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Rugby’s Breakdown Laws Will Have To Be Enforced During The World Cup

The laws relating to the breakdown have always been murky but need to be enforced

Last month World Rugby moved to clarify certain aspects of the laws governing the game ahead of the World Cup. However they did not place a major emphasis on the rules governing the breakdown. This has implications for the games showcase event in the Autumn.

While rugby’s law makers brought a degree of certainty to particular aspects of the game, the breakdown remains something of a grey area. What was missing from World Rugby’s changes, was a commitment to making an effort to consistently implement the current laws.

Of particular relevance is the law demanding that the tackler release the tackled player before contesting for the ball at the breakdown. Law 15.4 dictates that ‘when a player tackles an opponent and they both go to ground, the tackler must immediately release the tackled player… The tackler must get up before playing the ball and then play the ball from any direction’.

In the case of a number of players tackling an opponent, rule 15.6 demands,

Players in opposition to the ball carrier who remain on their feet who bring the ball carrier to ground so that the player is tackled must release the ball and the ball carrier. Those players may then play the ball providing they are on their feet and do so from behind the ball and from directly behind the tackled player or a tackler closest to those players’ goal line.

A clear example of the correct implementation of the above rules occurs here, where the Chiefs player does not release the tackled player.


In the recent European Rugby Champions Cup Semi Final Steffon Armitage was credit with three turnovers. However in winning his first two, at 43:37 and 1:01 minutes on the video below, Armitage did not release the tackled player, making it impossible for Leinster to play the ball. His body position remained static as he transitioned from tackling to competing for the ball.

This rule must be enforced, otherwise the advantage will always be with the team defending. It will also lead to more attacking players committing to the breakdown, as they seek to protect possession, and thus slow the game down.

Referees also have to stamp out the practice of attacking players not allowing defenders roll away. If the player being held is un-noticed by the referee, it seems as if the defender is not rolling away. It is a cheap way of milking a penalty. In the clip below the Argentinian player is held into the ruck and not allowed roll away, thus forcibly conceding a penalty.

Given the body positions players are adopting in rucks, another aspect that needs to be cleaned up surrounds that of the tin opener roll. The manoeuvre is used to displace players attempting to turn over the ball. Whereby attacking players place their arms around the poachers midriff and, using his body weight, roll the defender away from the ball.

However the safety of the technique has come in for some scrutiny in the aftermath of Jean de Villiers suffering a broken leg after Toby Faletau used the method to remove the South African Captain from a ruck.

Fiji’s Sevens Head Coach Ben Ryan has a very vocal critic taking to twitter late last year to voice his disapproval.

While rugby has a tradition of players playing to the edge and mastering the ‘dark arts’, it also needs to flow freely. Particularly during a showcase event like the World Cup. Although there remains space in the game for players like McCaw and Armitage, World Rugby and its officials need to be far more assertive and consistent when implementing the rules.

Alan Drumm, Pundit Arena

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