The scourge of uncontested scrums is about to become a thing of the past, with the IRB introducing a new ruling which will allow up to 23 players in each matchday squad.
The additional player added to the bench must, obviously be a prop, meaning you will now have two specialist props and a hooker on the bench, along with five other substitutes. The IRB has left it up to the bodies controlling each competition to decide whether to apply this new law to matches operated under their jurisdiction, so expect to see it phased in over time.
What the law does not currently state, however, is whether a team will be permitted to bring on the eighth substitute during the normal course of proceedings, or if seven substitutions will remain the maximum number allowed unless an uncontested scrum situation looms, in which case the additional front-ranker may be brought on. I would imagine the additional prop would become a normal member of the squad, to be used as and when the coach sees fit.
There is an important gotcha, though. Should a team end up without a fit front row, even with the eighth player in the squad, the referee will call for uncontested scrums, but will not allow the offending team to bring on a non-front-ranker as a replacement. That is, if you have three prop injuries, you will play out the rest of the game with 14 men, unless your reserve hooker can play prop.
It will be interesting to see how this one plays out. I can imagine the likes of Rassie Erasmus having a prop rotation field day as he pushes the new regulations right to the limit. For the Sharks, it would be clearly advantageous to be able to accommodate John Smit, Beast Mtawarira, Deon Carstens and Jannie Du Plessis in the squad without any of them needing to double up as a substitute hooker. A player like Craig Burden could then be added to the bench knowing that he could even come on as a loose forward replacement should the need arise.Tweet