Law discussion: Collapsing a maul
In the first match of the B&I Lions tour of New Zealand, when they played the Provincial Barbarians, the Lions form a maul forward and move it forward till it falls to ground.
The referee is insistent that the Lions had brought the maul down, saying: "Taken down by Red, taken down by Red. Play on."
When the ball is unplayable, the referee stops the action and awards a scrum to the Provincial Barbarians. He justifies his decision not to penalise anybody by saying: "Taken down by Red 4. Not coming out. No Black player on the ground."
(Red 4 was Lions lock Alun Wyn Jones. "Black" refers to the Provincial Barbarians who are playing in black.)
"No player on the ground" is proof to the referee that the Provincial Barbarians did not collapse the maul. That makes sense as it's hard – perhaps impossible – to collapse a scrum or a maul and stay up off the ground.
The award of the scrum to the team that did not start the maul is correct.
Law 17.6 Unsuccessful end to a maul
(b) A maul ends unsuccessfully if the ball becomes unplayable or collapses (not as a result of foul play) and a scrum is ordered.
(c) Scrum following maul. The ball is thrown in by the team not in possession when the maul began. If the referee cannot decide which team had possession, the team moving forward before the maul stopped throws in the ball. If neither team was moving forward, the attacking team throws in the ball.
All of that makes sense but the part to be considered is "taken down by Red." The Lions started the maul, they collapsed the maul and so play goes on. But should it.
Law 10.4 (k) Players must not intentionally collapse a scrum, ruck or maul.
Sanction: Penalty kick
Players. Neither side has an exemption.
The law seems to include both teams in forbidding them to collapse a maul. and that makes sense, if the reason for forbidding the collapsing of a maul (or a scrum, or a ruck) is the safety of a player, then the danger exists regardless of who did it.
If the reason that it is yet another tedious stoppage to the even flow of the game, then, too, it does not matter who causes the stoppage. There is a stoppage, regardless of who did it, and that leads to a scrum.
It would seem that the team that collapses a maul is liable to be penalised regardless of whether it is the ball-carrying team or not.
There was a similar incident later in the same match.