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Desperately seeking a ruck solution

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John Beattie | 11:21 UK time, Monday, 25 January 2010

My favourite rugby joke: Hooker shouts out secret code: "Fifty six, thirty three, ninety two, eleven." Second row looks up and says: "Oh no, not me again!"

But that's a diversion and this is your blog - what should become of the ruck in rugby?

I am writing this after watching Edinburgh beat the men in pink from Paris - I will never be part of a semi naked calendar for very obvious reasons - and Glasgow's loss to Biarritz.
And the same question keeps popping up in my head: what on earth do we do with the ruck?

Here's what happens nowadays: A man carrying the ball is tackled and there are two people on the ground. A third person arrives and if he is from the defending side then he goes for the ball with his hands. If the fourth person is from the attacking side then he tries to blast the defender with his hands on the ball as hard as he can. Or he tries to twist him to get him "off his feet".

edinburgh595.jpgLuckily in Scotland we have always had players who are good in this situation and the latest incarnations of the scavenging Scottish forward blood lines are all over European rugby from John Barclay to Roddy Grant.

And if it's slow-ish ball for the attacking side we have scrum-halves who are expert at popping the ball to three "muckle" forwards who try to barge forward. And we start again.

I am just not sure that this is good for rugby, but I may be wrong. The game slows down and it all becomes a bit predictable.

There are options. You could restrict players from entering the ruck beyond one attacker and one tackler and leave it as a battle between those two.

Or allow much more robust footwork to dislodge defenders. Or insist, as some do, that if the ball is visible then it's fair game for anyone.

Damian Hopley of the players' union has said that rugby's injuries are on the increase. Nearly a half of all injuries in rugby come from the tackle, and what do tackles make? That's right, they turn into rucks.

Maybe there is nothing wrong with the way rucks work as they stand. Maybe we just accept that rugby men will get bigger and bigger and careers will become shorter and shorter as we allow lumps of meat around twenty stone to launch into each other at breakdowns.

Maybe we just accept that rugby will become more and more about going through people rather than round them.

But, if that's the case, I'd be sad. I'd like to keep rugby more mobile. Do we take two men off the pitch? Do we increase pitch sizes? Or would changing the ruck situation be enough?

I wish I had the answer to this one, but the new ruck could include more active use of the feet, no offside line as soon as someone puts a hand on the ball from the attacking team, and willingness from the players.

But you lot might just have the answer...


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  • Comment number 1.

    as usual John - your columns are very thought-provoking.

    Personally - and unpopular as this sounds - I like the ruck as it is.

    The problem i see with the injuries is that professional players are just getting bigger and bigger.

    I think we may be getting close to where we will need weight limits. Do even tight-five forwards NEED to be over 18-stones?

  • Comment number 2.

    The IRB tried to clear up this area by asking referees to be more vigilant about players wilfully going off their feet and to a certain degree this has had some success.
    However, it seems that one area that the tackle / ruck falls down is where the player going into contact already has supporting players legally "bound" on to them and when the tackle is made these supporting players go to ground with the player forming a barrier preventing a true contest for the ball and resulting in the current mess we see.
    One idea may be to stop the pre-binding of a ball carrier, meaning the supporting players would have to "Ruck" as the lawbook describes or even better move the ball away from the tackle area giving us a more open game.
    And yes, I am a referee!!

  • Comment number 3.

    I think this is an area where the perception of danger has done immense harm to the game as a spectacle. It certainly used to look a tad scary as 5 angry men moved a miscreant away from the ball. However it meant that only the touched were willing to lie on, or near the ball and only the truly mental would put their hands on it. Now the ball is held on the ground as a sucession of massive men try and remove the man in position over that ball as a couple of others lie around flapping their arms denoting to the ref that they are trapped.

    I'd go back to where we were 10 years ago. Quicker ball, more space and the chance for the rare breed of mentalists that enjoyed getting stood on to make a comeback.

    I wonder if the perception of danger has done for the ruck. The IRB now won't allow a "rucking motion" or targetting of individuals at the ruck apparently. This means that a defender who makes a tackle and touches the ball first is effectively guaranteed a penalty. Which then means there is no point in risking contact. Might as well hoof it up and try and get a push over from a lineout. Or drop a load of goals...... Oh a lot like what we saw at the weekend.

  • Comment number 4.

    Seems to me that changing the pitch sizes is not going to happen because of obvious financial reasons in refurbishing the many huge and purpose built stadiums. I would suggest removing 1 or 2 players; a wing forward and a winger? As far as injuries are concerned, limiting the number of men in a ruck as suggested seems a good idea but wouldn't that just be another step towards turning union into league?

  • Comment number 5.

    The increasing use of substitutes allows bigger players to play for impact and then be replaced (more and more like specialist teams in american football) - if substitutions were reduced, or restricted to injury replacements only, players would need to work on endurance in order to play the full 80 minutes. i guarantee being 20 stone would not be an advantage in the last quarter of the match when we would inevitably get the more open game we all crave....

  • Comment number 6.

    Rory, eighteen stones in my day was huge, now it's not exceptional. Your point is mine too, what is happening is that we can produce people of exceptional size who can run around for eighty minutes, and a big one will usually beat a little one - if running through and over people is important.

    Pdkipper, yup, pre binding is being frowned on, but do you think the laws are ok as they stand?

    MrT - it is undeniable that as "aggressive use of the foot" has been outlawed so possession has become slower. I don't know if you can have a game for tv where stamping on people is accepted and I always worried that lower down the levels they take things to extreme.

    Editing a piece in Beeb for sports monthly and waiting for a gap in the clouds to take the motorbike out

    And also viewing pictures of Bill McLaren's funeral, a very sad day


  • Comment number 7.

    I think there are 2 areas that would help. When a player is tackled he must immediately release the ball rather than positioning it at present. This would stop people being tackled on the 'wrong' side and turning over to set up the ball. It would also mean the first person to the ball on their feet (which could be the tackler or even the person tackled if he got up quick enough) could pick up the ball and thus speed up the breakdown considerably. Secondly as mentioned above, once the ball appears at the back of the ruck the ref should declare 'ball out' and defenders should be able to come round the ruck to contest it.

  • Comment number 8.

    You could maybe take two players off each team to make more space and replace the ruck with a very quick restart, where the tackled player gets up and rolls the ball between his legs to the half back standing behing him who then distributes the ball. Ive got a feeling it might catch on

  • Comment number 9.

    We need to go back to how rucking was 30 - 40 yrs ago.

    More use of the feet to win the ball ( away from the head of course ).

    Instant infringement ( free kick ) given against any player attempting to win, handle or steal the ball with their hands.

    Regardless of whether they are defending or attacking players.

  • Comment number 10.

    To me it seems patently obvious that any ball that emerges from what is laughing called a ruck these days HAS to have been provided by at least one hand because so many people lay on or crawl around the ruck area it could not get back any other way. I would like to see old fashioned rucking allowed again, whereby if a hand is put on the ball or a body lays around it to prevent the opposion gaining possession retribution and parity are gained by use of the feet. This accepts, as mentioned by Mr T, that some 'mentalists' took/take their stripes as a badge of honour. As for injuries at the ruck, outlaw the practice of taking a man out off the ball...sometimes called clearing out the contact area. It is just plain old fashioned assault and has no bearing on the release of the ball from the ruck. It merely perpetuates the illusion that all rugby players now have to be huge because if you aren't you will get battered by an opposition ogre for merely standing near the ruck.

  • Comment number 11.

    I used to find that if you interferred with, or found yourself the wrong side of the ball, either intentionally or not, then you knew what was coming, and therefore got out of the way.

    The restriction of "footwork" means the more street wise operators at the breakdown, realise they can slow the ball down very effectively, without punishment from either the whistle or opposition.

    Bring back "old fashioned" rucking and I think a few may be surprised how this will speed up the game

  • Comment number 12.

    This is interesting, many of you hark back lovingly to the days when more footwork was allowed. Do you, in some ways, think the game is getting soft in an oblique senses then?


  • Comment number 13.

    Rucking - I back the return to some well policed use of the feet, with the emphasis on policing. Shooing a guy who is stuck isn't on, but someone deliberately killing the ball is fair game for some not over zealous clearing out.

