The lack of a global calendar is a major blight on professional rugby and is an issue that needs to be resolved urgently.
An example of unintended consequences of the disjointed rugby season can be demonstrated through World Rugby’s recent announcement regarding law amendments for the coming June tests.
A lot of readers won’t necessarily know this but since the turn of the calendar year 2016, there have been a number of laws that have been officiated differently in the northern hemisphere compared to the southern hemisphere.
These “minor law amendments” have been applied in the southern hemisphere since the start of the year but will be in force in full in the northern hemisphere from 1 July 2016. Confusing.
To add more confusion there is one particular law amendment (maul) which applies in the northern hemisphere from 1 June; which means that the under 20 World Championship hosted in England, is subject to this new law.
The fact that southern hemisphere teams have been playing with the new maul guidelines for a few months should give them an advantage in this area, when it comes to the forthcoming June test series.
We will now look at this change in a bit more detail.
What was the problem?
We have written previously about why most mauls are illegal and highlighted 3 key areas:
- Lifters step forward to block defenders reaching the jumper when he lands
- The ball carrier in the maul breaks his bind and re-attaches at the back
- Players from the team with the ball in the maul join in front of the back foot
This minor law amendment seeks to solve the second problem on this list.
As a reminder of what we mean by breaking the bind and “shifting” to the back of the maul, have a look at this short clip:
We can clearly see that the South African number 2 joins the maul, the ball carrier then breaks his bind and magically re-binds behind the hooker.
It is an illegal ploy that officials have overlooked for some time…until now, with the introduction of the law amendment.
What will change?
Officials will now require the ball to be moved backwards by hand once the maul has formed. This has two implications:
Firstly, as shown in the clip above, a player is not allowed to move – or slide, to the back of the maul when he is in possession of the ball. This is a positive move as it will bring back one of the elements of skill in a maul, which is the ability to coordinate the transfer of the ball from the front to the back.
The second implication is that the ripper (the player who takes the ball from the jumper as he lands), must be in contact with the jumper when he takes the ball until it has been transferred.
In the recent Wales Ireland u20 World Championship game both teams were penalised by the (southern hemisphere) referee for passing the ball back to the ripper, before the ripper was bound to the maul. Most of the players looked perplexed by the decisions so it is obviously not yet ingrained in the northern hemisphere way of playing.
The still below taken from the game, shows the Welsh catcher returning to ground and the ripper (with the black scrum cap) taking the ball before he is a part of the maul.
Once the ball is transferred to him he then binds on to the players in front. The fact that the ripper wasn’t bound when he took the ball from the jumper and then attaches to the maul, is now illegal.
In this example the referee explained to Wales the offence was for an “illegal transfer, illegal transfer….long arm”.
How has this been refereed in the south?
In general the officials in Super Rugby have applied this law correctly and players are forced to transfer the ball back by hand.
The following clip comes from a pre-season game between the Blues and Chiefs and shows the ball firstly being ripped from the catcher and then transferred by hand to the hooker.
This law guideline is a positive step towards rectifying the imbalance between the way officials have dealt with the team with the ball in a maul and the team defending it. In the last few years officials have turned a blind eye to a number of offences committed by the attacking teams which has resulted in the driving or rolling maul dominating games to the point of tedium.
World Rugby now needs to turn its attentions to point 3 on the list above, and ensure that players from the attacking team join the maul at the back foot.
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