Consistently Inconsistent Refereeing - Green and Gold Rugby
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Consistently Inconsistent Refereeing

Consistently Inconsistent Refereeing

Refereeing is in the spotlight in the wake of South African referee Egon Seconds being stood down after a combined 31-3 penalty count in favour of the Lions against both the Rebels and the Waratahs. In other major sports such as soccer and cricket, referees and umpires aren’t really necessary for casual games, but what makes rugby unique is the sheer number of grey areas that are open to interpretation.

The headline of this article might indicate that I am going to tear some of these refereeing decisions apart. However, the adage goes that it’s a lot easier to make a call when you’re watching it on a 4k TV screen from 6 different angles in slow motion than it is to make a call when it’s happening right in front of you in real-time and an instant decision is necessary. World Rugby and SANZAAR are also responsible for the appointment of referees, and if referees are not up to scratch then they deserve a large portion of the blame.

Instead, I will be discussing three related areas of the law in which decisions have largely become consistent across referees, but which are inconsistent within themselves. Confused? That’s probably the fault of the FoxSports commentators. But just in case, let’s look at the first example.

Releasing the Ball After a Tackle

Law 14 states that a tackle occurs when a ball-carrier is held and brought to ground by one or more defenders such that they are lying, sitting, or have at least one knee on the ground. At this point, a ruck forms and the tackled player is required to immediately release the ball and the ball-carrier, while the ball-carrier is required to immediately make the ball available by placing it in any direction. This is most obvious when you hear a referee shout “tackle” or “release” once a tackled player’s knee has hit the ground, and the reason they do this is because if the ball-carrier is held but not brought to ground (and thus not tackled), a maul occurs rather than a ruck.

Additionally, Law 13 states that “the game is played only by players who are on their feet… A player on the ground without the ball is out of the game and must not play the ball.”

Richard Hardwick tackles Michel Wells watched by Karmichael Hunt Waratahs v Rebels 2019 (Credit Keith McInnes)

Does Wells release? (Credit Keith McInnes)

In the event of a loose ball in general play, the interaction of these rules theoretically means that a player diving on the ball will immediately be on the ground without having been tackled (due to not having been held and brought to ground by one or more defenders) and thus must not play the ball. In reality, these players are usually treated by referees as having been tackled even if a hand has not been laid on them, and are therefore given the opportunity to place the ball. Unfortunately, this creates a sort of rugby common law which has flow-on effects.

The sharpest among you will already be thinking of a similar event, altered slightly by circumstances where the loose ball is a few metres from the try line and the fullback is usually the player diving on it. Law 14 also states that “players on their feet and without the ball must not fall on or over players on the ground who have the ball or who are near it.” This law, in combination with the interpretation of the above law, has made it very safe for modern fullbacks to just dive on a dangerous loose ball and kill it. This is particularly the case since the timer for immediate placement of the ball by a tackled player is usually judged to begin only once the player’s momentum has ceased, and these dives often result in a lengthy slide over the grass. The chasing winger is unable to attempt a pilfer as the player on the ground is holding onto the ball, but they are very rarely pinged for this despite the rules requiring the fullback to make the ball available as soon as he grasps it.

This is similar to the issue created by a player being tackled and then released, but then getting back to their feet and going again. While this is occasionally penalised, you will just as often hear referees saying “not held” and allowing the ball-carrier to effectively have a second run. This goes completely against the rules, as the ball-carrier has been tackled and needs to make the ball available. Some intelligent players get around this by rapidly releasing the ball and picking it back up again in one movement, but the majority of the time this doesn’t occur and the result is wholly unfair to the defending team – they would have been penalised if they didn’t release the ball-carrier, after all.

This ties in to the other dubious tactic commonly employed by fullbacks, which is simply standing back up after diving on the ball. This is, of course, blatantly against the rules, but since the winger is not allowed to fall on the fullback some referees will rule that the fullback was not held and thus allowed to get back up – even though this goes against the common law created above (which equates a player diving on the ball to a tackled player who has the opportunity and the responsibility to make the ball available).

This is a consistent inconsistency. If the ball spills out of a ruck or a weak carry, the referee will treat the diving player as if they had been tackled. If the ball is deliberately kicked behind the defensive line, the referee will treat the diving player in the most favourable way possible: as if they had been tackled if the winger tries to tackle them, or as if they had not been tackled if the winger tries to pilfer the ball. The situations are not different according to the rules, but the human element that bridges the gap between the written words and their actual implementation has perceived them as different, and judges them as such.

Rolling Away at the Ruck

Almost every single law change made by World Rugby in recent years runs parallel with an obvious desire to make rugby a more entertaining spectator sport. There is a concurrent push for referees to take the side of the attacking team where possible, and many referees (particularly those hailing from France) nowadays prefer to primarily observe the defending team. There is some merit to this from a broader perspective, but there is a line that needs to be drawn to ensure that the game does not become farcical. The core mantra of rugby is that every facet of the game is a contest, and diluting this would significantly counteract the positive effects of making the professional game a more appealing spectacle.

The main issue here is that attacking and defending teams are adjudicated completely differently once the tackle has been made. As stated above, Law 14 requires the tackler to immediately release the ball and the ball-carrier, and the ball-carrier is similarly required to immediately make the ball available by placing it in any direction. This law also requires the tackled player to move away from the ball and ensure that they do not lie on, over, or near the ball to prevent opposition players from gaining possession of it.

How often have you seen this penalty awarded? Almost every Super Rugby match includes multiple penalties for the tackler not rolling away (usually because the attacking team has pinned them in the ruck to milk a penalty), but it is almost unheard of for the ball-carrier to be pinged for not rolling away despite the fact that they usually make nil effort to do so.

It is also rare for a penalty to be awarded for a supporting player not rolling away. As a result of this, penalties for not rolling away have become something that apply only to the defending team. Looking at a typical ruck in the modern game such as the one pictured below (from the recent match between the Reds and the Rebels, refereed by Angus Gardner), there are 3 attacking players and 1 defending player lying on the ground (the tackler, pinned by the attacking players), with only 1 player on their feet and dubiously onside. How is there supposed to be a contest at the ruck when it looks like this?

Typical Ruck Image 2

The World Rugby laws bring to mind the ideal “ruck” as being an improvised scrum, with the ball lying unhandled on the ground between the two sets of players trying to push each other off of it. And in fact, with tacklers being forced to roll away and Law 15 requiring arriving players to be on their feet, endeavour to remain on their feet, and move away from the ball if they end up on the ground, the only theoretical barrier to this becoming a reality is the tackled player continuing to lie on the ground in contravention of Law 14. Law 15 even includes the provisos that players involved in a ruck must have their heads and shoulders no lower than their hips (the same as required for the scrum under Law 19), and that a ruck may not be intentionally collapsed.

