2011 IRB Law Rulings

Dear Referee Organization Chairs,

The IRB has issued three Rulings within the last week. Please distribute this to all Unions, clubs, Local Referee Organizations and referees in your area. Here is a synopsis or read below.

Please feel free to write or call if you have any questions.

Peter Watson
Chair USA Rugby Law Committee

2011 IRB Law Rulings

2011 IRB Ruling # 1 (June)

Front Row Replacements 13.12 (b)

This Ruling addresses the questions raised when some or all front replacements have been used and further front row replacements are needed due to injury. The question was framed in terms of non-contested scrums, although the answer goes beyond just that circumstance.

When a front row player has to be replaced:
· If there is a front row reserve that has not been used, he must be used even if this causes the referee to order non-contested scrums.
· If all the front row reserves have been used, but there is a front row player who was substituted out (tactical change) still available, that player must be used rather than any other player even if the referee has to order non-contested scrums.
This addresses the situation where the front row reserve available is not trained for that particular position (e.g. the second hooker is injured and the remaining reserves are only trained to prop). The IRB is saying that it is better to have a player with front row experience, even in non-contested scrums, than some other player.

2011 IRB Ruling # 2 (November)

Going to ground in a maul – Law 17

This Ruling addresses the rights and responsibilities of players in a maul when the player in possession of the ball goes to ground voluntarily.

BE SURE THERE IS A MAUL. Recognize the difference between a true maul and a “standing tackle” situation.

Before getting into the details, there are four points which must be emphasized:

  • Referees must be sure the player with the ball went to ground by choice. Collapsing a maul is not an acceptable way to achieve a turnover.
  • This does not produce a tackle situation and Tackle Law should not be applied.
  • A player going to ground with the ball does not automatically turn the maul into a ruck. A ruck happens only if the requirements for a ruck are met – ball is on (touching) the ground and players are on their feet over it in physical contact.

When a player in possession goes to ground and the ball has touched the ground (and the other ruck requirements have been met), Ruck Law applies and all players must release the ball and refrain from handling it, and if on the ground they must move away.

When a player in possession goes to ground in a maul and the ball has not touched the ground, the ball must be made available immediately [17.6 (g)]. Otherwise a scrum or a penalty is awarded depending on the actions of the players.

  • The player in possession has the right to TRY to go to ground with the ball. This right is not guaranteed without restriction, but is affected by the circumstances.
  • The opponents have an equal right to try to keep the player with the ball up, and/or to try to take the ball away.
  • Once the ball carrier is on the ground (“kneeling or sitting” as stated in the Ruling), things change. The player in possession is no longer legally part of the maul. [Definition of Maul]
  • The player with the ball now has an obligation to make the ball immediately available if able to do so. [17.2 (d)]
  • But an opponent who is holding the ball doesn’t have to let go. So if that’s the case, the ball carrier must release or face sanctions.
  • There is no obligation to roll away (unless a ruck forms).

So if a player with the ball goes to ground and a ruck does not form, the ball must be out immediately. The onus is on the player who is on the ground to make the ball available.

The key decision points for the referee are:

  • Was the maul collapsed illegally?
  • Did the ball touch the ground, forming a ruck?
  • If not a ruck, is the ball immediately available?
  • If not, is there fault or was it simply the circumstances?

2011 IRB Ruling # 3 (November)

Offside under the 10-meter Law – 11.4

This Ruling addresses how the offside status of teammates of the kicker is changed by a charge-down or other type of play by the receiving team.

When a ball that was kicked in open play is touched or played by an opponent, the act of playing or touching it (willfully) puts offside teammates of the kicker onside [11.3(c)] EXCEPT a player who is offside under the 10-meter Law [11.4]. There is an exception which says that a charge-down puts all of the kicker’s teammates onside including those within ten meters [11.4(f)].

The question and the response in essence come down to one thing – was it a charge-down or was it simply a touching/playing of the ball. That is what the referee needs to determine when the ball is kicked and then touches or is played by an opponent.

The first part of the Ruling expands on and clarifies what was a somewhat murky definition of a charge-down:


This is a little clearer than what is in the Law Book in that it restricts a charge-down to “close quarters”.

2011 IRB Ruling # 4 (November)

Ball lost forward as a result of actions by an opponent.

This question asked about situations where an opponent “rips” the ball from a ball carrier. There were scenarios offered that looked at the ball coming out and going in a couple of different directions. The answer was expansive enough to cover other actions such as punching the ball out of a ball carrier’s grasp.

The IRB’s response is a significant change from what has been fairly common practice both in the US and around the world, which was to hold the ball carrier responsible for maintaining possession. The decision of knock-on or not a knock-on was made solely with respect to the ball carrier and the direction the ball went in (towards or away from the opponent’s dead ball line).

As a result of this Ruling, referees need to determine if the ball came out of the ball carrier’s grasp by an action of an opponent. If the opponent caused the ball to come out, then the knock-on or not a knock-on responsibility falls on the opponent of the ball carrier. Please note that this action must be the direct cause of the ball coming loose. A ball carrier who loses the ball forward when he/she hits the ground has still committed a knock-on.


Peter Watson
USA Rugby Law Committee