An interesting* incident occurred in the British and Irish Cup game at the Cardiff Arms Park when Cardiff Blues Premiership Select (CBPS) took on London Welsh. The Vine below shows the London Welsh forwards (in grey) heading towards the CBPS line from which they scored a try.
The question is should this try have been allowed given the London Welsh forwards seem to obstruct the CBPS player from making a tackle?
Although this looks like a move that should be penalised it is permitted under the current laws (under the current interpretation).
Why is it allowed?
The Vine starts a bit late to show the full picture but the London Welsh maul heads towards the CBPS line and the front of the maul collapses. The player with the ball is at the back of the maul so, along with 2 others players from his team, he is still on his feet and unaffected by the collapse of the maul.
Law 17.5 says that a maul successfully ends when:
- the ball or a player with the ball leaves the maul
- the ball is on the ground
- the ball is on or over the goal line.
In this scenario points 2 and 3 don’t apply because the ball is off the floor and we haven’t yet reached the goal line. Point 1 needs a bit more thought.
In the referees eyes he has judged that the player with the ball hasn’t left the maul – it is the maul that has left him by collapsing! If the maul hadn’t collapsed then he would still be a part of the maul and therefore bullet point 1 hasn’t occurred.
Following that logic, if the maul hasn’t successfully ended (and it doesn’t meet the criteria of an unsuccessful maul ending – law section 17.6) then the maul must still be in place. We then get the bizarre situation where the “maul” consists of 3 players – all from the same team with the ball carrier at the back. The referee will often call “same maul” in these circumstances to signify that he is judging the original maul to still be in place.
In this Vine the CBPS player who then comes in and takes the legs of the London Welsh player is in theory the player who is offending because he is taking down the maul.
It doesn’t feel like a fair contest?
Even thought the current law interpretations allow this type of incident to proceed it feels wrong for a number of reasons.
The first is that if we look at the definition of a maul it says:
“A maul begins when a player carrying the ball is held by one or more opponents, and one or more of the ball carrier’s team mates bind on the ball carrier. A maul therefore consists, when it begins, of at least three players, all on their feet; the ball carrier and one player from each team.”
So a maul must consist of at least 3 players; the ball carrier and one player from each team.
In our example we have three players – but all from one team. However, the sneaky World Rugby law makers have included the words “when it begins” in the definition which allows our example to still fall within the definition because a maul doesn’t have to satisfy these criteria once is has initially formed.
If you need the ball carrier and one other player from each team to form the maul shouldn’t this apply at all times? Players shouldn’t be allowed to deliberately leave the maul (and therefore force it to end) but if they accidentally leave, such as a collapsed maul, then it seems right that the maul has finished?
Secondly if we look at how a maul unsuccessfully ends (17.6) and specifically point (b):
A maul ends unsuccessfully if the ball becomes unplayable or collapses (not as a result of foul play) and a scrum is ordered.
This says that if the maul collapses a scrum is ordered but there seems to be conflict with the other maul laws that say as long as the ball carrier is on his feet the maul continues?
* This may not be that interesting for those that don;t enjoy rugby or law application discussions!
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