What's the point of World Rugby's 'optional' law trials?

Check out this monstrous rugby stiff-arm from another dimension (0:21)

This rugby player applies a ferocious stiff-arm to the defender en route to a score. (0:21)

The trial laws unveiled by World Rugby on Thursday are a step in the right direction for both the game itself, and the welfare of players all over the world amid the coronavirus pandemic.

But the caveat that no Union is obliged to adopt any of the trial laws suggests that there will, effectively, be no longer term change, and Australian rugby, in particular will continue to suffer as a result.

The new laws have been designed to limit potential transmission of the coronavirus in the COVID-19 era, specifically by reducing the amount of time players are in close contact with each other.

That has resulted in changes to the way the scrums, rucks and mauls can be refereed, moves that "could reduce contact exposure for tight five players by more than 30 percent, reduce exposure at the ruck by up to 25 percent and reduce maul exposure by at least 50 percent."

In confirming the optional trial laws, recently re-elected World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont said: "World Rugby is committed to evidence-based injury and infection preventative measures and we are fortunate to have such strong, forward-thinking and effective medical and research structures that inform our approach.

"The health and wellbeing of the rugby family is paramount. We have extensively evaluated the perceived risk areas within the game. This has enabled an evidence-based assessment of risk areas and playing positions, which led us to develop temporary law amendments, complementing the extensive return-to-play guidance we published earlier this month. Unions can apply to implement one or more of these amendments on a domestic basis according to the respective government directives relating to COVID-19.

"I would like to thank everyone for their full commitment to this process which will aid safe return to rugby activities at all levels."

Beaumont's choice of "full commitment" is confusing.

The return of professional rugby will come first in New Zealand in a fortnight's time, when the county's Super Rugby Aotearoa competition kicks off. The tournament will run for 10 weeks and pit the nation's five Super Rugby sides against each other over a full home-and-away draw.

But there is already resistance from New Zealand Rugby to the trial laws, which is understandable given the country's low rates of coronavirus.

Meanwhile, according to The Guardian, England's Premiership will also not adopt any of the laws as it attempts to either finish its season, or start from scratch, later this year.

Rugby Australia is edging closer to announcing its Super Rugby AU competition and this week confirmed the involvement of the Western Force. The tournament will likely follow a similar format to the one being used in New Zealand, though the Sunwolves also remain an outside possibility of taking part.

A Rugby Australia spokersperson told ESPN the competition was likely to be finalised next week and that organisers were discussing "a couple" of the trial laws unveiled by World Rugby on Thursday.

The difference between Rugby Australia and New Zealand Rugby however, is the fact that the Australians had already flagged the use of trial laws before World Rugby made its move, in the hope of promoting more attacking rugby and reducing the amount of time wasted by scrum resets.

Australian rugby fans, in particular, have long bemoaned the time wasted by seemingly endless resets - which World Rugby data puts at an average of 3.5 per game and a further 1.3 scrum penalties per game - when valuable minutes are stripped from the clock and a penalty often eventually ensues after multiple collapses.

It would be a surprise not to see Rugby Australia adopt the free-kick trial law from a collapsed scrum, so too the law which removes the right of a scrum to be taken when a team is awarded a penalty or free kick. The four Australian Super Rugby coaches, who had been working with Rugby Australia's High Performance Manager Ben Whitaker, had also discussed the use of a scrum clock, which could help guard against time wasting.

Brumbies and Wallabies prop Scott Sio was one player to back the scrum clock plan.

And Rugby Australia on Thursday night got a first-hand look at how potential changes to the rules could make for a more entertaining product when the National Rugby League [NRL] restarted with one referee instead of two as well as the league's new "Six Again" rule, which basically stopped the game from grinding to a halt with a penalty.

Now no-one wants rugby to become rugby league - and the NRL is of course is in the fortunate position where any rule changes only have to be agreed upon by one country - but the speed of which the process of change unfolded, and its first test case, are the envy of any rugby fan hoping for a change of fortunes for the game in Australia.

The NRL will have its challenges, no doubt, while the "Six Again" rule will likely throw up a potential match-changing call at some point that will divide opinion. Canberra Raiders supporters are still talking about a decision from last year's Grand Final, for instance. But at the very least, the league has trialed a couple of new rules and is willing to give them a chance.

Conversely, rugby has made its trial laws optional. And with reports out of both New Zealand and England not even 24 hours later that their competitions have little interest in giving any of them a go, what hope that they will be adopted in the longer term? It will be, in fact, a complete waste of time and the laws will likely see even less daylight than the Experimental Laws Variations [ELVs] that were used for a period in 2008.

But rugby was in need of change before the coronavirus pandemic spread across the world, not least of which was the need to stop time wasting and to ensure the ball was in play for longer periods of time. That is no more evident than in Australia where the game continues to suffer, rugby's value as an entertainment product at is lowest ebb this century.

No-one expects World Rugby to change the game for the good of Australia, but they could have at least insisted on a compulsory trial period.

That would have been for the good of the global game.