Thu 20 Feb 2020 | 11:05

Law discussion: A maul and a scrum

Law discussion: A maul and a scrum
Thu 20 Feb 2020 | 11:05
Law discussion: A maul and a scrum

SPOTLIGHT: @rugby365com‘s law guru Paul Dobson looks at two incidents and reveals whether the referee got it wrong or right.


These two incidents touch on two fairly common occurrences that need closer investigation as they may at times be inaccurately/wrongly refereed.

Hurricanes vs Sharks

1. 53 minutes – maul first

All referees should watch this clip.

From a lineout, TJ Perenara of the Hurricanes chips ahead. Lukhanyo Am of the Sharks grabs the bouncing ball and is immediately grabbed by Ngani Laumape of the Hurricanes. Both stay upright. Others join in immediately – Vince Aso of the Hurricanes and Ox Nche of the Sharks. And others join in as well – Craig Burden and James Venter of the Sharks, and Scott Scrafton, Du Plessis Kirifi and Gareth Evans of the Hurricanes. With a great effort Am gets a knee down onto the ground. The group falls down and the referee awards a scrum to Hurricanes, saying that it had become a maul before Am got his knee to the ground.

The timing is important and so are the definitions.

Maul: A phase of play consisting of a ball-carrier and at least one player from each team, bound together and on their feet.

It takes only three players to make a maul. In this case there is Am of the Sharks, who is the ball carrier, Laumape of the Hurricanes and the first Shark to join in – Ox Nche. Now the laws that apply to a maul become relevant.


A maul stays a maul till it is over. It does not turn into anything else – a tackle or a ruck. It is a maul from start to finish.

How does it finish?

16. A maul ends and play continues when:
a. The ball or ball-carrier leaves the maul.
b. The ball is on the ground.
c. The ball is on or over the goal line.
17. A maul ends unsuccessfully when:
a. The ball becomes unplayable.
b. The maul collapses (not as a result of foul play).
c. The maul does not move towards a goal line for longer than five seconds and the ball does not emerge.
d. The ball-carrier goes to ground and the ball is not immediately available.
e. The ball is available to be played, the referee has called “use it” and it has not been played within five seconds of the call.
Sanction: Scrum.

Law 17.b applies to this maul. It fell down for an unsuccessful ending.


So the referee awards a scrum. Whose put-in?

Law 19.1
Infringement/stoppage: A maul that ends unsuccessfully.
Location of scrum: In the scrum zone at the point closest to where the maul ended.
Who throws in: The team not in possession at the start of the maul. If the referee cannot decide which team had possession, the team moving forward before the maul stopped. If neither team was moving forward, the attacking team.

What the referee decides here is correct. Too often the maul, forms and then the ball-carrier’s knee touches the ground and the referee decides that a tackle had happened.

2. 10 minutes: “Standing up”

TJ Perenara of the Hurricanes puts the ball into a scrum. The Hurricanes put pressure on the Sharks and shunt them back. The front rows start bulging and then Kerron van Vuuren, the Sharks hooker, breaks his head clear of the front row. After allowing for advantage the referee penalises Van Vuuren for “standing up.”.

Below we have penalties for forward infringements while a scrum is taking place. Standing up is not one of them.

Pushing up is an infringement, not pulling out.

It could never be made an infringement because, mostly, a front row player pulls his head out because of pressure on his neck which is potentially dangerous. You will find that in most cases like this the hooker has his chin on his chest and cannot breathe. To expect him to stay through the pain and danger is lunacy.

25. If a scrum collapses or if a player in the scrum is lifted or is forced upwards out of the scrum, the referee must blow the whistle immediately so that players stop pushing.

37. Dangerous play in a scrum includes:
a. A front-row charging against the opposition.
b. Pulling an opponent.
c. Intentionally lifting an opponent off their feet or forcing them upwards out of the scrum.
d. Intentionally collapsing a scrum.
e. Intentionally falling or kneeling.
Sanction: Penalty

This is an important point, too often wrongly refereed.

PV: 629