    Re size, I grew up watching Probyn, Skinner, Nigel Walker, a young Guscott, a 'broad' Chalmers, barrell Barnes etc. Lots of different shapes and sizes in there. Unless there are rule changes then in a few years we will see 15 players the size and shape of Haskell take the field. I've nothing against Haskell, but it wouldn't be a very interesting game to watch. I think that the size issue will also lead to quite a few youngsters being lost to the game, which would be a great shame.

  • Comment number 14.


    I have a vested interest - I am a referee. There are only 2 problems with the ruck.

    The first is that no one is allowed to ruck. Not that long ago, it only took one shoeing for players to get the message that lying over the ball was going to be painful. Double the damage by awarding a penalty after the shoeing and there would be no problems after that. Unfortunately, the IRB is more interested in presenting a sanitised wresting match for television than allowing proper rucking.

    Secondly, the nonsense about allowing the tackler to pick up the ball must stop. As soon as a ref calls ruck, then no hands are allowed. Again, it makes it easier to referee and allows the game to move faster. Combine the two and we would have no problems.

    This is a very good question, but I would love to hear the opinions of players on what I would change.


    PS Your blogs are a breath of fresh air. Always thought provoking - even if you are wrong!!!

  • Comment number 15.

    JB...I don't for one minute think the game is going soft, it still hurts when you get mullered by a big bloke. I do think however that the game panders to television and the perception of premeditated violence. None players who watch may not realise that rucking or tap dancing, call it what you will, generally occurs/occurred because someone illegally hindered the release of the ball. Rucking is a method of self policing amongst the players because a referee cannot be expected to see everything. Never could and still can't with all of technology's innovations!

    Also resent a little the assertion that the lower level of players may take violence to extreme. It still hurts at whatever level you play and I don't think the modern professional restrain themselves any better except perhaps that it might cost them!

  • Comment number 16.

    I think that in the professional age forwards would take a shoeing without thinking twice about it in order to secure or slow down ball. My problem is the number of time you hear refs saying "hand off Blue 7" or "roll aways blue 7" rather than blowing. Zero tolerance of ruck infringements may make the game disjointed for a while but players will soon learn and adapt

  • Comment number 17.

    The post from pdkipper inadvertently outlines the problem, genuinely meant as it was. The "bad" scenario he described, with players bound and hitting the ruck and subsequently protecting the ball, would actually result in quick ball and therefore be a good thing. The only downside would be whether there would be able to be any competition for the ball - I would contend that a counter ruck by bound forwards of the opposition staying on their feet and over the ball (and the grounded players) would be the legal counter tactic.
    The problem is allowing the tackler to handle the ball while it is on the floor or about to be (legally) placed by the tackled player. This is compounded by referees inexplicably blowing up for "holding on" before the tackler has had a chance to place the ball.
    The rules should state -

    - a tackled player is allowed one chance to immediately place the ball in any direction once he is off his feet (rules as now - words to that effect anyway)
    - a tackled player, prior to placing the ball, is deemed to be on the floor and the ball is deemed to be on the floor also.
    - the tackler, or anybody else, cannot touch the ball until the tackled player has placed it
    - the tackled player having placed the ball must immediately release it
    - if 2 players or more are over the ball on the ground it is a ruck
    - no handling in the ruck.

    This loosens it up - retaining posession depends on support, turning the ball over means picking a clean ball up off the floor (assuming there is no ruck formed) so no unseemly grappling on the floor.

  • Comment number 18.

    The one thing that's annoyed me in recent times is the new trend (directive) to ping the attacking team for going off their feet. Not only is this such a grey area but it has totally stopped teams from running the ball from their own half and has led to the kicking ping pong that plagues games these days.

    I would say that it should be a free kick at the most.

  • Comment number 19.

    As someone who has experienced the dubious - and painful - honour of being on the receiving end of a ruck from this blogger, I hesitate to agree with a number of the comments here. However, I am sure the game would be speeded up considerably by going back to old-fashioned rucking which was always well refereed in my experience. It is not beyond the wit of the IRB to specify what is fair rucking and what is stamping.

    JT comments that his concern is that lower levels will take this to extreme, I disagree. As someone who played mainly at lower club levels but had the occasional experience of more senior games, I certainly found the rucking far more ferocious the higher, not lower, one played.

  • Comment number 20.

    p.s. rucking will also help in returning the game to all shapes and sizes. Smaller players can ruck effectively but can struggle in a wrestle.

  • Comment number 21.

    It's an Amateur game that has developped into a profesional game in the last 2 decades. Some things are now just not working. The scrum, ruck, endless kicking, injuries.

    If you have a game that is forever considering rule changes you are in trouble. If you look at the closest relatives to Union (League and Gridiron) you will see that the scrum does not exist (as we know it in Union). There is no rucking as such, and kicking is a last resort.

    How can anyone undestand what goes on in a ruck? How many times have you seen players being penalised and they have no idea why?

    Players are becoming more or less one shape, (League and Gridiron) there is no going back. It will end up like the other Oval ball games.

    You can tinker as much as you want but it wont change the game as it is today for better or for worse.

  • Comment number 22.


    Why are you linking the issues of injury and the current tackle situation (sorry it's not a ruck).

    I can't remember any spate of ruck based injuries apart from the odd errant boot in the head, which was rightly deplored by the authroities and players alike. I few rakes down the back never hurt anyone and I don't remember any of the players complaining. Apparantly because of a few rightly lambasted targeting of the head we rugby players are no longer allowed to use our feet. The scale of the problem is similar to that of eye gouging, however nobody is planning on banning the use of hands !

    Watching the Munster Saints game on Friday night reinforced what a farce the ruck has become, the ball goes to ground and two or three pairs of hands begin to wrestle the ball. If a side actually then wins the ball the defence start ramming the ruck like a rutting stag in the hope of dislodgeing the ball (which incidently is far more likely to cause injury ala Adam Jones in the Lions 2nd Test).

    Any process of presenting the ball and driving over appears to have been lost. All the advantage is given to the defenders and referees love to award penalties for holding on, to the point that I now coach my players that getting isolated with the ball is now a penalty offence.

    I have never been one to join in with calls of our game being in decline, theres too much kicking etc etc which come up periodically however for the first time I think the game is in decline because of the removal of the ruck from our game.

    My suggestion is that once a ruck is formed (two players from opposing sides over the ball) then it is hands off. Result, faster good quality ball for teams who attack and support in numbers. Just like the good old days.

  • Comment number 23.

    Gday John, I am thinking that maybe you are finding problems with the laws when there are actually just problems with the skills of some players.

    The idea of rucks is to allow a fair contest for the ball after a tackle, although you can't limit the number of players contesting, as then defences will become even more impenetrable with 12-13 players lined out in defence. If you limit the number of players in a ruck or if you limit the weight of players in the game, you will just end up with a team of flankers as well. The ruck is fine as it is, and good players almost always secure the ball in the tackle - eg Jerry Collins (best placer back of the ball going around). Good ball-pilferers also have more skill than simply pilfering, and can wrestle defending players off the ball or even catch and pass as well as any inside back eg George Smith.

    The speculation that there are more injuries than usual in the last year is based on figures compiled in the English Premiership only, and thus, these statistics should not be the be-all-and-end-all. Peaks and troughs happen in any sport, just as in Cricket, Tennis and Football.

    As a physiotherapist, I understand that based on research, injury prevention is more than just the tackle, it is about conditioning processes, task practice and carefully progressed return to sport programs that professional teams are fully aware of. I would be inclined to suspect that English Premiership teams spend a lot of time doing gym-based approaches to training, rather than just simply practicing passing, catching, tackling, rucking and scrummaging. This may be due to weather issues in the UK, or it may be a particular trend.

    At the end of the day, it is important to remember that you can't get better at running if you're training by riding a bike.

  • Comment number 24.

    I'm just sick of the continual talk of law change. It does nothing but denigrate the game. As an Ireland fan, I sat through some absolutely turgid affairs in the 80's and 90's (which Bill McClaren would still find something to enthuse about rather than todays bunch of muppets saying 'boring, boring' over and over). I've seen some brilliant games in the last year at club, Euro, international and Liosn levels (2nd Lions tests was one of the great games of the modern era), but we still see ex-players putting on their rose tinted specs and saying it was all brill in their day. I'm loving watching rugby these days. We now have a hugely entertaining Euro cup, a competitive 6 nations (not just 2 horse races like it has been for decades - Even English fans must've got bored with their dominance in the 90's) and some great tours. With some of the ludicrous suggestions being mentioned here, I'd say why not just invent your own new sport rather than trying to ruin a great existing one.

