Rugby Union

Rugby’s new laws ready to make international debut in Bledisloe Cup opener

Any Bledisloe Cup encounter between New Zealand and Australia has reason to be considered must-watch rugby, but the introduction of five new laws is another reason to witness Saturday’s Test.

World Rugby has already trialled some of these fresh rules in club competition, but this will be their first run-out under international conditions.

A one-year trial period concerning the changes began at the start of August, with a view to potentially making the tweaks permanent in time for the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

Many southern-hemisphere stars will already have experience with one law change, the goal-line drop-out, after it was used in this year’s Super Rugby Aotearoa and Trans-Tasman competitions.

Defending teams will now be awarded a drop-out from their own goal line if an attacking player is help up in the try zone, or if the ball is grounded after the attacking team kicks into that area from open play.

From these situations, the ball only needs to travel five metres before it’s back in play, giving the kicking team more freedom in how to respond.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, All Blacks coach Ian Foster was confident his players will be comfortable with the change: “The goal line dropout, the guys are all over.

“I don’t think it will take a while [to adapt to it because] it’s [already] been in existence.”

However, the Wallabies may be the ones who boast an edge when it comes to another of the trial laws, the 50-22, considering that was used in the Super Rugby AU earlier in 2021.

Under the new law, an attacking team will retain possession for the line-out if they kick for touch into the opposition’s 22—and it bounces in play first—from inside their own half.

World Rugby introduced both new rules in an effort to “increase space and decrease defensive line speed,” with a focus on improving player welfare.

Regarding the 50-22 law, Foster added: “I know the Aussies have been playing under those rules in Super Rugby AU so it’s not new to them.

“[It’s] new to us, but we’ve had some discussions about it and I don’t think there’s going to be a change to our game because of it, but it’s certainly something that we’re going to have to grow awareness of.”

The latter change in particular will make full-backs and other covering players more wary of leaving gaps in backfield for the opposition to exploit through the boot.

The other three trial laws concern player safety around the breakdown and at the point of contact when carrying.

Players will now be prevented from binding in pods of three or more before they receive the ball, while another law focuses on what’s permissible when the first supporting player latches onto the carrier.

The latter change in particular could lead to interesting results at the breakdown and players staying on their feet when rucking, with teething issues almost inevitable early on.

Lastly, referees will be keeping a closer eye on players targeting or dropping their weight onto the opposition’s lower limbs at the breakdown.

Australia defeated New Zealand 24-22 when they last faced off in Brisbane back in November, but they haven’t won the Bledisloe Cup since 2002, hoping to end a 19-year hoodoo this summer.

As if that drought wasn’t bad enough, they’re also hoping to win at Auckland’s Eden Park—the site of their first two Bledisloe Tests—for the first time since 1986.

The All Blacks recently recalled TJ Perenara from his NPC commitments with Wellington after emergency scrum-half Finlay Christie suffered a shoulder injury in training on Thursday.

Aaron Smith is still in the starting No. 9 jersey and will earn his 100th New Zealand cap against the Wallabies, who have named a youthful side to face the All Blacks in Auckland.

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