What the Ruck? A look at the new ruck laws

Published on: July 23, 2017

Filled Under: Analysis

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World Rugby has announced new laws which will come into effect for the Northern Hemisphere on August 1st 2017. These new laws make major changes around the breakdown, mostly it seems in an attempt to get cleaner ball in attack. The changes at the ruck don’t really affect the attacking team but have an important impact on defence.

  • The tackler has to enter through the gate like any other defensive player.
  • A ruck is formed by simple presence of an attacker. This nullifies the Italian style “refusal” to ruck. I’ve written a piece on this a few months back.
  • Players may no longer kick the ball forward out of rucks: one fewer weapon for the breakdown disrupters.

15.4 (c) – The tackler must get up before playing the ball and then can only play from their own side of the tackle “gate”.
Law 16 – A ruck commences when at least one player is on their feet and over the ball which is on the ground (tackled player, tackler). At this point the offside lines are created. Players on their feet may use their hands to pick up the ball as long as this is immediate. As soon as an opposition player arrives, no hands can be used.
Law 16.4 – A player must not kick the ball out of a ruck. The player can only hook it in a backwards motion.

The question I’m asking here is: How do these three seemingly small changes affect the very definition of the ruck?

To better understand how the law changes will impact the game, let’s have a look at the ruck the way it is currently (before August 1st 2017).

The Ruck until August 1st 2017

Law 16 – A ruck is a phase of play where one or more players from each team, who are on their feet, in physical contact, close around the ball on the ground. Open play has ended.
Players are rucking when they are in a ruck and using their feet to try to win or keep possession of the ball, without being guilty of foul play.

Wait! Hands aren’t allowed in the ruck. So why are turnovers/pilfers allowed?!

This is allowed because the defender puts his hands on the ball before contact with the attacking player. The Laws mention this case for clarity:

Law 16.4 (b) – Players must not handle the ball in a ruck except after a tackle if they are on their feet and have their hands on the ball before the ruck is formed.

Let’s have a look at an example. In this game  Australia’s David Pocock (gold) gets a turnover penalty from England’s Mike Brown (white). Tom Wood is the first English player to get to the ruck supporting Brown. Here is the full play:

See David Pocock’s hands on the ball here right before the arrival of Tom Wood.

Screenshot 1 - Pocock has hands on the ball, no contact with Wood

 

The subtlety here, is that because Pocock has his hands on the ball, the shoulder to shoulder contact created with the attacker does not constitute a ruck.

This means two things:

  • The defender can continue to contest the ball with his hands;
  • The attacker is not part of a ruck either; this means he is not penalised for pushing/rolling/pulling the defender off his feet. Hence the legality of the crocodile roll/judo as long as it is not around the neck.

Note: The crocodile roll (and its many names) is a controversial technique used in modern rugby, consisting of getting the jackaling player (attempting to get a turnover) off their feet. This demonstration by Sam Warburton gives a good idea of the movement.

Tom Wood’s roll here is legal:

Screenshot 2 - Wood attempts a crocodile roll on Pocock

It’s actually Mike Brown that gets penalised for keeping the ball on the ground (the referee Romain Poite is signaling “not releasing”).

Screenshot 3 - Poite makes the Not Released gesture

Looking at the video and the still images, we can see that the time between the first two images is very short. That’s why players that can repeatedly do this at high speed are so valuable.

The new laws:
With the new definition of the ruck, the mere presence of an attacking player in the tackle area other than the ball carrier constitutes as a ruck. This cancels the possibility to put hands on the ball before the contact with the support player for the defenders.

To avoid this problem, World Rugby have made the following change:

Law 16 – A ruck commences when at least one player is on their feet and over the ball which is on the ground (tackled player, tackler). At this point the offside lines are created. Players on their feet may use their hands to pick up the ball as long as this is immediate. As soon as an opposition player arrives, no hands can be used.

The concept of “immediate” is quite vague and I believe it is so on purpose. This should simply allow the referees to continue to play the breakdown turnover  the way it already was (granted the defender has come through the gate and all of the other subtleties). It’s also consistent with the new definition of the ruck. Phew!

But wait again?! Where does that leave the crocodile roll?

Errrr…that’s awkward. There seems to be no clear instruction on whether it is still legal. After all, the mere presence of the attacking support player constitutes the ruck. This could mean that they are never allowed as there is always a ruck. Like before we could interpret a defending player with hands on the ball as meaning no ruck has formed and play stays the same. Though it will need clarification, I think the latter is bound to happen.

World Rugby seem to have drastically changed the definition of the ruck but made it so that only a few changes would occur in-game. Overall while I’m gutted a very quick and smart play from the tackler won’t be rewarded anymore, this could speed up the breakdown, only for the better.

So ruck on!

Fred

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