An idiot’s guide to this year’s rule changes at the Hong Kong Sevens

Teams can now have a substitute, the final has been shortened and players can now kick for touch after the final siren in the latest amendments to the laws

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 April, 2017, 9:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 07 April, 2017, 12:08pm

Every fan knows the feeling – sitting in the stands at Hong Kong Stadium and wondering exactly what just happened.

Sevens is that quick, it’s easy to miss a try or a penalty and it’s hard to keep up with the ever-changing rules.

Player safety is forever a hot topic in rugby and the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series puts a premium on protecting its participants while ensuring the game remains as entertaining as possible.

As the series rolls into Hong Kong, there are a number of new rules set to be on show that were introduced this season.

Teams can now have a substitute, the cup final has been trimmed to seven-minute halves in line with all of the other games and a line-out can now be taken after kicking a penalty into touch after the final siren.

Hong Kong referee Matt Rodden, who is in his first season as a member of the official World Series refereeing panel and will officiate this weekend, says it is all about increasing safety, ball-in-play time and simplifying the game.

“We want to encourage more and more people to become involved with the game,” Rodden said.

“I think player safety is very important in trying to encourage young people into the game and making the game easy to understand is very positive.

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“The idea is to increase ball-in-play time and speed the game up, which I think is a positive thing.

“It’s up to us as referees to make sure that not only the players and coaches but also for spectators and general public, to make it easy to understand and easy to follow.”

The 13th man and shortened finals are aimed solely at protecting the players, with players now less likely to try and play through injury or exhaustion.

“They did some research and they found there was a high proportion of injuries in those 10-minute games,” Rodden said.

“Obviously over a three-day tournament like Hong Kong there is a big wear and tear on players’ bodies. “After playing a whole weekend and then going into a 20-minute game as opposed to 14 minutes, it is quite a big difference.

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“The 13th man can be activated at any time during the tournament and allows the team to remain at a full compliment if they do have an injury, especially early in the tournament, and it stops players from playing on with injuries when they shouldn’t.”

As for the new tackle directive issued by World Rugby in January, Rodden says it has had a minimal impact on sevens.

“Sevens has always set a pretty high standard around dangerous tackles, obviously player safety is the most important thing in the game so not too much has changed for us,” he said.

“We have been trying to achieve that standard around dangerous tackles for the past couple of seasons.”

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To speed things up, a penalty try is now automatically seven points, where in the past the team would have had to take the conversion.

The option to kick for touch and take the line-out after the final whistle encourages attacking play.

If time is expired and a penalty is awarded, the team can choose to kick the ball into touch and play the line-out, whereas previously from a penalty they could only take a quick tap, scrum or shot for goal.

“The referees want the players to decide the outcome and for them to use the options they have,” Rodden said.

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“The rule is to increase ball-in-play time and prevent teams deliberately infringing towards the end of the game, especially if they’re leading by less than a try.

“It gives teams more freedom and they have more options than just the quick tap.”