From The Vaults

06 June 2022
The legality of subsitutions, 1924

On 12th December 1924, administrators of England, Wales, Scotland, New Zealand, New South Wales, South Africa and Ireland met at the Great Northern Hotel, Kings Cross London for the first 'Imperial Rugby Conference'.

In the Chair was Sir George Rowland Hill, aged 69. Item 13 referred to a proposal from Mr Wilson of New Zealand that substitutions be permitted in the event of injuries. In 1924 this was not within the rules and, indeed, remained outside of the rules until the 1968-69 season.

The following is a transcript of their discussion on this matter in 1924…

The Chairman - …we will take No. 13.

Mr. Wilson (New Zealand) - That is "Injured Players." The rules say that the game must be played by 15 players, and we in New Zealand do allow replacement for an injured player. After all, if a man is injured you are only playing 14 men, if you replace him then you are playing 15, you are not playing 16, you are not playing more than 15 players at any one time, we are only playing the game after all. Take the case of an injury. Take our last match against Wales. The skipper of the Welsh side was injured shortly after the start. Afterwards he was able to come on, half a crock. He was able to take part in the game. Undoubtedly the Welsh team was at a disadvantage. Apart from that a man gets an injury early in the game, he plays on when undoubtedly he should be in bed, purely and simply playing for his side. He knows if he is not there, or he thinks if he is not there, his side is going to be at a disadvantage. Perhaps that would be better for him. We can see no reason why, up to half time, a man who is injured during the game should not be replaced. We do not want the American system where a player is not playing well, we know it lends itself to a fellow who is not playing well lying down, but I do not know any British side that would do it. We would like you to consider that, gentlemen. We feel that it is in the interests of the men who are playing the game, and for the game itself. A player should be replaced say before the interval, with the consent of the opposing captain.

The Chairman - Before half time?

Mr. Wilson - Before half time. We will put a limit there. We have not got it here, but I think it would be best to limit it.

Mr. Dean (New Zealand) - The safeguard is that you must get the consent of the opposing captain. You have often seen a case where a man has been hurt early in the game, and his team is only playing 14 men through the game, you would rather play 15 men. We have played this rule for years in New Zealand and Australia, and we have never found it abused.

Mr. Lyne (Wales) - We have done it contrary to the rules in Newport last season, twice I believe, but the rules put the captain in an invidious position if you are going to leave it to him. The other side say: "May we have another man," or "May we play so-and-so" - it puts him in a very invidious position. We have rather ignored the rule without putting the captain in that position. They have come forward and said: "Have you got another man to play, if so, let him play." I do not think that our captains would like to be put in this position. If it is made a strict rule it must be brought into force.

Mr. Wilson - We are quite willing to drop the consent of the captain and, for instance, if a player is replaced a substitute must be placed in the position that he has vacated. That would safeguard you.

Mr. Lyne - No, it is a worse position from my point of view. As it is today you might get an unscrupulous side playing against you, and they might relieve and bring in fresh men, but where you are playing some teams you are perfectly certain they will never do anything of the sort. In that case I know my own club had done it I believe twice last season, ignoring and possibly breaking the rule, but I do not want a captain to be put in the awkward position of having to say that, still less would I like it that the other team had a right to put a man in.

Mr. Donne (England) - Another view to take is this: In some of our small clubs, of which there are many in the country, they can hardly make up 15 men to go away let alone take a reserve player. They are at once at a disadvantage because the home team can find a reserve on the spot, and they have not got any.

Mr. Wilson - I suppose the manager could always step into the breach.

Mr. Donne - They cannot run any managers.

The Chairman - Has anybody any other views?

Dr. Brown (New South Wales) - My Union does not put that forward. I am rather inclined to leave that out. There will be trouble and difficulty especially in bringing in a fresh man, for instance, a few minutes before half-time. He is practically fresh for the next half, twice as fresh as the men who have been playing for the whole game. It gives that side a distinct advantage. If that applies to two or three men it would give them a very decided advantage.

Mr. Dallas (Scotland) - Presumably he is not so good a man.

Dr. Brown - Quite, but it lends itself to all sorts of trickery which we want to avoid, and it does give a saviour of professionalism. That is a sort of professional idea.

Mr. Donne - I have discussed this matter with Mr Dean, Mr Chairman, and he assures me that so far as New Zealand is concerned the thing has not been abused in the slightest degree. I can only say I congratulate him most heartily on that, but I cannot hold out hopes even in this country, or even beyond the Tweed, that it would not be open to abuse.

Mr. Warren (Ireland) - That is not approved.

The Chairman - There does not seem to be general agreement on this.