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Ask the Ref: Hands at the Ruck - iRB Law Ruling 4

Tuesday May 19, 2009 in Off the Field Ask the Ref

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Hey Ref: 2009 iRB Law Ruling 4 "I read the latest iRB Law Ruling 4 about the ruck and am not sure I understand how this changes what referees are currently doing - can you explain?"

Law Ruling 4 issued on 11 May 2009 clarifies that a ruck can only form between two individuals who are in contact over a ball that is both (i) on the ground and (ii) not in the possession of either player.  This clarification explicitly identifies the implied element of Law 16.1 that a ruck cannot be formed if a player legally gains possession of the ball before he or she is contacted by his or her opposition.  As a referee, such a clarification should shift our focus from (i) identifying when opposing players come into contact to (ii) ensuring that the ball is clearly on the ground when that contact occurs.  During the transition from tackle to ruck, 2009 iRB Law Ruling 4 should now shift your "benefit of the doubt" to the player who legally gains possession of the ball.

Chris Draper is a USA Rugby referee who has officiated at the highest levels, including the NA4 and USA Sevens. (Dobson Images)

As a side, this interpretation has already been adopted in the United States for the 2009 Rugby Super League season (Ref. Section C(3) from the Tackle/Ruck chapter of the USA Rugby Game Management Guidelines -RSL, February 2009/v.3).  As of 23 May 2009, this interpretation of Law 16.1 should be applied by all referees at all levels.

There are a few areas where this ruling still has no effect:

"But Ref, my hands were on the ball!"  The ruling is very clear in the fact that a player must have "possession" of the ball to prevent a ruck from being formed. This does not mean touching the ball, applying downward pressure, or anything related to demonstrating contact with the ball. The player must not only have the ability to pick up the ball, he must be trying to pick it up. Having your hands on the ball is not possession - you must be demonstrating an ability to use the ball.

"But Ref, I was on my feet!"  Being on one's feet does not negate all other Laws. An individual who is on his feet - so long as he legally entered the tackle - is allowed to continue playing the ball with his hands only if he gained possession of the ball before being contacted by an opponent. Just because a player arrives at the tackle and remains on his feet once contacted by an opponent (i.e. is now part of a ruck) does not mean he can then use his hands to grab the ball. Once a ruck is formed, which the referee can assist in identifying when necessary by verbalizing the word "Ruck," being on your feet is not a valid argument for using your hands to grab the ball.

"How can you call that a ruck?" The transition from tackle to ruck is a dynamic, contentious, and often violent event. In this split second, your line of sight - which is dictated by your position and timing - will offer you a unique view of the relevant events. It is possible that your view at a particular breakdown is not ideal (although my experience has indicated that the best view of every breakdown is over a beverage nearly 80 meters away on the opposite sideline...). However, if you believe and have verbalized that a ruck has formed, it is a ruck.

There are many times that we as referees will not see, or may not believe, what just happened right in front of us. Like any player, physical and mental fatigue affects our decisions. While it is best to know what happened, often we must lean one way or another in the absence of certainty.

For many, 2009 iRB Law Ruling 4 changes which way we lean.

- Chris Draper © www.erugbynews.com

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