The reality is that every rugby player is required to roll away from the ball when on the ground, whether they be the ball-carrier, the tackler, or a player arriving at the ruck. Tacklers are often penalised for being pinned at the bottom of a ruck despite their best efforts, so intent is clearly not a factor, yet the tackled player almost never makes an attempt to get out and is never pinged. This is a consistent inconsistency, and one which removes the contest from the ruck. The only contest left at the ruck is to be the first man arriving and get your hands on it, and as this is one of the greyest areas in refereeing many teams are declining to attempt pilfers altogether as it is just as common for the penalty to go the other way. The current pushing contest is only ever won by defending teams in exceptional circumstances, usually when the attacking team fails to assign enough players to the ruck or when the ruck forms as the result of a kick chase and the chasing players arrive before the defenders. Both of these circumstances are rare in the modern game, and rely on mistakes or fatigue on the part of professional players.

Collapsing a Maul

Luke Jones lineout Waratahs v Rebels 2019 (Credit Keith McInnes)

Best to stop the maul before it is one (Credit Keith McInnes)

The third and perhaps most obvious consistent inconsistency occurs at the maul, which is when a ball-carrier and a defender are bound together and on their feet (as opposed to falling to ground and forming a ruck). There are two sorts of mauls, defensive, and offensive, and these are adjudicated completely differently despite both falling under Law 16 of the rulebook.

Offensive mauls usually occur off the back of a lineout, with the receiving player deliberately passing the ball backwards through bound players so that they cannot legally be brought to ground (as it is illegal to intentionally collapse a maul). At this point the maul is impossible to stop except by piling enough cumulative muscle mass in the opposite direction, or by “swimming” between players through the centre of the maul until the ball-carrier is within reach and then tackling them. A team that is skilled at offensive mauling, such as the Brumbies, will prevent both occurrences by setting the maul well in order to prevent swimming and to maximise the effectiveness of their cumulative muscle mass.

Defensive mauls have arisen more recently. They occur when a ball-carrier is held by a defender but deliberately not tackled by preventing their knee from hitting the ground. This results in either the players standing around until the referee blows the whistle, or more commonly an immediate collapse after the maul is called with the referee awarding the ball to the defending team. Neither is a good result for rugby.

If you were an avid reader of the rulebook but had never watched a game in your life, you would wonder why a tackler would want to hold up the ball-carrier. With an offensive maul, the attacking team has the opportunity to set the maul in such a way that it is virtually indefensible. Theoretically, the defensive maul could be used to push a team in possession backwards, but because there is no real opportunity to properly set the maul this is very uncommon.

Of course, the real reason is that once the maul collapses the ball is almost always awarded to the defending team. This is a result of Law 19, which has several “in the alternative” results.

It firstly states that if the ball is unplayable as the result of a maul collapsing, a scrum occurs with the ball in possession of the team not in possession at the start of the maul. Of course, if a ball-carrier is held up they will usually pass the ball in order to prevent a maul from forming, and as a result defensive mauls usually involve both the tackler and the original ball-carrier grabbing at the ball until the maul is called.

If this is the case, the scrum feed goes to the team which was moving forward before the maul collapsed. This is the justification most referees use to award possession to the defending team, even though many mauls do not move at all, and sometimes even move forward as players supporting the ball-carrier flood into the maul.

In the event that the maul was stationary, then the ball is awarded to the attacking team. Have you ever seen this occur?

For example, in the maul below, Michael Hooper is held up by the Sharks until the referee Nic Berry calls for a maul. The maul has absolutely 0 momentum and travels approximately 0 metres in either direction, but the scrum feed is handed to the Sharks anyway.

Michael Hooper Maul Image

 

There are two consistent inconsistencies here. The first is that deliberately collapsing a maul is illegal. Just because the defending player has successfully held the ball-carrier up doesn’t mean that they can then collapse it– however this is typically the case in practice. Conversely, if a defending team collapses an offensive maul, they will be penalised. There is no mention of offensive and defensive mauls in the rules, it is only the human middleman who perceives the difference and wrongly offers different judgments in legally comparable situations.

The second consistent inconsistency is that once a defensive maul has collapsed (legally or illegally), the scrum feed is usually awarded to the defending team even if they were not pushing the maul forward. The rules state that the scrum feed should go to the attacking team unless the defending team had managed to push the maul forward before it collapsed, but this is not the case in practice – except with offensive scrums, which are usually adjudicated far more closely to the rules.

Further Issues

World Rugby continues to make the sport more entertaining for spectators, and by rewriting the law book to make it far simpler and shorter at the start of last year they have shown that accessibility is recognised as being an issue. Yet when the sport described in the rulebook is different to that being broadcast to casual viewers, is this really being achieved? The current state of affairs creates a barrier to entry for prospective fans and frustrates older fans.

There are other negatives that occur as corollary from these consistent inconsistencies. The fact that the defensive maul can be used to turn over the ball means that ball-carriers are increasingly diving at the ground when they are about to enter contact. This kills the offloading game that Southern Hemisphere teams thrive on and spectators tend to find entertaining (in my experience).

The non-existence of the pushing contest at the ruck has meant that pilfering is the most effective way of winning defensive rucks, but the mechanics of a player having their head down and being slammed into at high speed have created a safety risk which have seen turnover aficionados like David Pocock and Sam Cane take long stints on the sidelines with serious neck injuries.

The fact that the ball receiver can kill the contest for the ball once he has dived on it has made kick chases very anti-climactic. We are often forced to watch chasers stand around idly, too afraid of being penalised to act.

Additionally, they introduce an element of unaccountability into the sport. We can criticise World Rugby’s laws and our national unions can push for changes to them, but these “common law” interpretations are made by referee associations and multi-national board executives without any official alterations in wording being disclosed to the public, thereby bypassing the established processes.

The consistent inconsistencies need to be stamped out, or if they are deemed to be desirable, enshrined in the written law of our game. It may be impossible to ensure that every refereeing decision is made correctly in the heat of a fast-paced game, but the least we can do is give them a consistent rulebook to base their decisions on.

  • Twoilms

    Mauls have been, are and will be the worst part of the game.

    Horrendous.

    • James Pettifer

      Especially as the refs seem to forget

      A maul ends unsuccessfully when
      c) The maul does not move towards a goal line for longer than five seconds and the ball does not emerge.

      • They’re allowed a chance to reset the maul now. You hear a good ref shout “that’s once,” the “use it” if the maul stops. Five seconds though… someone should put a stopwatch on it.

