Rainbow Cup to introduce 20 minute red cards and a ‘captain’s challenge’

Three law variations in total will be trialled when tournament kicks off next weekend

Red cards will mean a team being a player down for 20 minutes according to law variation being trialled in Rainbow Cup. Image: ©Craig Watson

A RED-CARDING in the Rainbow Cup – which kicks off next weekend – will mean the offending player leaving the field for the remainder of the match but his team being able to send on a replacement after 20 minutes.

This is one of three law variations which will be trialled during the tournament.

A ‘Captain’s Challenge’ for try-scoring and foul play incidents, or to challenge any refereeing decision in the last five minutes of a match, is also being introduced.

The third law variation trial requires the defending team to take a drop-out from anywhere on the goal-line if an attacking player is held up over the line, or there is a knock-on in the in goal area, or a defending player grounds the ball in the in goal area following a kick through.


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These law variations, which are already being used in Australian and New Zealand Super Rugby competitions, are aimed at encouraging positive play and fairness.

“Our Sports & Regulatory Committee have been very proactive in identifying opportunities to introduce game innovations and we’re looking forward to implementing these trials during the Guinness PRO14 Rainbow Cup,” explained David Jordan, Tournament Director of PRO14 Rugby. “We know these laws also have their origins from the Player Welfare Symposiums and our belief is that we will see a positive impact on the game overall.”

“We applaud PRO14 Rugby and the respective clubs for their enthusiasm to trial a number of law variations in the Rainbow Cup,” added Alan Gilpin, CEO of World Rugby. “The addition of another top competition to the World Rugby law trials programme will provide invaluable data and feedback to determine future advances to game spectacle and player welfare.”

Law variation trials explained:

  • Replacement for Red Card player after 20 minutes

For red cards the offending player will be removed from the field for 20 minutes. After this time the team can replace this player with one of their nominated substitutes. The player who is given the red card will not be able to return to the pitch.

Just like the awarding of a yellow card, the 20 minutes will be measured in ‘game time’ meaning that the clock will not run during stoppages in play. The Red Card Replacement law will also apply to players who receive two yellow cards (which results in an automatic red).

Players who have been substituted for tactical reasons may be used to replace a player who has received a red card. The usual replacement laws continue to apply in that a replaced player may return for an injured front rower, injury due to foul play, HIA or blood.

  • Captain’s Challenge

The Captain’s Challenge is aimed at enhancing the accuracy of decisions already under the remit of the match officials. Each team is allowed one captain’s challenge in the match. These can be used for try-scoring and foul play incidents, or to challenge any refereeing decision in the last five minutes of a match.

The challenge will be referred to the TMO who will review the footage with the match referee making the final decision. If a challenge is successful, then the team keeps their challenge but if it is unsuccessful then the team loses the challenge. Challenges can only be made up to 20 seconds after the referee has blown his whistle for a stoppage in play and only incidents from the last passage of play can be challenged.

Prior to the 75-minute mark, the Captain’s Challenge can only be used to check for an infringement in the lead up to a try or to review foul play. The Captain’s Challenge will be applied more broadly from the 75-minute mark in any match at which point the captain, provided they have not already lost their Challenge, can use it to check any whistled decision regardless of whether a try has been scored. Injury time is included in the post 75-minute period.

TMOs will be able to go back to the last stoppage in play, regardless of how many phases have been played

Foul play challenges can be made after any stoppage in play if the captain believes foul play has been missed by the match officials

Captains must reference ‘specific’ incidents or infringements

Footage must be ‘clear and obvious’ for a challenge to be upheld

Captains cannot refer a scrum or lineout penalty, where the referee’s decision will be final

For the avoidance of doubt, there is no extra challenge available after 75 minutes. Teams receive one challenge per match and will only retain it if they are successful in a previous challenge.

What cannot be challenged?

    • A restart in play has happened including a quick tap or quick throw in has been taken, so the team has chosen to play quickly
    • Non-decisions – where a referee does not blow their whistle for a decision and play continues (unless there is foul play)
    • Set-piece decisions cannot be challenged because they are technical decisions that could provide multiple outcomes based on the interpretations of players and referees
  • Goal-line drop-out

For held-up over the line, knock-ons that occur in goal or when the ball is grounded by a defending player in the in-goal area after a kick through, the defending team will take a drop-out from anywhere on the goal line.

The drop-out must be taken on or behind the defending team’s goal line and it must occur without delay. The ball must cut across the goal line and travel 5 metres. If this does not occur a sanction will apply and the non-kicking team may request the kick to be retaken or receive a 5m scrum in line with where the kick was taken.

For the avoidance of doubt, a missed penalty kick at goal or a missed drop-goal attempt will still result in a 22m drop-out for the defending team.


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David Barnes
About David Barnes 2349 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Herald/Sunday Herald, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.

8 Comments

  1. I think this is madness. World Rugby say they are cracking down on head contact and dangerous play around the ruck and tackle.

    Really? So then the message they are giving is that you manage your game defensively for 20 minutes if you lose a player to a dangerous contact?

    The bigger problem here is that world rugby are running scared of litigation coming down the line from former players and are scrambling around to try and find a solution that looks like they are doing something. Their communication to to teams and players is woeful in terms of the changes to the way referees are administering the game. No forethought has gone into this at all. its just another silly kneejerk to a snowballing issue that won’t go away.

    This is not a solution. The solution is already there. Change the rules around the ruck and tackle. Be consistent in judgment by starting to penalise referees who are giving out insane calls without properly consulting with the TMO or who have overridden very obvious evidence of the infringement or lack thereof.

    Get rid of the punishment committees that exist and put in place a system that is balanced, transparent, and has a set of rules and judgements that are not ambiguous or based upon personal interpretation.

    World rugby and the unions have to start taking responsibility for the situation that has been created and do something to make the changes required to safeguard the current & future players as much as is possible in a contact game.

    • Grant
      I agree with your thoughts on the red card reduction.
      We could easily see a playmaker taken out early and the miscreants team replace him 20mins later.
      How can this be good for player safety?

  2. Certainly worth trying them out though feels like a further erosion of the refs authority. The TMO is becoming the most important person in the match.

  3. Would have been useful to have had the captain’s challenge for that final play in the game vcwales when big Duhan was tackled off the ball when trying to reach Hoggs offload. However, I suspect in that game the challenge would have been used long before that!

    Interesting innovations, worth giving a go and I like the goal line drop, seems fairer to the defending team than the lottery of the scrum.

  4. I’ve always thought saving a try by holding the ball up is a fantastic bit of skill and commitment, and deserves a turnover. The change also discourages endless pick and goes.

    I’ve said before on here, but please can we ‘trial’ enforcing the offside line?

  5. All a bit gimmicky. Would rather see the ball out in straight at the scrum,no lifting at lineout, get rid of the ‘mark’ call etc. The game is complicated enough as it is

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    • I think they should remove that silly offside rule, if the ball could be thrown in any direction, it would make the game a lot simpler for youth to understand.

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