  • Comment number 25.


    To my mind the rucks become a problem when the third and fourth players come charging in to clear out and then momentum takes them off their feet on the other side (and sometimes it's the fifth, sixth and seventh players) - the SH sides are particularly effective doing this - it means it takes only one or two defenders to effectively slow the ball down. The French teams are pretty handy it as well.

    If the rule was that other than the attacker and tackler, anyone else off their feet on the other side of the ruuck is penalised immediately, it would lead to a situation where someone couldn't just come charging in - they would too easily go off their feet.

    The other possibility is going back to the situation where the tackler and attacker (once tackled) can't play the ball until they get back to their feet - you could do both.

  • Comment number 26.

    When I played and rucking was allowed, all players knew the consequences of stopping the ball coming back. You were almost guaranteed a shoeing and it was immediate justice. In today's game a yellow card, even if given, clearly isn't enough of a deterrant. Reintroduce the ruck!!

  • Comment number 27.

    Introduce a play the ball...or maybe 13 and not 15 players?

    In all seriousness, the same problems exist in rugby league where the use of the shoulder in a tackle means that as players are getting increasingly 'bigger', the impacts greater, and teh space on the pitch less and less (and that is with 2 players less!).

  • Comment number 28.

    I agree with what John has said. Professional rugby players are bigger, better, faster and stronger than ever before and the "taking out" of players at rucks by 18 to 20 stoners is a recipe for disaster. Many players regard it as proof of their hardness to clatter into a static, often trapped player of the other side. Serious injury is just waiting to happen (Adam Jones for example) or worse (Gareth Jones).

    Professionalism has spoiled much rugby enjoyment for me. All 15 can run, pass and tackle like only the backs and perhaps back row used to do a few years ago. That has led to the ping pong kicking we see in every game today and those rucks where the ball is kept for what seems like minutes on end before someone picks it up to start the process all over again. 16/17 phases is quite normal.

    I only have one answer and John has touched on it. We can't increase the size of the pitches without a mega investment. It's not possible at all in many stadia. What laws can be made or amended to improve the breakdowns and flow of the game? None that I can think of.

    My answer: Take out the flankers. A 13-a-side game with proper scrums and line outs. It has been tried before but, I think, it was before professionalism.

  • Comment number 29.

    I think the tackle area and the recently codified rules about them contribute to most of what ails the union game at the moment. The rules seem to deter running rugby and individual breaks.

    If the idea is to make the game a better spectacle for TV it isn’t working- the best spectacle for TV is a game full of attacking, running rugby, punctuated by a meaty contest at ruck, maul, and scrum to win possession of the ball to attack with.

    I think the problem lies with what happens immediately after a tackle- the tackled player is out of the game and is supposed to leave the ball and roll away, but the tackler can bounce back to his feet and play the ball- this isn’t a fair contest for the ball, the team attacking is at an automatic disadvantage. Human nature being what it is the tackled player hangs on to the ball as long as he can get away with which leads to the current wrestling match- some players may have more skills than others when it comes to winning this wrestling match, but it still doesn’t make it much of a spectacle for the paying spectator.

    It feels like 8 out of 10 times the side taking the ball in to the tackle either lose it to a turnover, or to a penalty against them, or get such slow ball that all momentum is lost…so teams try to avoid that by hoofing it away hoping the opposition will take it into contact instead; so we get the tit-for-tat kicking that takes up large parts of the game. I guess you could argue that there is also a skill in being able to kick the ball a long way up the pitch to allow for a good chase, but it still isn’t entertaining.

    I'd like to see the rules changed so that the attacking team has at worst a 50:50 chance of getting decent quick ball back from a ruck (how about stopping the tackler playing the ball as well as the tackled player, outlawing any sort of playing the ball on the floor, and the return of proper rucking, judicious shoe-ing and all)? Unfortunately the wind seems to be blowing in the other direction from the IRB, so I think we’re stuck with the dispiriting spectacle of aerial ping-pong for a few seasons...

  • Comment number 30.

    I say bring back footwork! There is a distinct difference between stamping and raking. Any player deemed to be stamping on anyone should be sent off straight away. In my playing days I knew exactly what to expect if I was laying on the wrong side and that was a damn good shoeing! or designer go faster stripe down my back!

    As for the size issue, Big will not always win against small, Shane Williams and Brian Habana for example their size = pace and agility which will generally prevail over an 18 - 20 stone slug! I for one enjoy seeing big players clattering on at the breakdown, the issue with injuries is not purely down to size but down to the conditioning and training of these big players.

    Something has to be done to sort this issue out. I dont agree with reducing player numbers or limiting players at the ruck as this will just turn union to league.

  • Comment number 31.

    I think the use of feet encouraged people to roll away. Now it almost seems a competition to block the access to the ball by falling accidentally whilst clearing players.
    In some part I put the increase in injuries down to the padding players now wear. When I started we weren't allowed anything other than a mouth guard and shin pads. later head guards came in for those with injuries and to protect ears. As a prop I can confirm that wearing an item that provided me with shoulder protection enabled me to go into scrums & rucks far harder than ever before. I am sure that this is the same for tackles.
    I agree that limiting the number of people in a ruck would speed play up, but this would create less space and only enhance the wall of defense we currently see.
    I would like to see games where the ref enforces all the rules not just those he chooses, such as putting the ball in straight to a scrum, retreating after a kick.
    I understand that in this professional age it is in the players/teams interest to kick the ball away or remove it after a penalty so that the defense can be set. However this is a penalty and is very rarely penalised, it seems to be accepted that after the whistle has gone players can kick the ball down field in a fit of pique enabling the team to get back the required 10 with no problems.
    And lastly, why does the ref need to warn he is about to give a card? If so many penalties have been given away they should be expecting it.

  • Comment number 32.

    Good blog, very well thought through.

    But what is it that is upsetting people the most? The injuries to the players (which are not caused directly by rucking) or the fact that the majority of people watching don't understand rugby enough to appreciate how good a turnover ball is, or how good a rolling driving maul is and how difficult they are to do.

    Why did we think that rugby 10 years ago (for example) was the finished article? The game develops and people develop with it.

    The one law change I would like to see is the mark being able to be taken anywhere on the field and possibly turned into a penalty from a free kick. That would improve the kicking game of all players who just want to get rid of the ball.

    If you want to take 2 men off the field I suggest you start watching rugby league.

  • Comment number 33.

    Interesting comments and a real split - people do think the modern ruck is a great thing. I coach it and it's certainly simpler as you know what will keep the ball. But it's also possible to do never ending rugcks.

    Marvel - they changed the rules to stop it being too easy for teams to keep the ball.

    Rory, yes maybe there is too much chat about changing laws.

    Huwwy, I remember Aussie rugby league players when they thought their game was getting too soft brought out t shirts with "bring back the biff" on them, you are saying "bring back the ruck!"


  • Comment number 34.

    I agree with a lot of these comments but the fact that we even have to discuss this still surprises me. Only 6 months ago we witnessed one of the best seies of rugby in my living memory when the lions toured SA. In particular we saw in the second game one of the best tests ever. Full of raw physicality (most of it legal - and I include Botha on A. Jones), contested rucks, turnovers AND running rugby (Kearney returning kicks and Habana cutting great lines). So why did it all go wrong? To be hoinest I don't know the answer but the standard has definitely dipped since then.

    I agree with people who say that if the ball is visible and a player can reach it he should be allowed to pick it up. Also if the ball is sitting at the base of the ruck the ref should call it out and players should be allowe to come around and get it/fly hack it. That would surely encourage the scrum half to distribute and speed the game up, which from the sounds of it, is what we are after.

  • Comment number 35.

    Firstly the injuries are down the poor level of conditioning being provided by the clubs. The strategies being employed are sending the athletes out on to the field 'on or close to' breaking point (however strong the may look). The training routines put the athletes body under such stress and tension that it will inevitably give way. When you compare the science available in American Football and Golf the clubs have a lot to learn.

    I will conceded that some injuries over a season are going to happen, a lot ARE preventable.