        • Cameron Rivett

          Actually that’s a separate rule. Rule 15: “. When a maul has stopped moving towards a goal line, it may restart moving towards a
          goal line providing it does so within five seconds. If it stops a second time but the ball is being moved and the referee can see it, the referee instructs the team to use the ball. The team in possession must then use the ball in a reasonable time.”

          James quotes rule 17c. I think the difference is the “the ball does not emerge” component of 17c, which means that rule 15 will apply when the ball has emerged (aka, being held at the back by the hooker) and 17c will apply when it has not (aka, being grapped for in the middle by both teams). Therefore, most offensive mauls will get the second chance while most defensive mauls won’t.

  • numpty

    Mauls created by keeping a tackled player up are not collapsed, the player with the ball is taken to ground/tackled, which is legal. If a player successfully swam through an attacking maul and tackled the player at the back with the ball, the defending team would be awarded the scrum. These outcomes are equivalent. Good article. Do one on the consistent inconsistency of cards! particularly professional fouls inside defensive 22’s. This drives me up the wall!

    • Cameron Rivett

      You’re right, I should have dealt with this more explicitly in my article. I declined to comment on it because it is difficult in terms of physics and because the article is long enough. The issue is whether or not the tackler is the one “collapsing” the maul, or whether it is collapsed by players later. This also doesn’t apply to situations where the maul never collapses. Additionally, often after an attacking maul is brought down with a successful swim to the carrier, the referee requires the tackler to roll away or otherwise gives the attacking team the ability to play the ball. This never occurs with defensive mauls.

      • numpty

        cheers for the response and fair play. I find it odd how quick refs blow the whistle on the ‘tackle hold ups’. As soon as it goes to ground it seems to go to the defensive team. What happened to a good 10 secs of rucking and mining by the 9 before calling it up…? On a side note, if a player gets held up in a tackle I think the attacking team often has an opportunity to drive the maul forward, defense never commits more than 2-3 blokes.

        • Cameron Rivett

          if a player gets held up in a tackle I think the attacking team often has an opportunity to drive the maul forward, defense never commits more than 2-3 blokes

          I am entirely in agreement, and sometimes this does occur and it results in refs standing around looking confused while they wait for the maul to stop so that they can blow their whistle and award it to the defensive team anyway. Very frustrating.

          As for giving the scrumhalf a chance to get the ball out, while I agree that this would be good for the game, the rules provide that the ball must become available immediately.

      • Who?

        Cameron, ‘swimming’ is when it’s up the side of the maul, if you’re through the middle, it’s not swimming.
        .
        If someone comes through the middle and manages to break the ball carrier free of the surrounding maul, then it’s possible a referee could rule that as a new tackle and require the player to roll away, but I don’t think that would be a correct interpretation. If you’re through the middle, it’s a continuation of the maul and an unsuccessful end to the maul, so the ball carrier should be sanctioned for failing to clear the ball and maintain possession.

        • Cameron Rivett

          Cameron, ‘swimming’ is when it’s up the side of the maul, if you’re through the middle, it’s not swimming.

          I have heard this said before but I didn’t have an alternative word. It’s not like it’s in the rulebook anyway, it’s more of a convention thing. And you’re right that it’s not technically a tackle, but as described above in my response to Who? the word was used in the descriptive sense rather than a legal one. I could probably have been clearer with both.

        • Who?

          Swimming as opposed to being ‘caught in the maul’. That’s the old wording. :-)
          .
          From the 2013 Laws:
          17.2 JOINING A MAUL
          (a) Players joining a maul must have their heads and shoulders no lower than their hips.
          Sanction: Free Kick
          (b) A player must be caught in or bound to the maul and not just alongside it.
          Sanction: Penalty kick
          (c) Placing a hand on another player in the maul does not constitute binding.
          Sanction: Penalty kick

  • Brumby Runner

    Some excellent points Cameron. It would be interesting to get a referee of reknown, past or present, to comment on each of those situations. There may be some obtuse reasons for some of those semming inconsistencies.

    Another area where referee adjudications seem to be inconsistent is in the tackle situation over the tryline where actions that would possibly earn a YC if they occurred in the field of play, especially in the 22m area.

    • Cameron Rivett

      I’d love to hear Angus Gardner in particular describe them. I have seen him describe other facets of the law (such as when they brought in the intentional knock-down penalties) and what the referees are looking for quite well.

      Yellow cards being ignored because a try is scored under advantage also annoys me, but yellow cards are just so inconsistent in general that they could warrant an article on their own!

    • I’m not a referee but I think one of them I can have a stab at. The laws around releasing the ball and diving on the ball have changed (many times) since I played and first watched, back in the 70’s.

      What fullbacks still do wasn’t exactly commonplace but was broadly legal. There’s a bit of laws written to actually protect the fullback/winger (it’s not written precisely like that, unlike laws to protect the scrum half at the base of the ruck or maul and around the scrum), about not tackling a player on the ground, interpreted to mean in open play, covering the kick, rather than diving on the ball that squirts out of the ruck/maul. As the laws in other places around the tackle and actions there have tightened up, that bit has remained in its archaic form.

      Why? Well, I’m not sure I subscribe to the mantra that every aspect of the game has to be a contest that we see and hear touted so much. If a pass is well executed, the opposition can’t challenge for it, how is that a contest? (Bad passes might get intercepted, yes, but that’s fairly uncommon.) If you kick and it’s poorly executed, they catch it under no pressure, again, no contest. A good kick-pass can certainly be uncontested, and could be even before the laws around tackling players in the air were tightened up. Scrums are rarely a true contest, nor are line outs. Even weak scrummaging sides and sides with a poor line out are routinely winning 75%+ often 85%+ of their ball. They may also be giving up a lot of penalties at scrum time, and blowing critical attacking chances, but winning over 3/4 or 8/10 of the put-ins barely qualifies as a contest. Mauls have always been hard to contest, and the vast majority of rucks go to the side taking the ball in, throughout my watching life – whoever the pilferer on the other side is.

      When you see a back-three player diving on the ball like that, it’s a reflection of a poorly executed kick. The chasing player is not in a position to truly contest for the ball (they can’t catch it or otherwise play at it), and the ball has not found touch. The kick was not truly terrible – otherwise the defender takes it while standing and does something smarter or more dangerous with it – but it was still bad. And, on top of that, it’s not dangerous. It’s usually done, not exactly with acres of space, but with a defender and maybe two attackers but more usually one, who can always stop and adjust, at least every time I’ve seen it. Why does a bad execution of skills deserve to be rewarded with a contest?

      Around a ruck, it’s a different matter, usually. You have a lot of big guys, who are all likely to dive on the ball, or on each other. Penalising for them play likely to injure each other is commonplace, rewarding them for play not likely to injure each, with possession of the ball in this case, smart call.

