Kiwis shun World Rugby guidelines as they plan games next month

New Zealand sticks to traditional rules for domestic Super Rugby event

The Crusaders celebrate their 19-3 victory over Argentina’s Jaguares in the 2019 Super Rugby final in Christchurch. Picture: Phil Walter/Getty
The Crusaders celebrate their 19-3 victory over Argentina’s Jaguares in the 2019 Super Rugby final in Christchurch. Picture: Phil Walter/Getty

As New Zealand leads the way in getting rugby back up and running with a domestic Super Rugby tournament beginning in the middle of next month, the nation’s governing body has confirmed that it will be played under traditional rules, not the amended laws being considered by World Rugby in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

New Zealand has managed to contain the virus, with only 21 deaths and just over reported 1,500 cases, which has provided an opportunity for the country to resume its national sport and driving passion.

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There will be some restrictions and health considerations, with games in the Super Rugby Aotearoa tournament contested by the professional teams Auckland Blues, Waikato Chiefs, Canterbury Crusaders, Wellington Hurricanes and Otago Highlanders over ten weeks held behind closed doors initially.

World Rugby’s medical advisory group has recommended consideration of rule changes which would ban scrum resets, outlaw team huddles, upright tackles and spitting to limit any possible transmission of the virus. The world’s governing body is also suggesting that players change clothing and protective equipment at half-time.

These are guidelines and advice which World Rugby has said would not be imposed on unions and yesterday New Zealand Rugby chief executive Mark Robinson said the recommended rule changes would not be used when 
their tournament starts on 13 June.

“There don’t appear to be any signs of community transmission in New Zealand, so our circumstances are quite different and we don’t anticipate the need to adopt the law proposals,” Robinson said.

“We have been open with World Rugby about this and they understand our unique situation. We will continue to manage all health risks with stringent protocols and be led by our public health authorities.”

With circumstances very different in the northern hemisphere, legendary former Scotland and British and Irish Lions captain Gavin Hastings suggested at the weekend that World Rugby’s plans to take out lineouts and mauls and replace scrums with free-kicks would turn the sport into “touch rugby” and argued that sevens would be the obvious route back in parts of the world which have been harder hit by the pandemic.

Hasting said: “I cannot see rugby coming back in its true form any time soon. I just think rugby without scrums, lineouts and mauls reduces the competitive aspects of the game and it no longer becomes rugby.

“If anything, play sevens and that may be the way forward because it has all the skills without fundamental change to the sport. Instead of scrums you could have free kicks and the game would be lightning-quick, you can still have line outs.

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“I am not being critical of World Rugby being desperate to get the game back, but it seems impossible to see how that can be done until there is a vaccine.”

Meanwhile, Robinson said Aotearoa Super Rugby will, while attempting to play the game in a normal way, will be held under strict health and safety guidelines.

“The protocols include daily symptom and temperature checks, stringent hygiene and cleaning, contact tracing practices and asking anyone who feels unwell to stay away, self-isolate and get tested,” he said.

New Zealand has given the go-ahead for provincial and local club matches expected to resume from 20 June.

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