    As for the ruck.... As an ex 7 my favorite area, what we all want to see is quick ball quick ball will be attained by allowing players to be off their feet. Go back a few years to the then super 12, some of the best rugby we have ever seen, all because there were little restrictions on the ruck area. You go in, you get it back, if it is slowed down its because you were not their quick enough, ball to floor attacking scrum, ball off the floor defending scrum. Not releasing penalty against, deliberate slowing down penalty for.

    I don't know aye..... Tough question....

  • Comment number 36.

    I am all for the game evolving but the changes made to the ruck have simply slowed the game down and given the defending team too much of an advantage. It appears to me the best law in the ruck area we have had over the past 20 years is as soon as the third man enters a tackle situation it is deemed as a ruck and hands must be off. simple to understand for a player, easy to referee and quickens the game up.

    Steve Cruise

  • Comment number 37.

    Jay - yes, I don't think that shoulder pads or head guards should be allowed as they do let people go in harder and they take part in rucks with a false sense of security

    Alex, doesn't size count at ruck time when you are being hammered?


  • Comment number 38.

    Key things I would like to see to clean up the ruck area

    1. a quicker call of ruck by the referee - actually when it is formed (2 players on their feet make contact in opposition over a ball on the ground) and policing of any hands in following that call.

    Too often the "spoiling" sides take advantage of the vogue of a couple of extra warnings which mean that defences can set themselves but there needs to be an advantage of being the tackler who can get to his feet quickly and good support play (both in attack and defense).

    When the 2nd mini-rucks are formed due to slow ball at the moment that call should be instantaneous as there are multiple players on both sides involved.

    2. Stricter policing of the offside line at a ruck - this would give an extra moment of time to develop possession or set up the extra phase to generate decent quick ball if the first / previous ruck was a tangle. Too often over the weekend defending teams seemed to take their defensive position a good ft in front where the offside line was.

    Question - as in the maul where the referee tells the scrum half to use it or lose it - should available ball have the same requirement?

  • Comment number 39.


    Saying players should not be allowed to wear head guards is like saying batsmen in cricket shouldn't be allowed to wear helmets because heaven forbid they would want to hook the ball!! And they might not try and hook it if they didn't have a helmet on to protect them. It is not just players wearing scrum caps that hit rucks hard.

    Esentially the game is no worse than it was, it is just different. Whereas the focus 20 years ago was on something different like spreading the ball wide (a la Serge Blanco), the focus is now on defence and turning over isolated runners. The skill level is no lower. It might not be appreciated for those who do not understand the game sufficiently but as I mentioned in my last comment, that's what rugby league is for.

  • Comment number 40.

    oh dear Rob you haven't really got the concept of irony, perhaps if I tell you that I am from Widnes you will get the joke

  • Comment number 41.


    To be honest I hadn't read your post before I commented. Your post wasn't the only one to mention reducing the teams.

    Apologies if you took it personally

  • Comment number 42.

    Non taken Rob, quite agree with your comment about pads and helmets. It would be interesting to know what the injury stats are in gridiron, I dont watch a great deal of the sport but I haven't noticed a great deal of injuries

  • Comment number 43.

    tut tut, John.

    that is a penalty against you for perptually opening a can of worms, and while you are at it have 10 mins in the sin bin to consider your actions in the future.

    ps ... joke

  • Comment number 44.

    One simple solution is that the individual making that tackle cannot get to his feet and play the ball immediately.

    Broussea and McCaw are to masters of this art, as is George Smith. It's a very hard and skillful thing to pull off, but I think it has made a dogs dinner of the ruck. This type of tactic is actually relatively new to the certainly never saw it in the the 1990s.

  • Comment number 45.

    I think the majority injuries in a sport like American Football are caused by running and twisting on the artificial pitches jarring knees and ankles but would be happy to be corrected as I do not watch a massive amount of it anymore.

    It would be quite intersting if someone undertook a study to find out how far players are running in a week in the gym and on the field and how much weight they are lifting etc. Overtraining combined with a lack of conditioning is probably the reason injuries are on the increase.

  • Comment number 46.

    Hi John,

    the answer here is difficult. I coach U14s in england, some of these boys are already 13 - 14 stone in the pack. you cannot have these boys thumping into each other. players have got bigger and stronger, and there is a safety issue. but lets not have the contact taken out of the game - I favour the refs allowing some gentle footwork at the contact, as it was in your day. if a player is on the wrong side, and interfering then they are fair game. refs can draw the line how much foot contact is reasonable, but if you get a 18stone prop trampling you on the wrong side, you will think twice about getting thwere next time. there is no real deterrant, resulting in penalties.

  • Comment number 47.

    Maybe something will happen when two people die in a season from a situation directly related to brute force tackling.

    Not just one, because that's a "freak accident".

  • Comment number 48.

    why don't you drop both flankers, have some sort of uncontested ruck where the ball is played through the legs of the tackled player and while we are making changes lets have uncontested scrums and abolish the lineout

  • Comment number 49.

    I would love to see the re-introduction of 'footwork' or 'shoe-pie' being legal.
    In my experience, no player will lie over the ball if they can expect a good barrage of studs. (Obviously no boots to the head should be a rule!)

  • Comment number 50.

    Rugby must be simple, it has to be given the intelligence of players. We cannot go back 30 years (if we could I would now be rich) so keep it simple:
    1 When tackled (knocked off feet) the player must release the ball immediately and roll away.
    2 The tackler must roll away once the tackle has been made. If two players are in on the tackle they must both roll away.

    The result? A ball, all on its own ready for the next player along to pick up, or kick, and use his or her dazzling skills to evade tacklers and score a try.

    It will be goodbye to the ruck as we know it now, but the ruck as it is now is abominable.

  • Comment number 51.

    May be totally overlooking several aspects of the modern ruck as opposed to the 'classic' ruck but surely the simplest solution would be to encourage referees to, either by minor rule alterations or by their discretion, prevent the scrum-half from taking so much time releasing the ball from the 'ruck'. Perhaps harsher penalties for breaching time constraints might discourage this but seems to me that slow ball is caused mainly by scrum-halfs who do not release the ball from the ruck quick enough.

  • Comment number 52.

    What everyone wants is more running rugby, and reforming the ruck could achieve this using one or more of the rule changes that has been suggested on this blog.

    However, could this not be achieved in a far easier fashion than through complex rule changes? If we want to see more running, adventurous and exciting rugby, why not increase the onus on teams to score tries?

    Seven points for a try, three for a conversion. Alternatively two points for every penalty/drop goal. This would mean that a team would have to kick FOUR (!!!) penalties or drops before surpassing the number of points accumulated from a converted try.

    This, maybe, would result in less pingpong kicking and try scoring talents that everyone loves to watch like shane williams, jason robinson, and bryan habana, that can unlock defences, would be the most valuable jewels in a modern rugby team (as opposed to the currently prized assets of the big tackler, 20stone scrummager or scavenging richie mccaw/martin williams ball winners).

    At ten points for a score, with 5 minutes left on the clock, imagine the excitement of games going right to the wire! Much easier than reforming the number of players on the field/pitch size/weight limits + the IRB still gets a family friendly, stamp free spectacle.


  • Comment number 53.

    To mention Gridiron, there is actually a lot of current research in the US that argues that there is a significant correlation between playing Gridiron and brain damage (maybe because they are all stupid jocks anyhow) because players actively use their heads as defensive weapons, however, rugby players don't dive at each other head first anyway so I am sure the injuries are simply because of a larger strain upon the body and harder hitting.

    Back to the ruck, the problem is that turnover ball is now easier than it was to get, thus creating a more defensive type game, it needs to be more heavily weighted in favour of the attacking team, to allow teams to retain the ball easier. This does not mean turnovers won't exist, it will merely create players willing to make runs, pass wide and break gaps.

    My suggestions would be ensuring that all defending players retreat to through the gate, which does not appear to happen at the moment, and allowing the attacking team 1 or 2 seconds to properly set the ball up (the defensive team could still compete for it providing they are on their feet and through the gate).

  • Comment number 54.

    My favourite rugby joke:

    A man and a woman having exhausted themselves in the frantic, passionate, sweaty act of coitus, covering all the positions in the Kama Sutra, collapsed exhausted onto their sheets and after a moment's repose, turn to each other for some pillow talk.

    After some time the woman tells the man:

    "Honey, I have a confession to make and you may not like it. I used to be a hooker. Is that a problem for you?"

    The man takes a deep breath and ponders this. Slowly he whispers:

    "Actually no, I'm even a little turned on... why don't you tell me more?"