      • Cameron Rivett

        I think you make a good point, but I don’t necessarily agree with it. The idea that the fullback diving on the ball doesn’t need to be a contest just because “everything in rugby is a contest” doesn’t hold, though it would be better if the rules specified this situation (like they do for defensive mauls after catching a kick on the full, wherein the scrum feed goes to the receiver).

        What I don’t agree with is that this is warranted as punishment for a bad kick. You could just as easily say that deliberately diving on the ball in an established ruck to prevent the attacking team from getting the ball wide when they have an overlap is warranted as punishment for a bad cleanout. If the fullback stayed on his feet, then it would be a thrilling footrace as players decide whether to kick or grab for the ball, or to dive on it and then risk being turned over. Now it’s a no contest unless the opposition backs are totally out of position.

        In my view, the current state of affairs is worse for the game, and even if it were deemed to be necessary then it should be codified.

        • I can appreciate that as an alternative. I’m not sure I agree with your analysis of the outcomes. I think we’d see a lot of kicking the ball dead and more line outs – full backs tend to regard stopping the try being scored right now as one of their main functions after all.

          I don’t mind a line out, you can argue it’s better than the current situation, but I think if you have a smart chaser, the current situation isn’t terrible. The full back has to get to their feet. As soon as they’re off the floor, they can be tackled. By that time there may be another defender back there, there should be another speedy attacker or two. The attackers probably outnumber the defenders simply because the defenders have to turn around.

          Maybe all that is required is a tweak to the interpretation that requires the defending player in this situation to “play the ball immediately” in this case, by rising and returning to play immediately so they can be tackled. The possibility for backs rucking (usually fun) and causing turn overs and scoring tries still exists.

        • Cameron Rivett

          I would be happy with your tweak, mostly it is just frustrating that the fullback seems to spend an age on the ground before they play the ball or get up and it kills the excitement as the chaser can do very little until this occurs.

          I’m still not sure they should be getting up though. If the ball was loose in general play rather than a chase situation, and a prop dived on it and then stood back up despite opposing players being right over him, I am certain that the referee would award a penalty to the attacking team even though the same logic of that prop having essentially tripped would apply equally here.

        • I have certainly seen some cases where it’s given not a penalty. There may be one confounding issue though. If you’re within 1m of the breakdown, you’re “part of the ruck/maul” unless you’re the scrum-half. We see this crop up for clearing players out past the ruck and the like. So if a ball trickles out the side (rather than shoots out) and remains within a metre of the breakdown, do the refs then consider that as diving over the ball in the ruck and so sealing off? Which is a penalisable offence of course.

        • Who?

          Eloise, Quade Cooper was penalized for being halfway up the side of the ruck, not bound last week. He was ruled – correctly – offside. To be park of the ruck/maul, you do actually need to be bound to the ruck/maul or ‘caught’ in the maul.
          .
          If the ball squirts out the side, then the ball’s no longer part of that ruck. If the ball squirts out the side, a player can dive on it, but when challenged, they need to play/release it immediately. So they need to be supported as they dive forward.

        • You’re right, of course, but that’s a slightly different situation. Someone standing offside, the ref has a chance to look, see him, and think about it. Someone who has emerged from the wrong side of the ruck and is retreating, close to the ruck, would not be pinged unless they interfere with play for example (granted, they usually emerge and lurk behind the half-back precisely so they don’t get in the way). If the ball squirts out and someone dives, it’s all fast action. Referees are then making calls right there and then and all kinds of things are going through their minds.

        • Who?

          That would be a law change, Eloise – Law 13.1 (a) does not require a player off their feet to play the ball, but to immediately regain their feet. Or, 13.1 (b), Play (but not kick) the ball. Or, 13.1 (c), Release the ball.
          .
          Current interpretation is correct. If you’re not tackled or jackalled, you’re not required to release the ball when off your feet, you’re just required to get up immediately.

        • I think I phrased my intent badly, and didn’t actually know (from how I observe it being played, didn’t have time to check the laws) that they’re supposed to regain their feet immediately.

          I don’t mind the back three players, in space, diving on the ball. I do mind them taking half an hour, well a good 10-15 seconds anyway, lying there for their mates to get into a position to help them. If they’re haven’t been on their feet 5 seconds after they’ve gathered the ball (they can have been up, tackled and back to ground obviously) they should be pinged IMO. But apparently that’s just a tightening of interpretation of the current laws – so get to it refs!

        • Who?

          I do love these sorts of debates. The real issue with all these things is that it’s not really up to the refs to make the change. I mean, if I were reffing a game tomorrow, I could go and ref it how I see fit, but I’d get hauled over the coals for not doing things properly after complaints from the coaches.
          .
          Well, refs could (if they’re not) require a more rapid release than they currently do, but I think they’re pretty well on the law on kick returns (they don’t tend to allow any less time to release the ball at the tackle). That wouldn’t require a change in law or directions, but that’s an exception to the rule.
          .
          These days, initiatives to change how laws are interpreted and which laws will receive more focus are made by World Rugby, and issued to the national unions through Game Management Guidelines, issued at least annually. These are then refined locally, and must be followed.
          .
          The perfect example of all this is Xaviera pointing out the difficulties with rucking. We could, without changing a single law, or even a single word in the current laws, completely and comprehensively change the ruck contest. We could penalize people for entering the ruck with their heads lower than their hips. For hands on the ground. For driving before binding. We could penalize players for charging the ruck, for collapsing the ruck. We could require tackled players to roll as well as tacklers. If these things happened, then there’s a good chance that a ruck would actually look like an impromptu scrum, just as they used to look. But if we tried to do that in a single match, without any prior notice, we’d face a revolt.

        • I’m not seriously suggesting that one referee should take it on themselves to just say “I’m going to change how I ping that situation in this game,” I am saying that in a game where there an increasing emphasis on less “dead time” (play the ball faster from scrums, rucks, mauls etc.) this is an infrequent but lingering place where they could (and in my view should) also do something about players lying there too long.

        • Who?

          I didn’t think you meant a one off – I was just pointing out that it’s not even just a group, these days it seems to need to be a World Rugby directive. :-(
          And World Rugby isn’t stocked full of geniuses.

        • Ain’t that the truth.

  • GO THE Q REDS

    Now that is some heavy reading. What saddens me about every one of the scenarios you pose Cameron….. Is they know full well these things can and will be issues when these laws and revisions are discussed and made over time….. and it appears they are not proactive in making sure refs nullify them sufficiently! Our competition are the same no matter if they are played in SA or NZ. So they can’t use the ole its a tricky political balance.
    Also like to add with regards to Egon Seconds ……how bad does a referee on debut have to be to see action on the issue? Unbelievable! They simply cannot deny it looks like corruption….. whether it is or not…… and it’s always in SA!

