Jackaler Marx illegal in 2019?

It has been described by former Fiji Sevens coach Ben Ryan as “a mess” and by former England winger Ugo Monye as “the most dangerous place on a rugby pitch”.

There are plenty of areas in rugby in dire need of change, but, if there is one on-field issue requiring attention more than most, it is the ruck.

Players are regularly being permitted to fly in off their feet, perform “crocodile rolls”, and “jackal” the ball with their shoulders below their hips – in breach of the Laws of the Game, posing a significant injury threat, and making for a less entertaining game.

In an article on rugbyandthelaw.com, Ben Cisneros takes a proper gander at the ruck – formed when at least one player from each team are in contact, on their feet and over the ball which is on the ground (Law 15.1).

But it is Law 15.3 that should interest Springbok hooker Malcolm Marx, current king of the turnover at the breakdown: “Players involved in all stages of the ruck must have their heads and shoulders no lower than their hips. Sanction: Free-kick.”

Even author Ben was surprised by this law given that it is almost never enforced. “How often do you see jacklers [sic] bent in half, locked in position over a ball, with their backsides in the air and their heads almost on the ground?” asks Ben. Probably, in every match.

Below Ireland legend Brian O’Driscoll demonstrating the jackaling technique:

The rationale here is presumably to make a legal clear-out possible. If a jackaler’s head and shoulders are no lower than their hips, then it is possible for the attacking team to get underneath the jackaler and drive them off the ball. If a jackaler latches on like in O’Driscoll’s demonstration, this is virtually impossible. As a result, the crocodile roll has come into use – just because you can’t get under the player doesn’t mean you can’t twist them sideways.

Enforcing law 15.3 would perhaps reduce the dangerous crocodile roll, but Ben believes there is a strong argument for eliminating 15.3 altogether. Firstly, encouraging players to have their heads above their hips at the ruck places the head in a more vulnerable position, increasing the risk of head injuries. Secondly, eliminating 15.3 will encourage jackaling – an impressive skill worth rewarding and one which makes it more likely for there to be fewer players in the defensive line, creating more openings for attackers and thus a more exciting game.

Finally, enforcing 15.3 effectively would be incredibly difficult given that, in a fast-paced ruck scenario, it is difficult to discern the exact body angle of a jackaler.

As it stands, though, world renowned jackalers like Marx and Australia’s David Pocock are illegal in the eyes of the current laws. Will that law be enforced though?

In this year’s Varsity Cup, referees have been instructed to look for a significant attempt from jackalers to lift the ball, thus trying to eliminate the limpet like bum in the air position that is almost impossible to shift legally. Might this be the solution? Or is this yet another decision asking for subjective interpretation by the referee?

The original article by Ben Cisneros, editor of rugbyandthelaw.com, a blog focused on Rugby Union laws, can be found on Crash Ball Rugby.

- All Out Rugby

Let's chat

  • Barry

    Makes a bit of a mockery of those making the laws, surely they consult and fully ventilate before they go to print?

    To my mind, one of the biggest issues is that the tackled player does not release the ball (entirely) making the extraction of the ball by the defending player really difficult – hence the bum in the air stance. There is a notable difference how the refs in the North blow this – the attacking side seem to have a greater advantage!

    • Tank Lanning Tank Lanning

      Indeed Barry. One of the things refs are really looking into, though, is the “Staple”, which sees the defending player come in over the tackled player and staple the ball to the player while making it look like he is going for the steal. So it then looks like the tackled player has not released, but in fact cannot because of the staple.

      One thing we know for sure, the breakdown is a dogshow. One could find a reason to penalise both sides in almost every single breakdown!!

      • Barry

        Thanks Tank welcome back! Dog show indeed. Not ideal leaving the ref’s with so much interpretive latitude. So many of them blow the 50/50’s to home ground advantage, that you’re not getting a fair result!

    • Wesley

      Good point Barry, as who do you blow in the instance of the player not releasing, with the defender jackling the ball? One causes the other. The moment you get tackled, a release or placement must be executed, but with the defender trying to poach the ball in an illegal position and almost impossible to clear out legally, the attacker gets desperate and wrangles and handles the ball at least twice or even 3 to 4 times to get it to the back of the ruck. And the ref allows this as to create a flowing spectator game.This was less a problem with amateur players as they could not train their bodies to do these freakish feats, as having your shoulders below your bum and being immovable is freakish in nature. The more adapt and stronger these pro athletes get, the more difficult it will be to police them.

      • Tank Lanning Tank Lanning

        Yes Wesley. Recoil and place the ball after a tackle, like players were taught to less than a year ago, and all you do is leave the ball there for the poach. So now tackled players fight for “King space”, use their body to try flick the jackler over forward, then place, or try to “Give birth” through the legs. Primary reason, is teams wanting to secure the ball in the tackle while not committing players to the breakdown. Commit to the breakdown on D or A, and you are left in the shizer out wide … As said, dogshow!!

  • Reinier Minny

    The so called Jackaler is allowed in that position (head below hips) before a ruck is formed. If he has his hands on the ball (staple or otherwise) he is legally entitled to continue and should be rewarded if no release. The only contentious issue is if the jackaler get his hands on the ball after a ruck is formed. The article is ignorent to the laws, but do make an important point: dont allow any play with hands the instant a ruck is formed (the moment of physical contact between two players of opposing teams on their feet) – except if the first arriving player ‘beat’ the ruck.

  • Barry

    Reinier, after having a closer look at rule 15, I would tend to agree. Rule 15.3 quoted relates to rules for the formation of a ruck. Rule 15.11 covers players extracting the ball, where the criteria is “on your feet” and NOT bum below shoulders, but it needs to be simultaneously or before the ruck is formed! All so simple, isn’t it Lol.

    Rule 15.11. Once a ruck is formed, no player may handle the ball, unless they were able to get their hands on the ball before the ruck was formed and stay on their feet.

    The contention is thus, is a ruck automatically formed once two players make contact over the ball, or is it only when the Ref calls ruck?

    • Johan

      Good point Barry,

      Clearly Marx and co. isn’t illegal:
      1. You may not use hands in the ruck
      2. WHEN ruck is formed you have to have:
      “Players involved in all stages of the ruck must have their heads and shoulders no lower than their hip”
      3. So in order to legally steal the ball, you have to have your hands on the ball before the ruck is formed, and your ass can be wherever you want
      4. As usual in rugby, non of these rules apply to NZ teams as they may do as they like

      • SweetAz

        NZ teams dont play to the Laws,—they play to the ref, they figure out pretty quickly what a particular ref’s style is and play accordingly.

      • Barry

        Yip, clear as mud, but it’s not about ass, Marx is legal! I assume players just play to the whistle, so it’s fair game up until the ref calls ruck, then it’s hands out? Not quite the rules, but the way that they are effectively played!

  • Herman Schroder?

    Much ado about nothing. Cheers.

    • Barry

      You probably don’t understand the implications. It’s a pitty there’s not a graphics function, so we could draw you a picture.lol

      • SweetAz

        If it doesn’t have an “offload” or “open expansive play” somewhere in the article it must be “domkrag”,—so its unlikely Schrodinger’s Cat will understand the implications.
        Or, more likely its just the inability to admit anything negative about a Lions player. You know what they say, in the world of the blind the One-Eyed Herman is king.

  • Reinier Minny

    Thanks Barry. The laws give a definition for ruck too:
    “Ruck: A phase of play where one or more players from each team, who are on their feet and in physical contact, close around the ball, which is on the ground.”

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