    The woman looks surprised by this, but cheerfully replies:

    "Great! My name was Danny and I used to play for Wasps!"

  • Comment number 55.

    Hi John,

    I think that there are perhaps two things that might help the game speed up and avoid the wresting match that rucks have become:
    1. Allow the attacking player the chance to wrestle the ball back and not penalise too quickly - why not give the advantage to the attacking team?
    2. Point 1 would then make it more difficult for the defender to tackle, get to his feet and get hands on the ball thus slowing things down.


  • Comment number 56.

    how about remove the ruck and replace with a "play the ball". reduce the teams down to 13 a side. remove line-outs also. you then might end up with a game where people run with the ball and score tries rather than wrestling on the floor for 60 minutes!

  • Comment number 57.

    further to the point made by "clockworkscot" (46) my son plays U16 Rugby and not only these lads big enough to do each other serious damage ina ruck, they are still learning the game. Some of them have only the sketchiest idea of how to ruck safely and within the rules. We should nor rule out the physical contact element of the game but too many times ruck's at junior level collapse into a melee of flailing limbs and clumsy adoloscents piled on top of each other. Cant see how this furthers the game or their enjoyment of it...

  • Comment number 58.

    As I recall from my 'playing days' and the 'classic ruck', a good shoeing was looked upon as something healthy and nobody ever complained. I don't know if it resulted in quick ball especially but it was certainly good fun.

    If someone was targetted beyond the realms of what was considered fair play, the victim's team mates usually aleviated the situation if the ref did not - this seemed fair and players, refs and spectators were afforded a grasp of what was going on.

    Despite all this I would like to see a new experimental ruck that doesn't quite hark back to the old days. In my new world a 'rucking motion' would be allowed in the vicinity of the ball to prevent idlers and general lagards from getting in the way. However I would combine this with a second rule stating that once the tackled player releases the ball (which he must do on contact with the deck) all players are then entitled to use their hands. I feel this combination would not only provide great spectator entertainment, but would also create quick ball.

    My insight may well be misplaced but something needs to be done to prevent boring rugby killing us all as despite the excellent Lions tour of South Africa, the average fare currently is poor stuff indeed.

  • Comment number 59.

    “The problem is allowing the tackler to handle the ball while it is on the floor or about to be (legally) placed by the tackled player. This is compounded by referees inexplicably blowing up for "holding on" before the tackler has had a chance to place the ball.”

    “Any process of presenting the ball and driving over appears to have been lost. All the advantage is given to the defenders and referees love to award penalties for holding on,”

    so glad there are others thinking the same way as me.

    the problem with the ruck is from the tackler being able to play the ball. this shouldn't be allowed at all from a basic rules situation. if the tackler is able to play the ball it means he's released the tackled player, hence that player doesn't have to release the ball as he is no longer tackled and should be allowed the opportunity to regain his feet.

    quick ball is also reduced due to the way players take the ball into contact now. the focus on breaking the gain line and "winning the contact" and knocking people back has led to players not taking the ball into contact in a controlled way where they can place it back. players carry the ball with it clasped to their chests (with their arms like a battering ram) and running square into contact (much like in league). this means the ball isn't coming back as they just fall on top of it.

  • Comment number 60.

    "Seven points for a try, three for a conversion. Alternatively two points for every penalty/drop goal. This would mean that a team would have to kick FOUR (!!!) penalties or drops before surpassing the number of points accumulated from a converted try.

    At ten points for a score, with 5 minutes left on the clock, imagine the excitement of games going right to the wire! Much easier than reforming the number of players on the field/pitch size/weight limits + the IRB still gets a family friendly, stamp free spectacle. "

    Frazbean, I am afraid your suggestion would simply lead to more penalties as defenders would not worry about conceding penalties as the points kicked from them would not be so damaging. Essentially in your scenario with 5 minutes left on the clock the side leading would cynically kill the ball at every opportunity.

    Conversly increasing the value of a penalty kick would mean that teams would be more wary of conceding points from infringements and would be encouraged to play the game to the rules. Unfortunatly we need more consistent and transparent refereeing for us to be clear why penalties are conceded. The subjective nature of rugby refereeing is something that is unlikely to be solved and I don't think they need any more pressure on them.

    Points in my opinion should remain the same.

    This blog shows that we are all broadly in agreement, HANDS OFF, bring back our ruck.

  • Comment number 61.

    Hi John,

    I don't think there is a problem with the defender having one crack at the ball on the floor. This, as always should be one attempt to pick the ball up and the player should not be seen to be falling forward or supporting his weight on the player on the floor. Players such as George Smith made this almost fashionable and all kids for a while wanted to be an openside flanker!!

    I think the technique of rolling players off a ruck is illegal. The player doing the removal often ends up hitting the floor 'back first' and i see this as 'going off their feet'.

    Rucking simply can't be allowed back into the game. Higher level games can be policed by touch judges and video referees during the game and siting committies after the game. Where would you draw the line on legal or not? Joe Bloggs who receives a 'rucking' at the local club on Saturday often, has an opposing player running touch (who invariably turns a blind eye) and a job to go back to on Monday. I have been to some pretty dark and gloomy places at local level where the referee is simply not strong enough to stop stamping happening. Bully teams win the game and talent is literally stamped out!! I would like to think these days are gone.

    There has to be a better way and I agree with some of the posts here that older players are looking back rather than forward.

    Change back the kicking to touch rule and get the ball back to either end of the pitch where the fans want to see it.

  • Comment number 62.

    It looks like a lot of people think that the current rules around the ruck contribute to slow ball and lots of kicking; and many of us would like to see less wrestling and more rucking...but the IRB recently enshrined the current rules as being in their opinion the best ones for the ruck, so can anyone explain the reasons behind the IRB's thinking? Why does the governing body think that the current rules make for the best game?

  • Comment number 63.

    One game last season my scrum half and hooker got pinged for using their feet in the ruck. They were raking the arms and hands of the opposition prop who was off his feet with his hands all over the ball, which should have been a penalty against the prop. Since it was my team that was using their feet then the penalty was given against us. I know the referee's hands were tied because rucking is now viewed as dangerous, but there was no other way of getting the man on the floor off the ball.

    On a side note, I'm relatively new to the game (22 years old, in second season) and therefore haven't been told how to ruck properly enough so it's second nature. What I tend to do instead of smashing the guy off the ball is remove their arms (still coming in at some speed) which is extremely effective as he can no longer get the ball and he's now in the way of his fellow defenders. I know it's not the "proper" method but it's my own.

  • Comment number 64.


    As ever thanks for taking the time to blog properly. However I have to take umbrage with this.

    "I don't know if you can have a game for tv where stamping on people is accepted and I always worried that lower down the levels they take things to extreme."

    Whilst it does appear that nuance is entirely lost on the modern generation. "Stamping" is what a certain Mr Grewcock did this weekend. "Rucking" whilst fairly agricultural was never in my experience stamping. It hurts and is to be avoided but I'd be interested to know exactly how many injuries were caused by injudicious rucking? As an earlier poster noted not all experiences may have been so benign. I have heard of some fearsome touring shoeings!

    There Was also a level of self policing involved in those days. An honour system if you will. If you started stamping on their 7, your 7 may ask you why you were trying to get him killed.

    I always assumed the level of shoeing would increase the further up the game you went? The All Blacks certainly had a fearsome variety of shoeing when it was allowed.

    I must admit I hate the ruck now and I agree with the earlier poster about the McCaw's, Broussow's and Smith's of the world. What they do is skillful and difficult, but it's ruining the game. Taking the ball into contact has never been more perilous to teams than it is now. Hence the tendency to boot the ball away before trying to break the line. Or at best slowly take it forward with 3 men trying to preserve possession. Take away the ability to loiter on the ball and you'll solve some of the ills afflicting the game. You'll also get rid of the annoying cry of "isolated" that seems to pass for commentary these days.

    Finally if they brought back rucking, players would have to wear proper shirts again. Did you ever track down the England replica? That could be rucked to pieces by an 11 year old girl.

  • Comment number 65.

