Difference between touching and binding in the maul?

In Saturday’s Sharks against Jaguares game an interesting incident occurred mid way through the first half that left us googling for the maul laws.

The Jaguares had just conceded a try from a driving maul and were struggling to contain the Shark’s pack, when they decided to stand off the maul at the next lineout. Here is the Vine of the incident:


The tactic is to stand off, wait for the Sharks to transfer the ball to the back of the maul then tackle the front player, ensuring the penalty is won for obstructing the ball carrier. Great plan, but the referee Jaco Peyper picked up that the Jaguares number 8 had put his hands on the front player in the maul before taking them off and then re-engaging.

When the maul broke down the penalty was given by Peyper with the direction that, “The player at the back cannot make contact with it {the player], then it’s a maul. So they have to open up [Peyper makes a gesture of his hands coming off a player]”.

He then said to the number 8, “You’re at the back and you touch it, it’s a maul”.

The key word that Peyper uses here is “touch”. The Vine seems to show the number 8 doing exactly that; placing his hands on the back of the Sharks’ maul. The problem is that “touching” a player in the maul doesn’t constitute that player joining the maul and therefore he couldn’t be penalised for causing the maul to be formed and then disengaging.

Law 17.2.c specifically says that:

“Placing a hand on another player in the maul does not constitute binding.”

So, if Peyper did indeed think that touching the maul means it is formed, he has got it wrong.

To give him the benefit of the doubt Peyper might have meant “bind” when he said “touch”, in which case his decision was correct, but looking at the footage it doesn’t look like the Jaguares player was bound.


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One thought on “Difference between touching and binding in the maul?

  1. Definitely he made the wrong decision. Unfortunately the ball carrying side in a maul is offered far, far too much protection by referees. They seem to focus only on defending sides possible offences and ignore the non-binding, joining in front of the back foot and tackle obstructions at the forming of the maul by the ball carrying side.

    I do think that the best way to defend against a maul is to stand off. The definition of a maul is- “……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.” http://laws.worldrugby.org/?law=17 It is clear from the laws that no maul is formed if there is no opposition. The structure formed by the ball carrying team, in the absence of opposition players, constitutes an offence under 10.1 (b) through (e) take your pick. If a team stands off, it’s just obstruction, plain and simple! I really don’t know why teams contest any maul that isn’t begun by way of a choke tackle/supporting of the ball carrier during the tackle, thus binding one of the participants involuntarily. Stand off and be rewarded with a penalty and/or stand off and run around the back and tackle the ball carrier, no maul formed therefore no offside line. But in the heat of the moment it is difficult to resist the urge to attempt to engage.

    There is so much going on when players come together in groups that it impossible to referee, as the author of the above article has suggested in other pieces. The width, depth and breadth of a structure such as a maul are all quite large and from standing alongside of a maul in any given position a person could only see perhaps 70% of it at very best (the same is true of rucks and scrums to a greater or lesser extent). A maul involving say 4 players from each side is 16 arms and hands and shoulders to watch and verify are bound together correctly. A difficult, if not impossible task, even when involving just a half pack per side!

    Like in other sports, rugby needs more than one official on the field and to stop lumping this ludicrous responsibility on one man! Adding another official, firstly, will help spot more offences, improving policing. This in the short term will lead to more pens, but teams will eventually become more honest and stop practising on the training ground how to obstruct tacklers. Secondly it will help get rid of this dreaded word- “interpret”, each ref having his own little twist on the law, as seen with Peyper and “touch” being bind to him. The word interpret is synonymous with explain. The laws are, in and of themselves, an explanation of what players may or may not do and the associated penalties for the prohibited actions. To interpret them is to explain an explanation, which, although technically possible, does stretch the limits of language and the laws! Lastly it will reduce the use of a TMO, itself fraught with difficulties.

    Rugby is not in a good place, regardless of what the die hard fans and apologists may say. It is not closing the gap on soccer and other more watched sports in terms of popularity and many fans of the game find fault in too many aspects to consider the sport a success or even a finished article, it’s a work in progress. Clubs, national unions and World Rugby seem to be suffering from cognitive dissonance, simultaneously boasting of rugby’s ethics and allowing blatant organised cheating! Thus many suggestions are floated to improve the game. Reducing players to increase space, restricting subs for injuries only, call the mark from anywhere, uncontested scrums, have the ref put the ball into the scrum, no jumping at lineouts, stopping the clock at scrum time. All viable and potentially beneficial ideas. But they would undoubtedly change the game and change often brings about unintended results.

    My idea, is a simple one and one that I am not alone in espousing. Enforce the laws we have, to the clear definitions and explanations already provided without further “interpretation”! If this means adding another official so be it! Adding another official will not bring about changes to the game in a playing sense, it will just change it in a policing sense. Also there will be greater accountability among refs, as they will have to look a colleague in the eye as they make their decisions and will be balanced by their colleagues views of events in play.

    I live in Spain, I regularly watch rugby on TV here in bars kind enough to put it on for me. I am often joined by confused Spanish folk who have not a clue what the players or officials are doing. They are simply baffled at the sheer volume of goings on and seemingly disorganised chaos permitted by the referee. Trying to explain it to a point of total understanding is impossible. This tells me the game is in trouble. When an intelligent man can’t explain to another intelligent man the rules and principles of a game played by children with live examples on a HD TV to a point of understanding with which he could safely participate in a game or enjoyably watch an entire fixture without becoming disinterested through lack of understanding you know you’ve got to change things from their status quo.


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