  • Kiwi rugby lover

    Interesting piece Cameron. Unfortunately I don’t think it is as simple as what you are saying. I think what you are missing, and this isn’t meant as a complaint, more as a feel I have from 12 years of refereeing, is that the game is infinitely more complicated than what is often realised. For me the issue is that at every contact there is so much happening that the referee can rule on and because of this different referees will make different decisions depending on where they are and what they see. A person on the other side can often see a different picture and that makes it hard to then understand why a decision is made.

    I think the difference between a good referee and a not so good referee is that a good referee will be at the right place at the right time to make a ruling on the most important thing for the game at that time, and this changes during the game. Sometimes in a game something will be less important to the game at that time and so a referee will make a different decision. For example in one instance a player who is off side but isn’t actually affecting the play may be left alone, whereas at another time an offside player will affect how the other team plays because they are off side and so is pinged. Often from the sideline, on TV or from another position all people see is two players doing the same thing and one getting pointed while the other isn’t. It’s hard to see what the referee sees so often people don’t understand why the ruling is different.

    I don’t think there is as much inconsistency as what people believe, I think that people are not seeing the same picture and so don’t understand the ruling and I’m not sure there is an easy solution to this. At the same time, Egon Seconds was very poor and that sort of a performance makes things worse.

    • Cameron Rivett

      I agree with you entirely for literally everything you said. Letting inconsequential things go is part of rugby or else the game would never get moving (though I think there’s a case for cracking down on minor infringements over time in non-RWC years so that new players learn to be more careful and we can get a cleaner sport). However I think we’re talking about different things.

      You seem to be referring to a case where one referee rules similar situations differently, or maybe even when two referees do it. What I am in fact referring to is a case where the same situation is ruled uniformly by every referee, but then a different situation governed by the same rule occurs and is ruled differently – but still uniformly by every referee.

      • Kiwi rugby lover

        Yeah and a lot of that is where WR decides to to emphasise a way of interpreting things. Sometimes a country or even region makes similar rulings. We all tend to get trained the same way and a lot of the time we’ll discuss rulings and decide to apply things differently because of the way the game is evolving.
        I get that it’s hard to understand at times and I know I stuff it up sometimes

  • Who?

    Cameron, great article for discussion, the sort of thing I love to read. :-)
    .
    But of course, the second you post these sorts of things, there’s things to be challenged…
    .
    First off, you’ve said that when a player is tackled to ground, a ruck is formed. That’s not correct. If a player is tackled to ground, a tackle is made and an offside line forms, but a ruck isn’t formed until at least one player from each team on their feet come into contact ‘closing’ over the ball (i.e. a hand on the back of a rolling tackler doesn’t form a ruck). The formation of rucks and the timing of the formation of rucks is something that felt well policed in the past, and less so these days.
    .
    Next, the ‘common law’ around diving on the ball. You’re mostly right with this one. The exception is players who stand up after diving on the ball. The laws state that you’re not allowed to dive on a player on the ground. So, if a player dives on the ball, he’s required to place or release the ball if he’s challenged for the ball. As in, if someone attempts to take it from him. If no one does, it’s not like a tackle, it’s the same as someone who trips whilst stepping, isn’t tackled, and isn’t challenged for the ball. No tackle, no issue, get up and play on.
    .
    Your point about tackled players being required to roll is excellent, and is one I’ve raised previously. Every time I’ve previously raised it, people have refused to believe me. It ties to squeezeball, the legality of which was something with widely debated 20 years ago, and now happens at every ruck.
    .
    In fact, your next section is something else I’ve raised multiple times, though not as recently on here.
    .
    This does lead to jackalling being the only form of vague contest at the tackle (because it can’t happen when it becomes a ruck), which is now a major concern due to the fact that jackalling happens with the head lower than the hips 90% of the time (and, an equal concern for me, often occurs with hands and even elbows on the ground). The head being so low leads to increased likelihood of neck rolls and head and neck injuries. World Rugby is motivated to find a way to mitigate this danger, but the problem is that it is, as you rightly recognise, just about the only way to win possession at the tackle.
    .
    Mauling! You’ve noted that it’s legal to ‘swim’ through the middle of a maul and tackle the ball carrier. This is incorrect. It’s legal to come through the middle of the maul and hold the ball carrier, preventing the ball carrier from disposing of the ball, but it’s still not legal to take that ball carrier to ground. If the ball carrier chooses to go to ground – trying to get the ball to ground – you’re legal to lie all over the ball and carrier, but there’s no permission to sack the ball carrier to ground. If the ball carrier’s gone to ground then not being able to immediately present the ball (regardless of excuses like being buried by a tackler) is sanctioned – sanctioned – by a scrum (feed to the other team).
    In practice, it’s a lot harder to determine who went to ground if a ball carrier has a legal maul defender holding them, so defenders taking the ball carrier to ground are less likely to be penalized than those who collapse at the front or sides of the maul. Further, by the time someone’s come through the maul, they may well be able to get that player disengaged from the maul, at which point they can sack the carrier to ground. That is the only time when a referee may consider asking a player to roll away, but even that’s not guaranteed, as it’s an unsuccessful end to a maul, not the creation of a new tackle contest.
    .
    In terms of choke tackles that form defensive mauls, I would argue that there’s no question as to who took the ball into contact. The attacking team did – which is why they got tackled! Defenders don’t grab at the ball, but rather prevent the ball carrier from giving up possession. Let’s be honest, if the defenders in a choke tackle could strip the ball, they’d do that and spread the ball quickly. The best choke tackles start with a player tackling driving up from under the ball, and another player coming over the top to ‘bear hug’ the ball carrier, the maul forming when a team mate comes in to assist (Jack Dempsey is a regular offender here, he often goes in to support his team mates when they’re already looking likely to get to ground). I honestly can’t remember the last time I saw a maul form where I couldn’t tell who’d taken the ball into the maul.
    .
    Again, the end of mauls that aren’t penalties are generally adjudged under Law 16, they don’t go to Law 19. Law 16 sanctions the team in possession at the formation of a maul (except in the event it happens directly off a kick in open play) for not clearing the ball – that’s law 16.17, (a) through (e). Generally, the lower the number of the law, the more likely it is to be used, so Law 16 is more likely to be applied than Law 19.
    .
    In your example where Hooper was (again) held up by a Saffa pack, he’s sanctioned for failing to get the ball clear of the maul. Shorks ball. Easy! Did the Shorks collapse the maul? No. They allowed Hooper to collapse it, he’d been trying to get to ground (as he should have done before his team mates joined contact and created the maul), so they just let him. Once team mates join, they should IMMEDIATELY be looking to keep the maul up, split off the defenders, and drive past the ball carrier, to get that ball out the back.
    .
    The only time the team going forward is awarded a scrum after a maul is when you can’t tell who took the ball into contact. That’s extraordinarily rare.
    .
    .
    So, to summarize…
    – Kick chases – not a big deal. In fact, the bigger issue is the consistent lack of a kick chase by Australia sides!
    – Maul – it’s fine. It’s actually being adjudicated accurately more often than note. Much better now than most of the last 15 years.
    – Ruck. It’s a disaster. Nick Bishop wrote an article last week about it, there was some fantastic debate after it, I wrote half a thesis in the comments…… Generally, I agree with you, but my comments go a bit further (I’ve been pondering this issue for a good while).
    .
    You’ve noted World Rugby fiddling with the laws. This is a MAJOR issue in our game. The laws are fine – they’re great! Not one change they’ve made in LAW since the implementation of the new Scrum Engagement Sequence in 2013 (which wasn’t as well implemented by referees and the IRB as it was written) has been anything like necessary or positive. I’m ok to concede changes to Game Management in terms of cards for high tackles (though they were initially implemented without any form of compassion, almost as poorly as the deliberate knock down automatic YC), but nothing in LAW – a change to the Laws, not the Game Management Guidelines (which are issued to the referees every year), has been positive since 2014. In fact, beyond the Scrum change in 2013 (and even that was mainly Game Management Guidelines changes), it’s hard to think of a clearly positive change to the laws this century!
    .
    Great article, great opportunity to debate. :-)