    When rugby first went professional forming rugby league the players obviously got bigger and fitter, so to accommodate this they removed two players. Now rugby union is facing the same problem and I think a similar solution would work. I've played 15, 7 and 10 aside and always found at 10 aside the ruck naturally becomes cleaner without changing the rules of the ruck (this was also because the bigger player were not picked because it is a faster game). You could also change the rules of the ruck like rugby league, but I think this is where union adds more than League and it should be kept the same for now. If any rules should change then is should be the offside line. Instead of the back foot, which is always hard to referee, it should be changed to 5m from where the player was tackled. To enter the ruck you would first have to get back 5m then enter from behind the ruck.

    I also think these rule changes could be tried out in university cup competitions rather than changing the rules all at once. It could be a brilliant way to develop interest in university rugby like they have in America.

  • Comment number 66.

    John I believe the ruck can be saved by addressing something that you wrote in your blog, it is something that Richie McCaw is very adept at, and one thing which I regard as blatant cheating but is never penalised by the referee. It is of course this twisting of a player that you refer too. The problem is now, is that the attacking team only need to commit one or two players to the ruck because they no longer 'clear out' the defending team to secure the ball, they now come in and fall over the ball themselves pulling the defending player with them, this creates problems because this puts more players on the ground and stops the defending team from competing for the ball. If this one act was punishable then the ruck area of the game would become a lot more open and competitive.

    I am a fan of allowing anyone to pick the ball up in a ruck if it is there, but the paddling of the ball should not be allowed. If the ball is there why shouldn't it be allowed to be played. As a backrower myself I hate not being able to play the ball just because 'a ruck is formed'. If the ball is not well protected then it should be contestable.

  • Comment number 67.

    Good thread! I can remember NZ coming to Murrayfield and handing us our proverbials (51 - 15 in 1993). The ferocity of the rucking was something to behold and I remember our club going bananas for a couple of weeks practicing the rucking that we had seen. It was all "if you're on the ground, you're part of the ground" and we relished the first game we had against Clydebank where we had the chance to put these new found "skills" into effect. I remember coming off the park with some of the best sprigs I have ever had from a game and feeling immensely proud - after the game I was talking with a few of the 'bankies and we were all completely chuffed about how we'd kicked seven bells out of each other on the field. I say bring back the dynamic rucking days that I seem to remember were a strength for Scotland back in the 90s. Fast forward to a game in Canada 2 seasons ago where I was sent off for "hovering with intent" - first sending off in a 20 year playing career for something that highlighted to me how far down the road of "don't scare the kids" we have come. the ruck policed itself pretty well s far as I can remember and as one of the comments indicated add a penalty to the miscreant who was lying on the ball and soon we open the door again to "quick ruck ball".

  • Comment number 68.


    I want you to click on this Youtube link and forward to about 3 mins and 40 seconds.

    At 3.40 you will see a tackle and ruck in the 1st test between the Lions and All Blacks in 1977. Look at the ferocity from the All Blacks and how quick the ball comes out once the tackle is made.

    Compare that to today!!! and that was 33 years ago...and they say the game has progressed.

  • Comment number 69.

    I have commented on this problem a few times on 606 and I think the rules/law's are there for the refree's to keep the "ruck" clean, legal and competitive. I just feel they don't use them enough. Some of the comments have touched on it already where we here the referee's keep telling the players "hand's off" or "Stay on your feet" time and time again thinking that if the are communicating(Nigel Owens for one) they are keep the game alive but all they are doing is allowing the offending players to keep offending. Where I feel they should warn maybe once max and then penalise. Yes to begin with we may have a spate of penalties and the game will be stop start but teams are that switched on these days to how individual referees apply the laws they will soon stop if they start loosing games and then hopefully the offences will stop and the "ruck" maybe come playable? Any comments?

  • Comment number 70.

    I also think because it is a pro game now we cannot go back to the old fashion shoeing. As if I was a coach and the club was paying his no.6 & no.7 £xxx,xxx.xx amount per session I woul expect them to take that shoeing for the "team" there for it would not free up the ball how it used too and there for the shoeing would get more brutal to the point of illegal!

  • Comment number 71.

    Make it illegal for the tackler to get on his feet and play the ball like McCaw, Brousseau and Smith do.
    Positves? Easier to get quick from the ruck for the attacking team.

    Negatives? Less counter attack off quick turnover ball.

  • Comment number 72.

    Another good joke: Team knows it's any word starting with p is the front of the lineout, any word starting with s is for the middle. Hooker thinks for a while and shouts out psychology. Everyone falls about.

    xpat 73 - don't know, but if tackler was to stay on ground he would be tempted to cheat lots and lots and one big difference is that nowadays defenders are far better trained to create slow ball (and they can't be kicked)

    Grant - probably right, shoeing is probably not a forward step if you see what I mean. In Scotland we have agreed with the referees that they shout "ruck no hands" and the assumption is that if the ball doesn't come back someone is cheating.

    Jimmc - violence does create quickest ball, but do we want people to be kicked in rugby?

    Will reply to more, just come back from a curry with, among others, Mighty Mouse mclauchlan as we are planning a big rugby get together this summer


  • Comment number 73.


    You ask "do we want people to be kicked in rugby".....well as long as it is not on the head or groin I don't see anything wrong with a good shoeing.

    If players know it is inevitable they will not transgress....players transgress now precisely because they have no fear of the opposing team "taking things into their own hands."

    When you allowed shoeing in that sense, the unwritten rules of the game help the referee!

    A similair concept is used in the NHL, where enforcer type players protect the faster skill players.....for example, if someone tries to hurt Sidney Crosby (today) or Wayne Gretzy (old) they would have a visit form a nasty goon later in the game you would pummel them in a fight. Yes fighting is against the rules, and the fighters would get 5 minutes in the penalty box.....but paradoxically it generally makes for a cleaner game with less fights....and indeed the refs know this, which is why you see NHL refs always allowing players to fight once they have dropped the gloves. The recognise the value in a bit of "self regulation."

  • Comment number 74.

    I'm sorry but as a player I find this a very distressing topic which could severly hamper the games physical and tactical sides. If you completely take out such a important part of rugby union we begin to move ever more closely to playing rugby league. If you want to watch fast flowing and expansive rugby then either watch southern hemisphere rugby or watch rugby league. If you make it so the amount of players who can enter a ruck is reduced to just 2 or 3 then we completely lose a key part of the game and the amount of turnovers will drastically be reduced then the amount of excitement will thus be reduced. it just proves that the health and safety state is crawling ever so slowly into our sports, whats next? american football padding and no pushing in scrums?

  • Comment number 75.

    Return to a hands-off ruck and let the players police the use of the feet. Players must be bound-in an arm and a shoulder in both ruck and maul, or back 10 yards. Referees must monitor the set piece to require scrum halves to put the ball in straight and stop 'feeding' their hooker by putting the ball under the feet of the loosehead prop; anything less eliminates a competition between hookers and renders the set scrum near worthless...why have one? Ball not put in straight? Choice to non-offending side, scrum or lineout. Frankly, amateur Union rules made for a much more exciting game to watch AND play. Yes, we DO play 'the game played in heaven' here in the USA, albeit not very well, and those of us who are exposed to the game (mostly in our college years) are life-long fans. Thank God for Setanta Sports, where FINALLY we can see rugby here in the States. Question: WHY are the London Irish nicknamed 'the Exiles'? Cheers from Tennessee, USA!

  • Comment number 76.

    I think that rugby needs to adopt the same ruck rules as in rugby league. Unify the games back together!!! This may be a long term solution!! Greater numbers at all levels playing the one game (like football) would be a positive in a number of countries who compete against other sports for viewers/sponsors etc. Whether that will ever happen - who knows.

    Referees can penalise players who infringe at the ruck all they like but it will not stop the penalty goals flowing especially when teams have goal kickers who can kick penalty goals from 50 meters plus for 3 points!

    Limiting the number of players entering the ruck only places more pressure on the referees (and they have enough to look at already with the current ruck rules in rugby!!!).

    Professionalism has only made players more athletic and all they do these days is play, train and analyse each other to the nth degree, which probably explains why the game has become predictable to some observers.

    It seems that rugby and rugby league teams adopt the same defensive techniques in that the both use gang tackling (3 or 4 tacklers to 1 ball carrier)in order to slow the ruck ball (rugby) or getting the player to play the ball quickly (Rugby League) and it is here I believe where safety/injury issues arise along with the impact of 'cleaning out' a defender from the ruck.

