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Law discussion: The maul and tackle tactics

SPOTLIGHT: @rugby365com’s law guru Paul Dobson takes a look at the officiating during the Super Rugby Aotearoa Round Two match between Hurricanes and Crusaders.


It was a wet Sunday afternoon in Wellington’s midwinter with an inevitable wind blowing. There was also a big crowd and exciting rugby that got to 25-all with 15 minutes to play – 15 minutes in which the Crusaders scored two tries for a 39-25 victory.

The great South Island (Mainland?) side scored five tries to one. All six tries in the match were remarkable.

For the third Aotearoa match in a row, the penalty count was high at over 25. Inevitably there will be more querying of the number and not the effect. The best effect was the quick ball from tackles as players did their best to stay on their feet and make the ball quickly available. If they did not, they were consistently penalised, which was certainly no bad thing.

Of the 27 penalties in the match, 19 were tackle related – either in the tackle or offside. The others came from three scrums, a maul, not being 10m from a penalty, offside at a kick, obstruction and a dangerous tackle.

The scrums were not good. The worst was the first. It came after 23 minutes as a result of a knock-on. It was reset twice and then collapsed. The referee played advantage to give the Hurricanes a chance to score a try. When they failed to do so, he went back to the penalty, which Jackson Garden-Bachop goaled to make the score 12-9. The Crusaders kicked off fur and a half minutes after the scrum had been awarded. That is an expensive knock-on in time terms.

There is a bit of law that is worth thinking about.


It happens in the first half, 22 minutes into the match.

Richie Mo’unga of the Crusaders kicked high towards the touchline on his right. The Hurricanes fullback, Chase Tiatia, catches the ball and runs straight ahead. He is stopped by Braydon Ennor and Sevu Reece, who keep him up. Reece leaves but Vince Aso of the Hurricanes supports his man. There are three players involved – the ball-carrier, an opponent and a team-mate of the ball carrier. Jack Goodhue of the Crusaders and Reed Prinsep of the Hurricanes join in and the group is pushed forward. Tiatia’s knee touches the ground, Goodhue takes the ball from Tiatia and the referee penalises the Crusaders.

If we have faith in the laws of the game as written, this deserves examination because it has become a more frequent occurrence recently.

In dealing with it, we are going to look at definitions – just two.


Maul: A phase of play consisting of a ball-carrier and at least one player from each team, bound together and on their feet.
Tackle: The method of holding a ball-carrier and bringing that player to ground.

Let’s deal with the maul first. And the sequence of events is important, i.e. when Tiatia’s knee goes to ground.

Look at the involvement of three players – the ball-carrier (Tiatia), a Hurricane (Aso) and a Crusader (Ennor). If they are bound together and on their feet, we have a maul.

Sequence of Events

If Tiatia’s knee is on the ground before Aso joins in, there is no maul because the three players needed to form the maul are not on their feet.

If Tiatia’s knee is not on the ground when Aso joins in, we gave a maul. If we have a maul, the laws require it to be played out – come to its own end.

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. he 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.

None of those endings is a tackle. A maul does not turn into a tackle.

If there is a maul in this incident, there is no tackle and there is not going to be a tackle, regardless of what Tiatia does with hit knee.

Then the penalty is incorrect.

But what if Tiatia’s knee got to ground before Aso arrives, would that constitute a tackle, making the penalty decision a correct decision?

1. For a tackle to occur, the ball-carrier is held and brought to ground by one or more opponents.
2. Being brought to ground means that the ball-carrier is lying, sitting or has at least one knee on the ground or on another player who is on the ground.
3. Being held means that a tackler must continue holding the ball-carrier until the ball-carrier is on the ground.

Tiatia is the ball-carrier. The opponents are Ennor and Goodhue. Nothing that Ennor and Goodhue do suggests that they are trying to bring Tiatia to ground. In fact Ennor is clearly trying to keep Tiatia up off the ground.

If Tiatia forces his knee down to ground, he is doing it – not Ennor or Goodhue.

If this sort of situation is to be deemed a tackle or if it is deemed a desirable way of playing, then the wording of the law needs to change. As it stands now, what happened to Tiatia is not a tackle.

If this had ended as a scrum to the Crusaders because the ball had become unplayable, it could well be regarded as a just reward for the defence in its victory over the attack – Ennor who had beaten Tiatia.

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