    • Cameron Rivett

      You are correct about rucks not forming until a player from each team has arrived. Your interpretation is closer to the rules, which state that it’s when two players are in contact on their feet over the ball. It’s mostly beside the point I raise though so I didn’t delve into all the grey areas around the ruck.

      The way you describe the fullback diving on the loose ball not being held being similar to a player tripping but not having to release the ball is exactly the sort of concern I am trying to point out. Theoretically, the player who trips has to release the ball and pick it back up again. The reason he doesn’t is because, like Kiwi rugby lover says below, good referees let inconsequential things go, and not because the rules don’t require them to release the ball.

      You are also correct about it not being legal to “tackle” the ball-carrier after swimming legally through the centre of a ruck. I should have been clearer with my wording here given that this is essentially a legal article, but I don’t think it affects the point as this is still what usually results in the end of the maul as Rule 17 provides that if a ball does not emerge (eg, if a swimming player has their hands on it) and the maul loses momentum, the maul ends. And like you say, in practice it’s hard to say how the maul went to ground once the ball-carrier is in contact with the opposition.

      In terms of choke tackles that form defensive mauls, I would argue that there’s no question as to who took the ball into contact. The attacking team did – which is why they got tackled!

      This doesn’t mean that they had possession at the start of the maul though. They had possession at the start of the tackle (though it’s not technically a tackle and more of a grapple), but by the time the tackle turned into a maul both teams had possession. Just because they’re not able to get possession themselves doesn’t meant that the attacking team has sole possession. I don’t necessarily disagree with you despite this argument, but referees seem to and in this case they at least have some leg to stand on. A lot of your subsequent comments require a team to have clearly taken the ball into the maul, but I don’t think referees are seeing this as the case because their verbal explanation for awarding the ball to the defending team is “blue team going forward,” which is a ruling that applies if it is not clear which team took the ball into the maul.

      With regards to your summaries, I think that kick chases can be a big deal due to them often being within inches of the try line, it’s just that contestable kicks that aren’t high bombs are rare at the moment. To summary why I don’t think the maul is fine, I basically just think that defensive mauls should still result in a pushing contest (though you could argue that the players are at fault here just as much as the referees). I did read Nicholas Bishop’s article regarding the ruck and he goes further than I do – and I think there is still further to go. Baby steps, I guess.

      I generally agree that law changes have a negative effect, and the benefit of the doubt when discussing their implementation should go with the status quo. It can take years for the ramifications of a rule change to be fully understood, and – like Mr Bishop says in his more recent article about James Johnston and the scrum law changes – it can change the game in a way that destroys the careers of established athletes. I would prefer if they would focus on the correct implementation of the laws rather than fiddling with them all the time.

      • NickAJW

        Didn’t they change the ruck laws so that a ruck can technically be formed by players from only one team after Italy embarrassed England a few years back? I think the RFU cried so hard about it because they were left red-faced so the rule was changed.

        Not a referee though, so might be wrong on this!

        • Who?

          They did, but then they changed it back, whilst still making the completion of a tackle the time for the creation of offside lines.

      • Who?