    Other than unifying the games together, it is hard to see how rugby can improve the safety aspect of the current ruck or improve the attacking component of rugby, without taking drastic measures to amend the rules.

  • Comment number 77.

    After many years of watching and playing the game, I now usually switch them off half way through from boredom. Three forwards making 2 yards - tackled - wait 3 minutes as the scrum half looks around and the next three line up. It is just attrition. Rugby is now the sporting equivalent of trench warfare of 1916. Ugly, no ground gained and lots of injuries.

  • Comment number 78.

    i reckon i can sort this one in a heartbeat....

    option a) be incredibly strict about the ruck allowing defenders little time to steal ball, punish the slightest side entry, etc etc, basicaly make the ruck untouchable


    option b) let teveryone kick the living daylights out of each other ensuring their are no debates at ruck time. Their big lads they can take it. You see if Richie Mccaw puts his grubby little paws in rucks then....

  • Comment number 79.

    Thanks for your blog - it is great to see quite a lot of discussion about this great sport.

    At the level of rugby I play I haven't really noticed too much difference in the way that the ruck is either played or refereed. We still used to get people flying over the ruck as we do now. I think this is just as much down to the level of skills of both player and referee.

    What I am concerned about is that the game at the highest levels is beginning to look different from the game played at the lower levels. Going back even 10 years - if I looked at a scrum, maul, ruck then the way it is refereed and played was very similar to what you saw on the local park on a saturday afternoon - this is beginning to change.

    I don't have any problem with old fashion rucking and the smaller guys were quite often extremely good as they tended to hit the rucks etc... with more momentum being just as effective as the meatheads!

    Where the issue is as highlighted before on this blog is the clearing out of people on the side of rucks/mauls causing injury e.g. Adam Jones. This is the area that needs to be addressed to avoid that pressure on the shoulder joint.

  • Comment number 80.

    I'm sorry, but I am of the old school in regard to the ruck - probably because of the era in which I played - 80's/90's. In those days, the ruck was a much easier proposition. If you lay on the wrong side to obstruct the ball, you got a good old shoeing to get you out of the way. Only the brave (or foolish) would stay there for that punishment all the time (though I was one of those 'mad' players).

    I played in the back-row all through my senior career, but was by no means big. I am only six feet tall and at my biggest I was a mere 13 and a half stone and often the smallest forward on the pitch. But I was either a blindside or no.8 - which was unusual for that era.

    Neither did size faze me. If I happened to have an 18 stone forward running at me, I tackled him the same as I would any other player. My adage is the if you tackle correctly (and hard) then that player WOULD go down. In fact, I was known for my ferocious tackling. If you hit that player hard and correctly then obviously you would hurt him. But it was possible to get it wrong hence the number of dislocated shoulder injuries I had. In fact, I used to take great joy out of the crowd going 'ooh' when I had pulled off a big hit.

    Rugby has become too sanitised by the health & safety brigade and it needs some of it's sanity brought back for the benefit (and flow) of the game.

    As a back-row forward, if I came off the pitch without at least some stud marks on my body (as much as it hurt after the game), and on rare occasions my head/face, then I had not played my part in the game or done my job properly. In these days I would probably have found myself in the sin-bin half the time anyway as you get punished for lying on the wrong side all the time !!

    Injuries have always been part and parcel of a full-contact sport and will continue to do so. But if players are coached to do the basics correctly then injuries can be avoided...and as you say, only the foolish will enjoy getting shoed out of the way throughout a match !!

  • Comment number 81.

    I think the biggest problem is a lack of consistency in calling when the tackle becomes a ruck - resulting in wrestling and slow ball. I'd therefore suggest no hands on the ball if the ball remains within a metre of the tackled player. This would hopefully encourage two things: (1) more offloads and (2) a straight forward ruck to contest for possession (with the use of feet to clear players obstructing the ball).

  • Comment number 82.

    The old groundsman was getting sick and tired of the young full-back's constant boasting about his sexual conquests.

    When they met in the local for a drink, he said, 'Listen - I'm sixty-seven and I make love nearly every night of the week.'

    'Get away!' said the youngster disbelievingly.

    'It's true,' said the old codger. 'I nearly made it on Monday, I nearly made it on Tuesday, I nearly made it on Wednesday . . .'

  • Comment number 83.

    This is all really interesting. A lot of you seem to be suggesting that the ruck should be kept physical with use of the boot allowed, but that neither the tackler nor the tackled player should be allowed to touch the ball and you would have to say that nobody then entering the ruck should be allowed to handle the ball either.

    I suppose that would mean much more offloading in the tackle (or from the ground) and more of a collision above the ball as players try to get beyond it or kick it.

    It would be much quicker ball and the impacts would be huge, but I think I would be up for this. It might do away with the smaller open sides thouch as teams would need men who can drive over the ball.


  • Comment number 84.

    Hi John,
    Good debate to start.
    I am in favour of a weight limit, but instead of capping individual players, why not have a weight cap for the combined weight of the entire team? (a bit like they do in some sailing competitions?).
    That way a coach has to focus his team on developing skills without getting too big in the gym. Also makes the coaches job more interesting, as if he wants to include a big 20stone bruiser, it would have to be at the expense of other players bulk. I.e. if the coach does want to include a huge lock, he better have the skills to be worth the weight allowance he would consume.
    Also if a team is over the limit on match day, there could be penalty points assigned to the opposition, or the offending team have to play with 14 men.
    Anyway just another idea to throw in the pot!

  • Comment number 85.

    Why does it need to change? The most exciting ball to get in rugby is turnover ball (and it's subsequent attacking possibility) and what the laws have done is given defending sides more chance to turn it over.

    The kicking side of the game needs to be tackled (pardon the pun) to encourage teams to either kick better into space or run it but this is simply a natural evolution of the game.

    I once read a book about the history of the Wimbledon tennis tournament. Back in the early days there were 2 men who got to the final each year for years in a row. Every year one player would come up with a new way of playing, one example in particular was one player decided to hit the ball and follow it into the net and won in straight sets. A year later the other player had invented the lob and beat him easily. If that was now we would be discussing ways to make the lob illegal....

    It's not a worse game than it ever was, but it is different. The skill is the same but focused on a different area of the field.

    If you don't like it vote with your feet or your remote control.

  • Comment number 86.

    The people of excessive size that you've mentioned don't run aound for eighty minutes. They run for an hour at most, some of them rarely do more than 50 minutes. The entire front row and one lock are usually replaced either side of the hour mark in modern rugby, which means that the big boys can be bigger because they don't have to last the full eighty minutes. Fewer substitutes would mean some of the bulk would have to be replaced with stamina.

  • Comment number 87.

    Currently there is too much of an advantage for the tackler as he is generally on top in a tackle and, therefore, in a better position to regain his feet and play the ball. If both the tackler and the tackled player were out of the game until the ball is played by another player there would more incentive to take the ball into contact rather than rely on kicking the ball away.

  • Comment number 88.

    "You could restrict players from entering the ruck beyond one attacker and one tackler and leave it as a battle between those two"

    Would this not become the equivalent of a Rugby "Square Go" and involve Refs/officials more often than at the minute? Better the ball has always to be visible and then open to faster movement from active alert players, which might, might reduce the stolidness of Centres/ wingers present participation

  • Comment number 89.

    Bring back the ruck! Remember the great Scottish rucking sides of the 80's and 90's, noses 6 inches above the mud, rampaging up Murrayfield? Remember what skilful backs can do with quick ball from the breakdown? Fantastic fun to play that way and great to watch unlike todays endless breakdown tedium with props appearing at centre getting in the way.

  • Comment number 90.

    The game needs to return to its core values which to my mind are:

    - Ball played in hand (mostly) - kicking should add variety and sow doubt in the defence, not be the default option
    - People playing the game on their feet - if you are off your feet you are out of the game.
    - Build pressure and momentum through territory and possession - it sends the wrong signal if players stand a 50% chance of being penalised (so immediately giving the ball to the opposition) whenever they try to be positive and run the ball.
    - Create space - you can only create space by being able use all the combinations of going close or up the middle, going wide and kicking. Currently, the laws restrict the first option.

