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2009 IRB Law Rulings Summary

2009 IRB Law Rulings


(October 26, 2009)

There have been eight Rulings so far this year. There was also a decision made regarding the Experimental Law Variations that went into effect on August 1, 2008. All were accepted as full Law, with the exceptions of:

  • Entering mauls with head/shoulders below hips (no longer allowed = FK)

  • Pulling down mauls (no longer allowed = PK)

  • Numbers in lineouts (team throwing in sets the maximum and opponents must have the same number or fewer in the lineout = FK)

The Rulings issued last year regarding when a maul ends (General Ruling # 4 and ELV Rulings # 1 and # 5) remain valid.

  • If opposing players leave a maul voluntarily the maul continues to exist and may be driven forward without sanction for obstruction.

  • If opposing players leave a maul involuntarily the maul has ended. The referee should communicate this and the team in possession is liable to sanction for obstruction if they continue to move forward (PK).

Ruling 1 – Knocked into touch

The question asked was about playing advantage from a knock-on that subsequently went into touch with the throw belonging to the team that did not knock-on. Can advantage continue so the non-offending team can take a quick throw-in if they so choose?

The Ruling is that once the ball has gone into touch, it has become dead. If advantage had not yet been gained, then the scrum should be awarded.

Ruling 2 – Grounding in In-Goal simultaneous with touching the Dead Ball Line

The scenario posed was one where a player touched the ball down in In-Goal and at the exact same time stepped onto or over the Dead Ball Line.

The Ruling was that the game was stopped with no evidence to award either a try or a 22 drop out. Therefore Law 20.1 (c) says there should be a five-meter scrum and 20.4 (d) awards the scrum to the attacking team. This is very similar to a “held up in In-Goal” situation.


The IRB had a change of mind and issued a new Ruling in October that says the decision should be 22 meter drop out to the defending team.

Ruling 3 – End of Time at scrum or lineout

If a scrum or lineout has been awarded and then time expires, the referee must allow play to continue until the scrum or lineout has been completed and ball next becomes dead. The question asked concerned a scrum that collapsed or was lifted without penalty. Should this scrum be reset or should the half be ended?

The Ruling was that since the scrum was stopped for safety reasons without reaching a successful conclusion, the scrum had not been completed and must be reset.

There was a similar question regarding a lineout that is awarded and then time expires. If the ball is thrown unfairly (e.g. not straight), the referee should end the half. The original lineout has been completed and there has been an infringement that made the ball dead.

[Note that if there were a penalty or free kick offense committed during the lineout, the kick should be awarded and play allowed to continue until it next becomes dead.]

Ruling 4 – Formation of Ruck

This Ruling addresses the dividing line between a tackle and the formation of a ruck. At a tackle players who have complied with Tackle Law (on their feet, correct zone entry) may attempt to gain possession of the ball with hands. At a ruck players must not play the ball with their hands.

Since the definition of a ruck carries the direct implication that no player has possession when a ruck forms, if a player has possession of the ball prior to contact with an opponent (which would otherwise form the ruck) then that player may continue to play the ball.

This Ruling was accompanied by a video illustrating acceptable examples of players gaining possession and continuing to play the ball.


Note that in all examples shown the outcome is immediate production of the ball. If the actions of the first arriving player do not result in the ball becoming immediately available, then those actions should be viewed critically. “Protective” is not the same as “productive”.

Ruling 5 – Front Row Replacement

In the situation presented, a team started the match with the required number of front row replacements. The team had used its entire list of nominated replacements and due to injuries was no longer able to scrummage safely, resulting in uncontested scrums. The question asked was could the team bring in one of their other players who had been substituted to replace the front row player whose injury necessitated uncontested scrums (per Law 3.12)?

The Ruling was that the purpose of 3.12 is to allow contested scrums to continue. If there were no available front row players AND all other reserves have been used, then the team is not allowed to bring in some other player for the purpose of keeping fifteen on the field.

The bottom line is that if a team has used all its reserves and another player is injured, whether front row or not, that team has to play short.

Note that the question asked and the answer given were quite narrow. Do not read more into this than there actually is, and don’t try to extrapolate.

Ruling 6 – U19 Reduced Numbers in Scrums

This Ruling clarified that under U19 Variations, Law 20.1 (f), which requires matching numbers and formations in scrums, only requires reduced numbers in scrums if either team is short a forward.

  • If either team loses a back (for any reason – injury, send-off, etc.) then scrums can continue with eight players.

  • If either team loses a forward, then scrums must be reduced to seven for both teams.

Ruling 7 – Joining a Ruck

This question addressed the manner in which players may join rucks. Law 16.2 (b) requires that a player join by binding onto a teammate.

The Ruling stated that players joining a ruck must bind before or simultaneously with contact by any other part of the joining player’s body, including the shoulder. This is a safety issue. Players cannot come in like a missile and then bind as an afterthought.

The Ruling also recognized that in some cases a ruck turns such that a player coming from an on-side position to join as required by 16.5 (c) will bind onto an opponent. That is acceptable, keeping in mind Law 10.4 (j) [no dangerous charging].

Ruling 8 – Obstruction when forming a maul at a lineout

The question presented a scenario where the throwing team formed around their jumper (legally) in anticipation of the opposition contesting, with the expectation that a maul would form. If the opposition chose not to contest or come into contact, but the team in possession moved the ball to a player in the back, and then started moving forward as a group, would this be obstruction when an opposing player came into contact?

The Ruling is that this is obstruction and should be penalized unless the referee determinded that 11.6 (a) Accidental Offside applied in which case there should be a scrum awarded.


In addition to the Rulings, the IRB also issued two directives requesting increased attention to two areas.

Dangerous Tackling

The IRB reiterated a 2007 Ruling regarding tackles in which the ball carrier is lifted and tipped horizontally and then dropped or forced to the ground. The sanction for this should start at Red Card and work backwards only if there are extraordinary extenuating circumstances.

This was accompanied by a video example


Maul Obstruction

The IRB issued instructions for increased referee vigilance regarding obstruction at mauls. The three specific areas addressed are:

  • Formation at a lineout, particularly by supporters of the jumper.

  • Formation in open play, primarily from kicks.

  • Ball carrier detaching at the back and continuing to move forward.

There is a video containing examples.


Please contact me with any questions.

Peter Watson
Chair, USA Rugby Laws Committee