VIDEOS: Law discussion - made-up laws?

Wed, 08 Nov 2017 10:04
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rugby365's law guru, Paul Dobson, takes a look at how referees make up the laws as they go along. This may ruffle a few feathers!

The laws of rugby football are drawn up by a consortium of wise men at World Rugby, which is a name change for the International Rugby Board, founded in 1886, for the express purpose of drawing up laws for the whole of the rugby union world.

But, it seems, that is not good enough for some.

The laws themselves proclaim that they are good enough. In the foreword to the laws they say: The Laws of the Game are complete and contain all that is necessary to enable the Game to be played correctly and fairly.

But, it seems, that this is not true.

The Laws Committee of World Rugby from time to time makes adjustments to the laws.

All of this, laws and adjustments, are written down and available in books and on the internet in several languages - English, French, Spanish, Afrikaans, Xhosa, Japanese, Chinese, Italian, Dutch, Romanian, Russian and Portuguese.

But, it seems, that is not enough.

Watch top rugby and you will see decisions made on the basis of some fabricated law - something not contained in World Rugby's "complete" laws.

Go painstakingly through the law book and you will not find a penalty for standing up in a scrum. There is a penalty for pushing up in the scrum, but not for standing up. There is nothing in the law that says that wheeling is illegal and yet we hear "Walking around" and "Earning the turn".

There are scrum things in the law book which you will seldom find on the field - foot-up, putting the ball in straight at a scrum and only three men in a team's front row.

But we are not going to talk about scrums, nor about knock-ons that aren't, where tries are awarded, where kick-offs are taken and where the kicker's team are when he kicks. None of those.

We want to talk about this new tackle thing - not what happens after a tackle as players dive in and bystanders are assaulted but what constitutes a tackle.

The "new thing" is this business of getting a knee on the ground when a ball-carrier is held up. The referee then calls "Tackle. Release." And if the opponents do not let go of the trapped ball-carrier, they are penalised.

It started in Sevens and seems most prevalent there. But is it right?

Law 15 A tackle occurs when the ball-carrier is held by one or more opponents and is brought to ground.

' ... is brought... '

That's passive voice. At a tackle, as envisaged by the law, the tackler does the bringing but in the case of a player held up the player himself fights to go to ground. He brings himself to ground. He is not brought to ground. In fact, his opponents are struggling to keep him up off the ground in the hope that the referee will give them the scrum. It is the antithesis of being brought to ground.

This new thing seems to be made-up law, not part of the Laws of the Game as drawn up and written down by World Rugby.

Sometimes a maul has actually formed before the referee is heard to say that it is a tackle. That may be because sound travels slower than light does. But it is also possible to see that a maul has been formed before the ball-carrier genuflects.

Law 17 DEFINITIONS
A maul begins when a player carrying the ball is held by one or more opponents, and one or more of the ball carrier’s team mates bind on the ball carrier. A maul, therefore, consists, when it begins, with at least three players, all on their feet; the ball carrier and one player from each team. All the players involved must be caught in or bound to the maul and must be on their feet and moving towards a goal line. Open play has ended.

It takes just three to make a maul - ball-carrier, the player grabbing him and a team-mate of the ball-carrier - all on their feet. Watch a "Tackle. Release." Most often the maul has started, and a started maul does not end because a knee is on the ground.

Law 17.5 Successful end to a maul
A maul ends successfully when :
the ball or a player with the ball leaves the maul
the ball is on the ground
the ball is on or over the goal line.

Law 17.6 Unsuccessful end to a maul
(a) A maul ends unsuccessfully if it remains stationary or has stopped moving forward for longer than 5 seconds and a scrum is ordered.
(b) A maul ends unsuccessfully if the ball becomes unplayable or collapses (not as a result of foul play) and a scrum is ordered.

A maul does not become a tackle!

In fact isn't the player forcing himself down in a maul guilty of collapsing the maul, even if he is the ball carrier? Just a thought.

1.

In this clip, Garth April of the Sharks runs and is caught and held up by Fabian Booysen (7) of the Golden Lions. Immediately Jacques Vermeulen (7) of the Sharks joins in. We have a maul! Booysen is entitled to rip the ball from April's grasp, regardless of where April and his knees are. But the referee penalises Booysen.

2.

The Golden Lions throw into a line-out five metres from the Cheetahs' goal-line. They do clever things and drive closer. The ball comes back to scrumhalf Ross Cronje who passes the Cyle Brink on his left. Brink drives at the line with two team-mates behind him and three Cheetahs trying to stop them. It clearly is a maul.

The Golden Lions move the maul to just short of the goal-line when it falls down. Then the referee calls: "Tackle now. Release."

But it was a maul. It should be allowed to continue till either the ball is out of the maul or the ball becomes unplayable.

The referees in these instances are doing what they have been told to do. But are they right in terms of the Laws of the Game which are complete.