    The problem as I see it stems from the fact that the laws and referees do not devote enough effort to getting players to stay on their feet. To me the solution is to state that the tackle renders those involved out of the game until they have regained their feet, allowed fair and quick release of the ball and joined the game from their own side of the breakdown . This might stop teams gang tackling the ball carrier to seal the ball off, or the tackler in a single motion starting to get to their feet and at the same wrapping their mits around the ball (as martin mitchell points out)

    At this point all other players must make every effort to stay on their feet, with penalties to be applied particularly to those who launch themselves into a ruck like a human missile (e.g. Bakkies Botha) as happens currently at virtually every ruck. This might also reduce the number of injuries.

    The balance has shifted too much to the defence, so sides are not willing to try to run from deep as they so frequently get penalised. The current aerial ping-pong is duller than watching tennis played on clay because at least that is performed with real skill to outmanoeuvre the opponent. Most of the kicking is aimless punt and hope.

  • Comment number 91.

    I'd love to see a return to a leather ball with laces...but I don't care for a kicking game, I'll admit. No offence to today's great kickers but I'd chance to say it was way more difficult to hit a drop goal from near mid-pitch a few years back with a rain-soaked (read heavy) genuine leather Match. Cheers from the USA where, yes, there ARE those of us who played and love this game.

  • Comment number 92.

    I think we are overstating the problems with the ruck although I am not adverse to seeing the use of feet being allowed. I would also make one change which would definitely speed things up and reduce the endless series of rucks as forwards arrange themselves just off the ruck to take slow ball to drive forward and set up another ruck,, in my view if the ball is visible and playable at the back of the ruck then it should be in play, even if it is within the back foot, this way the scrum half will have to play it as soon as he is able to get his hands on it.

    The real issue for me is the constant kicking due to the fear of being isolated when running things from deep, the advantage is definitely with the advancing kicking team rather than the retreating receiving team. I would extend the area where a player can mark the ball to the 10 yard line so that the defending team players can retreat behind the ball, but after marking between the 22 and 10 yard line they can only restart by taking a tap and running the ball... no kicking.

  • Comment number 93.

    Clearly reviewing the number of comments on this excellent blog this is a subject that clearly causes a lot of interest suggesting that something needs to be done. As a lover of both codes brought up on RL it is clear that both games have a problem restarting the game following the tackle. RL solved it obviously with the play the ball but that has changed enormously over the years to favour the tackled player in the "set of six". I think RL should allow more of a contest at the PTB. The tackled player for instance could get to his feet, not too long ago, and play the ball forward and carry on denying teams the time to reset the defence, but the Aussies who rule RL wanted that stopped. I suggest that RU tries to keep its ruck largely unchanged just police it better. Do not move towards RL in oversimplification of the tackle area.A swift tackle and placement of the ball backwards when possible is by far the quickest way to keep the game in motion. Vive la difference

  • Comment number 94.

    We've spent many years trying to eliminate use of boots on bodies. Trying to attract youngsters into the game- particularly girls - has been a driving force behind this, to prevent unnecessary boot related injuries. We live, whether we like it or not, in a litigious world, where players can and have been prosecuted or sued for injuries on the pitch. If we reintroduce old fashioned tactics we may end up killing the game completely.

    As a referee, I think the whole tackle zone has become too complicated. I have to (1) - get there almost before the tackle takes place to stand a chance of seeing what's going on, (2) be able to see what's happening without getting so close that I'm in the way and so prevent quick ball movement, and (3) look for so many potential penalties whilst at the same time trying to see who's offside along the whole defensive line. Not much surprise therefore that referees find it hard to be consistent at the tackle. I watch games on TV and get the feeling that referees often almost give random penalties of various types because they know someone, somewhere in there is committing some sort of offence but aren't quite sure what!

    According to the laws, players on the ground are out of the game. So we could instantly make it simpler by banning both tackler and tackled player from doing anything with the ball. This current situation where tackler can get back to his feet and attempt to play the ball doesn't work. I see so many times a player apparently on his feet, but in no way supporting his own weight - knees on players on the ground etc. Why can he do that but not the tackled player? If we tightened up on the definition of "on your feet", we'd also improve matters a lot. So often we see players off feet but not penalised. You can't lie on a ball if you are truly on your feet, but you can be shoved backwards to allow access to it.

  • Comment number 95.

    Hi John, enjoy reading your blogs but I have a question for you - while I agree that the ruck is an area that needs to be sorted out I remember not so long ago you were proposing the idea of dropping to 13 a side to allow more space on the pitch. Now here you're proposing that 1 on 1 (a maximum of 4 players) could be a realistic option to sort out the ruck. Surely if the ruck idea was brought into play it would compound your concerns that a lack of space on the pitch was stifling the game?

  • Comment number 96.

    Actually, on another point about the ruck I think the definition of what constitutes the ball being out needs to be addressed. It's annoying to see the ball stay "in" the ruck for prolonged periods of time. Admittedly teams can counter ruck and sort the problem out themselves. I also am fed up seeing the scrum half fumble the ball in the ruck and it to go unpunished, dummying a pick up of the ball at the back of the ruck is also a contentious issue to my mind. It's unfair that a team can be ajudged to be offside when a scrum half goes to pick the ball up, touches it and comes back from the ruck Scott free. Once his hands have touched the ball then if he lets go of it again it should be a knock on

  • Comment number 97.

    I agree that the ruck in modern rugby is the one area of the game where the rules are leading to a direct (and negative) effect on the game - especially the viewing pleasure. In my many years playing by far the best rule at the ruck involved use of the feet.

    As I understood (well played at any rate) the rules the tackled player had to place and release the ball immediately. The first defender was allowed to go for the ball providing they were on their feet (they weren't allowed to lean on the tackled player). At the point the third player arrived the referee called ruck and that was the end of handling. A player on the wrong side was allowed to be removed with the boot - "rucked". You were only allowed to ruck a player between the waist and below the shoulders. The rucking action also had to be backwards. Any use of the boot going forward or vertically was deemed stamping and depending on the intent and seriousness was penalised with a range of punishements from penalty to red card. To ruck backwards your pack has to have at least some territory at the ruck to allow them to ruck backwards which keeps the contest.

    I think this should be re-introduced - it's easier for players to understand and much easier for referees to ref. The scrum half should be allowed to use one hand (or feet) to retrieve the ball. At the point the ball is either out (behind the last foot / limb) or the second hand goes on the ball is back in play.

    It should allow for quicker ball and quicker distribution whilst retaining the ruck as a contest. The rule is easy to understand and ref. Getting rucked (legally) sends a worthwhile message (which was well understood by all players). At present I think there is greater player frustration (especially at junior levels), the rule is not well-understood and actually you now see a rise in cheap shots at rucks as people become frustrated and there are bodies, limbs and heads everywhere. We all know what happens when a cheap shot goes in - carnage.

    The easier a rule is to understand the better the game. If necessary a rule could be introduced on the specific studs that can be used. Either the old rubber (kite-marked) ones or some clever boffin invents something ingenious that allows grip in the mud but doesn't scar people.

  • Comment number 98.

    97 comments, including one from a referee, and no one has pinged the Stade player for the strangle hold on the Edinburgh player?

    I referee occasionally and tell both packs before the match that whilst I can't always see hands on the ball due to my position on the other side of the breakdown then nor would I be able to see what they did about it. I also penalise most furiously anyone player on the ground who is not making frantic efforts to get out of the way. The result seems to be a game that continues to flow without penalties. It's hardly rocket science.

  • Comment number 99.

    I am sorry John, but rugby is being ruined by mirroring society and pandering to the safety neurotic brigade. The problem with the ruck is players aren't allowed to ruck. Before I was put out to grass players could be rucked out provided contact with the boot was not near the head or genital area. That, and prohibiting tacklers from interfering with their hands until they are on their feet I believe would solve the problems at the ruck. No need alter pitch sizes or player numbers or reduce players allowed into the ruck, which as others suggest would crowd the open field. Rugby is a contact sport for heaven's sake and life becomes stale and boring if all risk is removed.

    BTW. What is with the colour of the Biarritz shirts!?! Whatever is the sport coming to I'm all for a bit of razzmatazz, but it shouldn't be a flippin' fashion show!!

  • Comment number 100.

    Rugby is cyclical.. its goes in trends. At the moment its forward dominated and therefore size does matter. Soon a very good team will start winning games with smaller faster players. I would like to see 2 men taken from the pitch. 13 a side would be a much greater game... so much open space would make a much greater spectacle and the players would much prefer more space. Ask any player what his or her favourite thing to do on a rugby field and they will always say running in space.


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