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 dead?

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!

(Nov 2021) Question: Time has elapsed in the first half, and a player is sent to the sin bin. The resultant penatly means that play continues for 3 further minutes before a stoppage allows the half time whistle to sound. Should that player return no earlier than 10 minutes after the start of the second half, or do the 3 minutes of ‘overtime’ count towards the sin bin duration?

The Expert says: You may remember this also turned up in the infamous ‘100 minute game’ (Wayne Barnes, France v Wales, 2017 Six Nations), where a French player was YC-ed on 80 minutes, but allowed to return before the match ended due to a string of penalties.

]When the scheduled duration of either half is reached, play continues until the ball next becomes dead (Law 5.7 refers) although neither half can end on a free kick or a penalty (Law 5.7b refers).

The YC clock runs simultaneously with the game time clock.  Even though play continues beyond the scheduled duration of either half due to the above, the game clock (and hence the YC clock) continues to run until that half is called over by the referee.

So in this scenario, even though time has expired, the half hasn’t ended and as play is continuing then the YC’d player is serving his/her sanction time. Any overtime therefore can be taken into account at the start of the second half: in this scenario the player would be allowed to return (at a suitable stoppage) after 7 minutes.

(Nov 2021) Question: If the attacking player goes over goal line but is held up by two tackling defenders and without the ball being grounded is bundled over dead ball line due to momentum and a short (5m) in-goal area what is the decision: a) 22-metre drop out; b) goal line drop out under the current law variations?

The Expert says: The Global Law Trial within Law 12 (Click here for current GLTs) shows only three possible specific sequences of play before the ball is made dead which lead to a restart via a goal line dropout.  For any other sequence of play leading to the ball being made dead beyond the dead ball line or either touch-in- goal lines, other existing laws define the restart.  In this case (which does not conform to any of the three stated scenarios), the decision is to award a 22m dropout.

(NOV 2021) Question: Under the current Global Law Trials (2021-22 season) when a goal-line dropout is taken and goes directly into touch without bouncing, does this result in a line out where the ball goes into touch for the non-kicking team or are they offered the option of a lineout or scrum on the kicking team’s 5m line?

The Expert says:

There is no difference in this scenario from a ‘normal’ 22m dropout. Law 12.13d explicitly answers this question and provides the non-kicking team with four options: (i) have the kick retaken; (ii) scrum; (iii) line out; (iv) quick throw. If opting for a scrum (option ii) or a line out (option iii) either will be on the kicking team’s 5m line. This scenario applies to all restart kicks (22, GLD, kick-off)

(SEPT 2021) Question: As I understand it, when the ball-carrier is tackled, s/he is allowed within his/her own momentum to roll over once in order to place the ball back towards their own side, but may not crab forward or roll more than one complete 360 on the floor (sanction: penalty)

Some sides (particularly younger) are being coached this year that any kind of roll over is illegal and liable to be penalised, and are then aggrieved when the referee allows the other side to do as above.

Law 14 is not explicit about this, but is there something elsewhere that I’ve missed?

The Expert says:

Within the Principle of Law 14 is the statement “The actions of players involved in the tackle must ensure a fair contest and allow the ball to be available for play immediately.”

Law 14.7 specifically states that

Tackled players must immediately:

a. Make the ball available so that play can continue by releasing, passing or pushing the ball in any direction except forward. They may place the ball in any direction.

b. Move away from the ball or get up.

c. Ensure that they do not lie on, over or near the ball to prevent opposition players from gaining possession of it.

Therefore, if a tackled player, having landed with his/her body between the ball and his/her team mates does so immediately, he/she can place the ball backwards over his/her body and achieve the same outcome as taking an extra roll and be compliant with both the Principle and specifics of the Law (14.7a refers). He/she has realised an opportunity more likely to maintain possession for his/her side.

However, if any unnecessary roll let alone an “extra” roll denies an opponent who has arrived legally from playing the ball, then the tackled player should be penalised. The tackled player has failed to comply with the specific obligations of Law 14.7b and 14.7c.

A referee may decide that an “extra” roll which has not prevented fair contest for the ball (because opponents haven’t arrived early enough) is immaterial and let play continue, but not every player and coach may see it that way and thereby perceive “inconsistency” in the referee’s game management when s/he’s penalised rolls that do prevent fair contest but not every roll. The referee then gives themself the problem of “selling” each such situation on its own specific merits.

If, however, the ball carrier has broken through the attempted tackle before going to ground, then he/she can actually just get up again with the ball as no tackle (i.e. held and brought to ground) has been completed and Law 14 does not apply.  Even then the player should not take any unnecessary roll as the game is to be played by players on their feet (Law 13 Players on the ground in open play refers).

(SEPT 2021) Question: Team A lineout throw to the middle, ball carrier catches cleanly, comes down, is surrounded by (and bound onto by) teammates. Crucially, Team B don’t jump or contest the lineout, back off completely and don’t engage or bind on any Team A players. Ball is in the middle of the ‘huddle’ of Team A players, which now advances towards the goal line unopposed. Is there any infringement? Are the bound Team A players (without the ball) technically offside and/or causing an obstruction? Team B are standing off and not engaging, so is that ‘their lookout’?

The Expert says:

This is often described as a “truck and trailer” scenario.

The Laws are constructed on the premise that both sides are expected to compete for the ball at various phases of play and teams cannot expect to “buy” a sanction by negative play (e.g. not competing as above) or in other circumstances holding in a tackler and preventing him/her moving away.

If Red “back off completely” (i.e. they leave the lineout before the referee has adjudged the lineout to be over) then they should be penalised (Law 18.38).

If Red remain in their original lineout positions but simply don’t engage on the catcher then as Red didn’t compete, if the ball was with any but the front player of the Yellow “huddle” the Referee should instruct Yellow to “use it” and they can choose one of three options:

· The ball carrier can peel off from the back

· The scrum half can take it off the ball carrier and pass it to another player

· The scrum half can take it off the ball carrier and carry it him/herself

All three options bring the ball back into play and Yellow doing so as instructed is constructive.

If the ball is with the front Yellow player, then Red has access to the ball carrier and no offence (obstruction) has been committed. However, if the Yellow team fail to “use it” as instructed and a Red player then engages with the front of the “huddle” he/she has been obstructed as they can’t get to the ball carrier. This is now a penalty offence by Yellow.

If a Red player is cute (or brave) enough and the ball is not with the front Yellow player, then the Red player can join straight onto the ball carrier as with nothing currently formed, there is no offside line. When the shouts from Yellow players and their Coach arise, the referee can say “Nothing formed!” or “no maul!”

A Red player who joins the front of the huddle not on the ball carrier hasn’t created a maul because the definition of a maul is a player from each team bound onto the ball carrier.

So, a referee can manage this situation without blowing his/her whistle providing the non-offending side uses the ball promptly when instructed to by the referee.

All rugby phases create obligations and/or opportunities for players. Players, Referees and Coaches must understand this. If Yellow fails to use the ball promptly and Red subsequently engages on a Yellow player other than the ball carrier, then Red has realised an opportunity because Yellow has failed to comply with an obligation

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