Giselle Mather, the Wasps Ladies director of rugby, hopes women’s club rugby can “remain a game for all shapes and sizes” as new law variations brought in to reduce the transmission of coronavirus look set to favour faster players.
The adapted laws will result in a significant reduction in the number of scrums in the female top-flight, the Premier 15s, with free-kicks awarded for a forward pass and knock-ons. There will also be no scrum option at a free-kick or penalty, while halves have been cut to 35 minutes to reflect an anticipated increase in the amount of ball-in-play time.
Teams in the women’s top-flight have been given just days to adjust to the changes ahead of the postponed start to the new season on Saturday, which is understood to have caused significant frustration among clubs.
Mather’s Wasps played an internal practice match last weekend which produced just six scrums in 65 minutes. Telegraph Sport has learned of one other club who had just one scrum in training match at the weekend during an hour of play.
“My players were hanging after 35 minutes,” said Mather, “and I have a very fit, mobile group. But that is partly because that’s the first run out we’ve been allowed to do. Under Covid, [our] pre-season has been so strict and we haven’t been able to play proper games.
“It will be faster. There will be unintended consequences that we don’t know of yet – there always are when you tweak the laws of a game that has been around for ages. I think it will produce a lot of good running rugby, but I think the ball will have a lot more air time because the cardio-hit is going to be very high.”
Scrums have not been completely eradicated from the game and will be awarded, for instance, if the ball does not travel 10m from a restart or if it is not thrown straight at a lineout. Modelling by the RFU suggests they will, however, be reduced by up to 75 per cent in a match.
Other rule changes will see a reduction in the number of players who can form mauls, which can only be driven from an attacking line out within a team’s 22.
“Will we even recognise or notice mauls have gone? The scrummage, yes, absolutely, you will, but there still needs to be enough scrums within a game so it can remain a game for all shapes and sizes,” continued Mather. “If there are no scrums, you’ve just got a back row and a front row, and that’s an unintended consequence that I hope to God doesn’t happen.”
While the law variations have been largely accepted as the only way for women’s club rugby to return, it remains to be seen how effective they will be at reducing possible viral transmission.
Due to its elite amateur status, no testing is being conducted in the Premier 15s, where clubs such as Worcester Warriors and Loughborough Lightning have large student numbers due to their affiliation with universities, where case numbers of the virus have spiked. By contrast, players who attend international training camps – including England Women – are being tested.
“All these [international] players are playing alongside people in the league who aren’t being tested,” said Susie Appleby, the Exeter Chiefs head coach. “It’s quite ludicrous to be honest and it’s hard to get your head around. Of course there will be more positive tests, but will they come to light?
“We lost two Spanish players for three weeks who tested negative in their camp but were in that close-contact scenario with a player who tested positive. The overall feeling will be relief on Saturday, but it’s not going to be the same.”