Cup

Rugby has evolved at a frantic pace in recent years, and that is set to continue following the International Rugby Board's (IRB) May announcement of new global trials.

Following the annual meeting of their council in Dublin, the IRB approved trials of a number of law amendments following an extensive process of consultation and evaluation. They include limiting the time that the ball is available at the back of a ruck, the positioning of taking a quick throw-in, changes to scrum commands and a set time frame for taking conversions, while the Aviva Premiership and Currie Cup will see further powers for Television Match Officials (TMOs) tried out.

These trials, in addition to some other experimental laws, will commence at the start of next season in each hemisphere (August 2012 in the north and January 2013 in the south) and will be applicable to both international and domestic competitions.

Experienced Irish referee Alain Rolland - who took charge of New Zealand's Rugby Championship win over Australia on Saturday - was eager to stress that the rules that are being experimented upon are only being tried out as things stand, and may not necessarily be followed up on beyond the trial period.

"We've been asked to try these out during the season, and a decision is going to be made as to whether any of them will be used as is," he said. "They're not written in law right now. These are trials that have beenset out by the IRB council. They are trial laws for us to see and, needless to say, feedback will be given to the IRB from all the respective unions as to how they found they went, to see which ones will be kept, which ones will be changed and which ones need to be shelved."

Perhaps the most eye-catching of the new rules to be introduced are the ones that concern the breakdown, which has been the source of much debate in recent years.

One of the global law trials relates to the ruck, and the use of clean ball: Law 16.7 (Ruck): The ball has to be used within five seconds of it being made available at the back of a ruck with a warning from the referee to "use it". Sanction - Scrum.

Rolland is pleased to see the introduction of this trial law, as he feels it will speed up the game, an idea that is at the heart of many of the proposed changes to the current state of play.

"They're obviously trying to speed up the game," he said. "In effect, once there is static ball at the base of the ruck, and if the half-back doesn't play it away, or whoever is standing in the scrum-half position, the referee will give an instruction to whoever is there to play the ball. That kicks off the clock. They have five seconds to use it, and if they don't, as it's stated, it's a turnover and a scrum for the opposition."

Also coming into effect is a reduction in the number of scrum commands which, in the view of the former Ireland scrum-half, will minimise the high level of collapses that are currently taking place at scrum time.

"The biggest thing is obviously the scrum going from four commands to three," he said. "That's going to be a big change for players and referees alike, where you're going to have three commands rather than four commands under the Law 21 (g) of the scrum. You're going from the 'crouch, touch, pause, engage' to 'crouch, touch, set'.

"This will hopefully minimise the number of collapses on the basis that players should hopefully be in a better position to keep the scrum up, and there will be less anticipation as to when the 'set' call [is made]. The 'set' call is a very small one as opposed to a double-barrelled 'engage', which is very long. With the way they are going forward, I think it will be interesting to see how that develops."

Aside from the amendments to the scrum, the potential extension of the TMO system may well see referees like Rolland being given even more assistance than is currently being afforded to them.

"There are two trials going on for the TMO," he said. "England are trying one version of it in the Aviva Premiership, and then in South Africa, the Currie Cup are trying another version of it, which is extending the protocol as to what a TMO can do in relation to assisting a referee.

"Nothing is going to be introduced here as far as we are aware until reports of those two trials come back. If there is going to be a change it probably will be the start of the next season here in the northern hemisphere."

Many of these variations could have a major impact on the way the game is played but, as a whole, Rolland doesn't feel that teams will have any massive issues with them.

"There are a lot of teams that won't have any issues with what is being introduced," he said. "There will be one or two teams that will have played a slow game, and it is a bit more of a change for them because of the way that they will play it.

"Overall, I think they are to be welcomed. It will be interesting to see how things go, and it's only really when you get into the thick of it, and do games with them, that you will be able to make an informed decision as to whether they're good for the game or not."

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