World Rugby's influential medical group has proposed banning reset scrums and upright tackling in a huge shake-up of the sport's laws.
Team huddles and spitting would also be scrapped while players would be required to change their kit and headgear at half-time in a bid to reduce the transmission risk of Covid-19. The report also recommends players wash their hands and face with soap for 20 seconds before a match, at half-time and following the game. Balls should be changed and cleaned frequently during matches.
The recommendations will be put before World Rugby's executive committee, which is expected to meet in the next 48 hours and will then publish temporary law guidelines. Those will then be adopted by individual nations depending on the country's rate of Covid-19. The report compiled by leading experts Eanna Falvey, Prav Mathema, Mary Horgan and Martin Raftery was produced with feedback from more than 80 medical officers. It examines the transmission risk via sweat and saliva by match events such as scrums, rucks and tackles and breaks down the positions likely to suffer the greatest exposure.
Scrums were the highest risk event, making up 50 per cent of high exposure time during a match. Unsurprisingly props and second rows were the most vulnerable positions, spending an average of 13.4 minutes in high transmission risk events. Hence the recommendation to remove reset scrums, which are found to take up 3.6 minutes of game-time. That would lead to a 30 per cent reduction in high-risk transmission exposure time. A range of options will be examined by World Rugby's law review group to replace the scrum, but the award of a free-kick seems the most likely alternative.
Many observers would welcome the permanent removal of reset scrums. Traditionalists, however, will be fearful that this legislation could be a Trojan Horse to attack the bedrock of the game. Re-elected World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont previously told The Telegraph that he was exploring the possibility of limiting contested scrums within the community game.
World Rugby insist all these proposals are temporary to the Covid-19 pandemic, however, it is not hard to envisage the absence of reset scrums becoming permanent, particularly at a time when rugby will be desperate to entice back spectators and television audiences as quickly as possible.
The second main recommendation is to eliminate "upright face to face" tackles. Technically, these are already prohibited by World Rugby's laws so it is likely that referees will be instructed to further clamp down on high tackles. Choke tackles could also be banned as players are encouraged to avoid any face-to-face contact. The study states that the elimination of face to face tackles would reduce the frequency of high-risk exposure events by 20 per cent.
It is unlikely that the World Rugby ExCo would ignore the recommendations of its own medical experts. However, it will be up to individual unions to apply the law amendments whether that is at elite or community level or both. Countries with a higher level of Covid-19 are more likely to adopt the recommendations wholesale.
Meanwhile Premiership Rugby has confirmed it will continue a policy of testing all players for coronavirus despite the latest Government advice stated that step was not a prerequisite. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport published the second stage of its return to training guidance for elite athletes which heralds the start of contact training.
Premiership clubs need only to ensure players complete a questionnaire on possible symptoms to stay within the guidelines. However, Premiership Rugby are adamant they are committed to following through with a testing programme which is likely to cost a minimum of £20,000 a week.
That is a high price to pay in the midst of an unprecedented financial crisis, however a testing regime is seen as a prerequisite of the Rugby Players' Association in their negotiations to safely ensure the return to play of its members.