        Ruck laws – they’ve re-written the way they’re defined. And the change is anathema to me. The old wording – up to 2016 was:
        “A ruck is a phase of play where one or more players from each team, who are on their feet, in physical contact, close around the ball on the ground. Open play has ended.”
        That’s copied directly from the 2013 IRB Laws. I like the phrasing “Close around the ball” – in this case, ‘close’ is a verb, as in, to approach the ball from different sides. It means that someone with a hand on someone over the ball who isn’t bound or looking to ‘close’ over the ball doesn’t form a ruck, and crucially isn’t onside.
        That fact led to some heated debates over whether Poite was correct in not calling rucks formed when the Italian backs were sticking a hand on Pommy forwards over the ball during that game. But they weren’t closing on the ball, they weren’t binding, they weren’t part of a ruck.
        And crucially not part of a ruck, as Quade Cooper was – correctly – penalized for being offside against the Reds when he’d been halfway up the side of a ruck with a hand stuck on a player who was guarding the Reds’ breakdown. Gardner correctly deemed him not to be in the breakdown (and he wouldn’t have been sufficient to form a ruck).
        .
        These sorts of changes are why I HATE World Rugby messing with the laws. They were beautifully written, written by lawyers and with space for interpretation.
        .
        .
        Players diving on kicks – this area, again, has been significantly and needlessly re-written. The ruck used to be Law 16! They’ve renamed Law 14 – Ball on the Ground – no tackle – to Law 13, Players on the Ground in Open Play. They’ve cut Law 7, Mode of Play, which was basically a list of definitions.
        You’ve actually missed Law 13.1(a). Players who go to ground must immediately:
        (a) Get up with the ball.
        If a player is off his feet with the ball and isn’t contested – i.e. no one comes over to jackal – he isn’t required to release the ball. It’s pretty clear – it’s a separate law. He’s not been tackled, he’s not entered a contact zone, so there’s no penalty to pay for entering contact (an important concept when understanding the maul, as I had it explained to me by some older blokes). The penalty for being tackled being that, in order to play on, one must release the ball and regain one’s feet before grabbing it again (as opposed to just ‘immediately getting up with the ball’).
        .
        This also applies to the player who trips whilst holding the ball but isn’t tackled or contested. He’s not required to release the ball. It’s law 13.1 (a).
        .
        .
        With players in defensively-instigated mauls and possession, the concept that must be remembered is that if you choose to take the ball into contact, you must earn the possession. If you’ve carried it into the tackle (I know, not a technical tackle), it doesn’t matter who has possession after that. Beyond that, if the instigating ball carrier takes the ball in and a maul forms, it’s generally because he’s retained possession long enough for that to happen. If it gets stripped before a maul forms, you generally see the ball come free pretty quickly, to take advantage of the turnover ball (which is more valuable than the scrum).
        .
        I can’t remember the last time in Super Rugby where I’ve seen a clear call of a maul (because referees, mostly, tend to call mauls in generally play) go to the team moving forward. It’s much more common to see a failed ruck ruled, “Blue team going forward,” than a maul. Generally, it’s pretty clear – whoever took it in, if they fail to get it back out, they are sanctioned for that offence (failing to clear the ball from contact, the same as not releasing in a ruck) with a scrum feed to the other team.
        .
        In terms of the lack of a pushing contest in defensive mauls, I hear what you’re saying, but I blame the attacking teams for that. The issue is that it’s generally a one-out runner who gets held up, gets himself into a horrible position desperately trying to get a knee down (unsuccessfully), has a team mate create the maul too late for the ball carrier to contribute much if any drive, and the ball carrier takes the ball to ground naturally by the way he’s ‘released’ to ground by the defenders. The defenders can’t just drop the maul when it’s created, they’ve got to show they haven’t illegally collapsed it. And some defensive mauls can turn into pushing contests – there was one last weekend (I think Rebels/Reds) where the ball was clearly going to be trapped up, but the attacking team realized and decided they’d better put in and at least grab some territory before the turnover. They made at least 15m before it collapsed and the defenders were (correctly) awarded the scrum (because the team in possession couldn’t clear the ball immediately). Have you watched the clips they use to illustrate these in the Laws app..?
        .
        .
        Mr Bishop’s article was interesting, too. Did you see my comments in there…? I noted the requirement for the tackled player to roll.
        .
        Completely agree with your last line. It’s why I think the scrum engagement sequence was a good change. Because it didn’t require law changes, it just required more accurate and arguably traditional interpretations and focuses on the scrum laws. No pushing until the ball’s in, because the scrum doesn’t start until the ball’s in (which was the biggest failing in the first 4 months of it’s implementation at international level). Focus on stability and binding, require a straight feed (which became impossible due to the removal of the ref’s call for the feed – though, the way they’re allowing scrumhalves to sit and not feed ‘without delay’ (the 2013 wording), which means the 9’s and hookers can control the timing of the shove, there’s less reason not to penalized crooked feeds), it’s not changes in law, only in the Game Management Guidelines.

        • Cameron Rivett

          You’ve actually missed Law 13.1(a). Players who go to ground must immediately: (a) Get up with the ball.

          You are absolutely correct. My comment above regarding a player falling over in general play was ignorant of this rule. However, you say that this can occur when the ball isn’t contested, but the law is as above – the player can always get up as long as they haven’t been tackled. The fullback can dive on the ball, the chasing winger can lean over them for a pilfer, and then the fullback can just get back up again and never release the ball leaving the winger in a bad position to make the tackle because of his pilfer attempt. The winger really has no choice but to stand there and wait for the fullback to get up just to bring him to ground again so that he can (after releasing) finally attempt the pilfer properly.

          The defenders can’t just drop the maul when it’s created, they’ve got to show they haven’t illegally collapsed it.

          I don’t see much evidence this is being adjudicated in the current game. Your Reds v Rebels maul example was in the forefront of my mind when writing this article, with the team going forward significantly still not receiving the scrum feed. In my view, if both teams have hands on the ball when the maul is called, then it is not clear who carried it into the maul. I understand that your view is that the player who carried it into contact had it, but that occurred well before the maul became a reality.

          You clearly have a wealth of knowledge regarding the rules and I have learnt some of it from talking with you here. Thanks.

        • Who?

          The fullback can dive on the ball, the chasing winger can lean over them for a pilfer, and then the fullback can just get back up again and never release the ball leaving the winger in a bad position to make the tackle because of his pilfer attempt.

          If the winger attempts to jackal, the player on the ground must play/release the ball – the option to stand up is gone. That’s not explicitly written, but this has been clear refereeing practice for years. Because it’s pretty clear if someone’s jackalling, there’s now a contact zone and a gate, so there’s a requirement to release to play on.
          .

          In my view, if both teams have hands on the ball when the maul is called, then it is not clear who carried it into the maul.

          It was pretty clear who took that ball into contact, and if you can’t clear the ball from contact, you pay the penalty (loss of possession).
          In terms of possession, my point still stands – players who are tackling and manage to strip the ball will move it on (the person stripping the ball is generally in a better situation to move the ball on than the tackled player), if they win clear possession. If they don’t win clear possession, then the tackled player still has it, rather than both. This is similar to the way that strip tackles that fall into rucks have been ruled – if a tackler is trying to strip the ball, contesting possession, but they go to ground, then they will generally be told to release (tackler release) so the tackled player can play the ball (though they can then attempt to win the ball, if on their feet and no ruck has formed). If the tackled player feels he’s being mauled, he may look to get rid of possession, but preventing someone from conceding possession isn’t the same as being in possession of the ball.
          .
          Another way to look at contested possession may be to ask, if the ball went to ground, who would be ruled to have knocked it on (or back)? If the ball comes free from that Reds/Rebels maul at the time it becomes a maul (or even after), and goes towards the Reds, even though you’re saying Rebel hands were on it (I can’t find a replay, sadly), I believe it would’ve been called knocked back by Red, play on. It wouldn’t have been called knock on Rebels as long as it was contested possession (i.e. wrestling, not including a punched strip where a hand clearly knocks the ball free from grasp – that’s a knock on).
          .
          Perhaps this is one area that could be clearly re-phrased (very rare for me to advocate changing even phrasing of the laws) – to say that the team not in possession when contact is initiated feeds the scrum, as opposed to the team not in possession when the maul is formed. Especially given there’s a longstanding reluctance from refs to call the maul at the moment it forms. It’s far from uncommon for refs to wait until there’s two or three attacking players trying to drive the maul before they call a choke tackle as a maul.
          The only reason the ruck is adjudicated differently is that it’s quite possible to get a pile of bodies over the ball that can’t be cleared when the ball is on the ground. When the ball is off the ground, there’s no excuse for going to ground and being unable to recycle possession.
          .
          These sorts of articles are fun, and I look forward to more of them. I’m guessing they may not get the views that the daily news gets, but they are fantastic for our collective understanding of the game. :-)

        • Cameron Rivett

          If the winger attempts to jackal, the player on the ground must play/release the ball – the option to stand up is gone. That’s not explicitly written, but this has been clear refereeing practice for years.

