Jonah Lomu scored seven tries at the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Picture: Action Images via Reuters
Jonah Lomu scored seven tries at the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Picture: Action Images via Reuters

The Glory of '95: 10 rugby rule changes since the 1995 World Cup

Time of article published Jun 23, 2020

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RUGBY was quite a different game in 1995, when the Springboks won the World Cup at the first time of asking. The referee didn’t tell the players what to do at the rucks and lineout jumpers actually jumped rather than being lifted high into the air by teammates.

Here, rugby writer Jacques van der Westhuyzen lists some of the biggest changes that have occurred over the years and since the Boks triumphed at the World Cup 25 years ago

1. Teams used to have only six replacements, usually three forwards and three backs, and they were randomly numbered; for example in the ’95 final, hooker Naka Drotske wore 16 on his back (as is custom today), but 17 was worn by utility back Brendan Venter, 18 by loose-forward Rudolf Straeuli, 19 by scrumhalf Johan Roux, 20 by prop Garry Pagel and 21 by utility back Gavin Johnson. In today’s game, the numbers 16-23 go from hooker to outside back, in numerical order based on position. And there are eight replacements allowed now, meaning a match-day squad is made up of 23 players and not the 21 of 25 years ago.

2. In 1995 the referee was the sole “judge” on the field. He determined whether a try was scored or not, whereas today we have a Television Match Official (TMO) who is regularly called upon to help the on-field referee come to a decision. The TMO, who has the benefit of slow-motion replays in a booth in the stadium, also assists with foul play, knock-ons and any decision the referee feels he needs assistance with.

Referee Wayne Barnes signals for a TMO review during the third-place playoff between New Zealand and Wales at the 2019 Rugby World Cup. Picture: Issei Kato/Reuters

3. At the tournament in South Africa players were still able to pass the ball from outside the 22m area to a player inside the 22m area and that player would be allowed to kick the ball directly into touch, with the lineout happening where the ball crossed the line. That is not the case today. A ball passed back into the 22m area and kicked directly out results in a lineout to the opposition team in line with where the player kicked it.

4. Twenty-five years ago, the team that kicked the ball into touch after being awarded a penalty would become the “defending team” with the opposition team getting the lineout throw, but today it is the team that won the penalty (and kicked to touch) that gets to throw the ball into the lineout.

5. In 1995, there was no command given by the referees when the teams set up to scrum, as is the case today. The players would quickly bind onto one another and almost fall into each other at scrum-time. Now, the players take their time to properly bind, to create a tight-fitting unit, and they engage after being told what to do by the referee. There have been various three- and four-step commands over the years, including the famous “crouch, touch, pause, engage,”

6. Some of the current-day laws that weren’t around at the 1995 World Cup in South Africa, include such rules as “entering through the gate”, that is from beyond the most hind legs of a player at a ruck, “staying on your feet” which means players may not go to ground to play the ball, and “tackler release” which is a command by the referee to the tackler to release the tackled player so he can play the ball, to make it a “fair contest”.

7. Twenty-five years ago, lineout jumpers weren’t allowed to be lifted by their team-mates to win a throw-in; they had to leap up on their own, making lineouts far more contestable than is the case in today’s game. Players can now be lifted to win and contest for the ball.

8. Interestingly, the restarts from the halfway line at the 1995 World Cup were from a place kick, whereas today players are permitted and encouraged to drop-kick when the game restarts.

9. A look back at the matches of the 1995 tournament reveals that the game has slowed down significantly in the sense that the players take their time at restarts, at scrums and lineouts and consider their options. Everything seemed a bit rushed and frantic 25 years ago.

10. And, finally, in 1995 the game was very much an amateur sport. Players would get a match fee or winner’s bonus in an envelope (or something like that); and big salaries and contracts weren’t the order of the day. Many players worked in the day, trained in the evenings and played on Saturday. After ’95 the game turned professional and big bucks were offered to players to represent certain unions and teams. It has changed the game significantly.


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