Ask the Law Expert!

When is a maul over? What’s the definition of ‘latching’. Who gets the ball these days when it’s kicked out of the field of play?

This page is for all those tricky law questions that you always wanted to ask, but didn’t want to appear ignorant! Our resident Law Expert is on hand to give you guidance on anything that’s come up in one of your games, or that you’ve seen as a spectator or a TV viewer.

Below you’ll find some questions and their answers provided by the Law Expert, the most recent of which is first. If you have a burning question on any aspect of interpretation of the law, or think that you should have made a different decision, please complete the short form at the bottom, and we’ll try and help you out!

(April 2022) Question: can a defending team claim a ‘mark’ from an unsuccessful drop goal attempt (whether drop-kicked cleanly or accidentally ‘punted’)?

The Expert says: The Principle of Law 17 is for a player catching an opponent’s kick within the defending 22m area.  The only exceptions are that a Mark cannot be made from a kick off or a restart kick.  Therefore a Mark can be made in the defending 22m area from an open play punt, a PK from hand, a PK from the tee, a FK or an attempted drop goal.

A misconception over an attempted drop-goal may arise from the restriction on not being able to call a Mark from a kick off or a restart kick – which have to be drop kicks.

If the kick is caught behind the try line and therefore in the in-goal area, a Mark may not be claimed but the defender has the option to touch the ball down (restart under the Global Law Trials would be a Goal Line Dropout), to return the kick, or to run the ball out of defence.

(March 2022) Question: Dummy runners – used by some colt/senior sides with varying degrees of success (largely comical, ie so obvious they are dummies they seem rather pointless). These are used at the breakdowns before scrum half passes to attacking back line. Running straight seems fine but many run diagonally across the front of and close to the defending 10 and 12, ie intent is to obstruct view of defence. Penalise or not?

The Expert says: It is impossible to give a totally prescriptive answer to the scenario described above. One possible offence is offside (e.g. Law 10.1) should a dummy runner go beyond the breakdown where a team mate last played the ball. Another possible offence is obstruction (e.g. Law 9.2, Law 9.3). The referee has to decide whether an offence has been committed and if so whether it was material and affected play. Advantage can still be played from an offence that is material

(March 2022) Question: Which side of the scrum can the scrum half throw in from? The law allows the scrum half to throw in from either side. However, my reading is that once decided then it is set for the duration of the match. Recently a No. 9 wanted to throw in from his tight head side as he had a left footed hooker. When they changed hookers later on he wanted to throw in from the conventional loose lead side. His interpretation of the law was that he could decide at every scrum which side was best. Is he right?

The Expert says: Law 19.13 states that the scrum half chooses which side of the scrum to throw in the ball. Implicitly the scrum half will choose the side considered to be most favourable to his/her team. There is nothing in Law to suggest that this has to be the same for every scrum during the match. Therefore, should the scrum half choose a different side to throw in the ball during the same game, then he/she can do so. A referee may insist that once the scrum half has approached one side of the scrum with the ball in hand, that for that scrum the ball must be put in from that side in order to avoid wasting time by coming around to the other side. A dominant tight head prop may also give the side throwing into the scrum a reason for the throw to be on that side rather than the loose head side.

(March 2022) Question: In Age-Grade rugby, if a player is asked to be substituted by the referee for foul play (striking another player), can that player then be re-introduced to the game a minute later by the coach, without checking with the referee?

The Expert says: Hitting an opponent constitutes foul play (Law 9.12 refers). The Principle of Law 9 states “A player who commits foul play, must either be cautioned, temporarily suspended or sent off.” Foul play has to be sanctioned. Players need to understand the unacceptability of foul play. Even in Age Grade Rugby with rolling substitutions, replacements/interchanges can only be made whilst the ball is dead and with the referee’s permission (Law 3.6 refers). If a Referee requires that a player be removed in order to “calm down and reflect”, and has allowed his/her team to continue at full strength, then only the referee decides if and when that player may return. When advising the coach to substitute the player, the referee should inform the coach that the player can only return should the referee so allow.

(Feb 2022, updated March 2022) Question: Is ‘squeezeball’ legal or not?

The Expert says: ‘Squeezeball’ is the practice of a ball-carrier going to ground and passing the ball between their legs whilst assuming a ‘forward roll’ position (on all fours, head down, shoulders lower than hips). Squeezeball is not permitted in any age grade rugby where there are U18 players in a team (this includes Colts where some players may be U19). This is for safety reasons, as the stance taken up by the ball carrier makes the base of the head/top of the spine vulnerable to injury by an arriving opponent.

Law 14.7a stipulates that the tackled player must make the ball available immediately by releasing, passing or pushing the ball in any direction apart from forwards. Therefore, as long as the ball carrier is complying with this obligation, the method of doing so is not subject to restriction. If however the player delays passing the ball through their legs, they are contravening Law 14.7c (“lying on, over or near the ball to prevent opposition players from gaining possession”) and should be penalised.

This law was clarified as long ago as 2012 by World Rugby: a clarification video can be found here

(Update March 2021) Whilst RFU Regulation 15 Appendix 9 prohibits either players using or the coaching of “squeezeball”, it does not define the appropriate sanction. Initially issue a FK, but if the problem persists with the same team, escalate to a PK

Earlier ‘Ask the Expert Questions are archived here!

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