          I’m not sure this has been consistently applied, but at least we are on the same page here.

          This is similar to the way that strip tackles that fall into rucks have been ruled – if a tackler is trying to strip the ball, contesting possession, but they go to ground, then they will generally be told to release

          You have absolutely demolished me here. I’d edit the article but I think this logic would require its removal instead. I guess my issue here is that I do not irregularly hear refs say “blue team going forward” when they award the scrum to red team, but that is less of a consistent inconsistency and more of a grey area. Like you say, things could be phrased better in the rules.

          These sorts of articles are fun, and I look forward to more of them. I’m guessing they may not get the views that the daily news gets, but they are fantastic for our collective understanding of the game.

          I have learned a lot from the discussion down here and I think it is more valuable than the article at the top. I hope that people coming to this page read the discussion that has ensued to develop their understanding as I have.

        • Who?

          Honestly Cameron, it’s the fact that Nick Bishop engages in the conversations on his articles that makes them brilliant, too. The conversations there also add massively to the (already significant) value of the article.
          .
          We can disagree about how we see the game, but that’s half the fun of it. Keep the articles coming – I appreciate them. :-)

        • Cameron Rivett

          If the winger attempts to jackal, the player on the ground must play/release the ball – the option to stand up is gone. That’s not explicitly written, but this has been clear refereeing practice for years.

          I’m not sure this has been consistently applied, but at least we are on the same page here.

          This is similar to the way that strip tackles that fall into rucks have been ruled – if a tackler is trying to strip the ball, contesting possession, but they go to ground, then they will generally be told to release

          You have absolutely demolished me here. I’d edit the article but I think this logic would require its removal instead. I guess my issue here is that I do not irregularly hear refs say “blue team going forward” when they award the scrum to red team, but that is less of a consistent inconsistency and more of a grey area. Like you say, things could be phrased better in the rules.

          These sorts of articles are fun, and I look forward to more of them. I’m guessing they may not get the views that the daily news gets, but they are fantastic for our collective understanding of the game.

          I have learned a lot from the discussion down here and I think it is more valuable than the article at the top. I hope that people coming to this page read the discussion that has ensued to develop their understanding as I have.

  • Xaviera

    Cameron

    Good on you for having a go at this. Refereeing is a constant discussion point in rugby circles, not without reason. It’s a complex game, with many nuances and subtleties and it is forever evolving.

    Now, putting on my referee hat (I am a current, active referee, who this year alone has covered everything from low grade U12s through to international matches), a few quick points:
    * Definitions. Be worth having another look. You use tackle/ruck/maul loosely and interchangeably, and tie yourself in knots. Get some clarity around these and you’ll be more comfortable with what you are watching and discussing;
    * Game Management Guidelines. Get a hold of RA’s 2019 version. It’s nine pages, including the cover page, and is co-authored by a number of elite referees (Gus included), and the relevant Education Officers in rugby in Australia. It should help you further. It’s a publicly available document;
    * Law 13. It’s short – less than a page. Re-read it and then review your thesis;
    * Unplayable maul (Law 16.17 a-e). A scrum is awarded and the team who did NOT take the ball into the maul has the scrum feed. Nothing to do with attacking or defending, the team last moving forward, or not;
    * Counter-rucks. VERY common. Once the ruck has formed and the jackal opportunity disappears, the ruck becomes a pushing contest, as well as a tactical one. How many players to have in the ruck? Is there a benefit in a counter-ruck? A great way to disrupt opposition ball – sometimes bad ball is worse than no ball; and
    * Rolling away. Complex. So much so that it requires a degree of pragmatism and EQ from the referee to make it work. “Clear & obvious” and “material effect” are common phrases used to assist in referee decision making in these case. Lots of shades of grey, to your point.

    Two final points:
    * Once someone becomes a referee, you never see a game of rugby the same way again. Most of the time, this is a good thing, but it changes one’s viewing prism completely; and
    * Egon Seconds (or Thirds, or Fourths, or last, or something) is clearly a product of South Africa’s quota system. He’s an ex-player who has been fast-tracked, and he’s clearly not ready. Probably the wackiest referee at “elite” level at the moment, although for how long, who knows? RSA is full of politics we can’t even begin to understand, and one of the reasons Rasta spent some time refereeing in Australia.

    • Who?

      I loved reffing, when I could… I can’t commit to the travel required locally to do it (or time away from family, etc). :-(
      Agree with your points. :-)

    • Cameron Rivett

      It’s true that I use the word tackle to describe contact without necessarily being brought to ground (not strictly legally correct) and I did the same thing with the ruck on one occasion I think.

      The game management guidelines are not internationally applicable as far as I’m aware so I didn’t use them on purpose.

      Who? has already pointed out that law 13 has an impact on the loose ball scenario, and I thank you for also bringing it to my attention.

      In my view, the ball was not taken into the maul by anyone if both teams have hands on it. Typically in the period before the maul, the tackler (sorry, the defender) and the ball-carrier are both fighting over possession of the ball. Therefore the ball should go to the team going forward.

      Not sure what you’re saying about counter-rucking. Yes technically the ruck as a pushing contest exists but it’s incredibly difficult because defensive rucks (sorry, defensive “pre-rucks” I guess) are usually set in a way that pushes the boundaries of the rules to make it illegal to contest.

      Rolling away is complex, and like you say there are guidelines referees use for making this determination, but the ball-carrier is still never required to roll away in any modern game I’ve seen.

      I was briefly a referee and I can’t really say it’s changed how I’ve seen the game. Maybe it’s because I’m a lawyer so I was already looking at rules and adjudication from a process of fairness. Maybe I haven’t carried that into the new rules because I refereed under the old ones. Thanks for your thoughts!

  • Keith Butler

    Just watched the perfect example of law 14. Canes v Jaguares. Canes prop is tackled, both knees on the ground, he is released but does not release the ball and proceeds to crawl 1 or 2 metres. Should have been penalised but wasn’t. We see this time and time again but no sanction. Don’t get me started on the ruck.

    • Who?

      Kiwis do it every ruck. We do it a bit, but we’re more likely to roll.

Analysis

Somehow still a Wallabies fan. Enjoys brainstorming ideas on how to fix Australian rugby. Waratahs/North Sydney/Country Eagles supporter. Ex-Kiwi with just a touch of love left for the Highlanders and Otago.

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