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.