By admin | April 23, 2012
It is interesting to hear rugby people, in particular rugby coaches, lamenting the absence of that age old bastion of rugby, rucking. In my field of work I also hear constantly, referees took rucking out of the game. So where has it gone? Who did take rucking out of the game? Who is the Grinch that stole the ruck and rucking? In terms of rugby value, it really is on the same level as Christmas being stolen, for those who are into Christmas. One wonders if it is the same Grinch.
I was one of those very fortunate rugby people who had the opportunity to play rugby when there were rucks and there was rucking. What amuses me is when I hear late Generation X and Generation Y rugby enthusiasts talk about their rucking days when playing post 1996. Strange that because post 1996 there was no rucking. Are these people therefore living vicariously through there rugby ancestors’ famed rucking past?
One may ask the question as to why 1996 is relevant. It is relevant because rugby went fully professional then. As a result, certain things happened. A new set of powerbrokers, those who were prepared to pay significant monies into the sport of rugby, started to have a major influence over the sport. Rightly or wrongly, there was a call for tries, therefore entertainment, and guess what, that’s what happened. The scores through the 1997-1999 seasons were at times ridiculously huge, to the point there almost appeared to be an element of monotony to it.
The reason this happened is actually not too hard to decipher. When the call for entertainment was made, who best to ask how to do it, but coaches, and fair enough. The solution, allow the ball carrying team to build a bridge over their own tackled player so the opposition could not get to the ball, contest, and therefore potentially turn it over. This allowed almost perpetual recycling by the team in possession which invariably lead to a try. The team without the ball ended up redundant in the game and sort of fanned out randomly to try and fill holes as best they could. In time however, the clever coaches recognised they could arrange their troops on defence in a very organised fashion indeed, to the point they were almost impenetrable; this signalled the advent of the defence domination in the game through the 2000s. If a team could not contest, they simply redeployed in a highly structured defence pattern of 12-15 players strung out across the field much like a picket fence. The game then went from one extreme to another.
The issue with the bridge is it is illegal in law; it essentially renders an arriving player off his/her feet in order to secure possession. When one looks at the law surrounding this, it is one of the essential elements of tackle and ruck law; arriving players must stay on their feet, Law 16.3(a).
The missing link in all this was the law man. The law man could/should have fought against the bridge given it’s contravention of such an essential part of the tackle and ruck laws. This brings us back to the question at hand; who stole the ruck and rucking?
In order to be able to ruck, players need to be on their feet. Players also need to be driving forward so the action of rucking is a backward motion of the foot. The bridge quickly brought an end to that; not only did players go off their feet, they also came to a stop and therefore lost their forward momentum. What happens then is players will either join the pile up off their feet or stop and stand up in the proximity of the pile up. Players simply cannot ruck when in a prone position, and while standing will end up trampling or stamping, both of which are illegal. Those late Generation X and Generation Y rugby players who talk about rucking are really only talking about having a cheap shot at a stray leg or back or set of ribs by either trampling or stamping, not rucking.
Some of these acts started to become cynical and as an outcome the act of rucking was questioned to the point players were no longer able to place boots on opponents in the act of freeing up the ball; the act of rucking as we once knew it. It is also important to note here, there are still 5 pages of law book dedicated to the ruck and rucking. In the act of rucking now however, players “must step over players on the ground and must not intentionally step on them. A player rucking must do so near the ball”, (Law 16.3(f)).
The intent of the law has now changed to cater for the players on the ground; something that prior to 1996 was not an issue. The law emphasis now is a product or outcome of contemporary rugby in the professional era. Yes referees have to referee the law as it stands, but they did not contribute to the demise of tackle and ruck law as it stood prior to 1996. Coaches did that, and players like sheep followed. The referees should have stood taller, been less passive, and questioned early the effect of the bridge at the tackle/ruck. They fell into the trap of assisting with the evolution of the game “they” wanted post amateurism.
Whilst in the end of this, certain rugby people have been singled out, collectively all rugby people can contribute to getting crucial elements of our sport back. My thesis here is this; if coaches coach players to stay on their feet when arriving at a tackle/ruck phase, players accept their responsibility to the cause, and referees rule the law accordingly, we will get our ruck and rucking back. For the betterment of our great sport, let’s all contribute to the guardianship of rugby to make it and leave it a better sport than it currently is. Discovering the Grinch who stole the ruck and rucking is fun in some ways but the exercise should ultimately lead to better outcomes for rugby in the future as we learn from past mistakes.
Matt Peters Referee Education Advisor Manawatu/Wanganui/Taranaki