It may be a Neanderthal thought, but perhaps the answer is to bring back good old-fashioned rucking. The question, of course, is what to do about players who are persistently offside.

Back in the day, when Richie McCaw was only getting on the wrong side of his cot, players used to punish offside opponents with a vigorous dose of rucking. Gareth Edwards said you always came out of a game against the All Blacks completely black and blue, but it was fair and well deserved.

But since rucking was banned, players have turned to a far more brutal form of ‘vigilante justice’. In recent weeks both Dean Greyling and Scott Higginbotham have taken it upon themselves to object physically to McCaw’s methods. Unfortunately these two instances show just how out of touch the games authorities are in dealing with the whole issue.

Greyling’s forearm smash to the side of McCaw’s head constituted assault. He should have been sent off at the time, but neither ref nor touch judge were strict enough. You could excuse Alain Rolland his leniency. The last time he sent someone off for foul play it cost him the World Cup final.

But what on earth was the citing officer doing in the case of Greyling. Paul Tully said the South African prop’s action had the potential to cause serious injury. He then handed down a one match suspension. Murder would presumably warrant a month off games.

A couple of weeks later Scott Higginbotham takes it upon himself to sort out McCaw, who had just entered a ruck from somewhere near South Australia. Higginbotham let his knee flick McCaw on the way past. There followed a scuffle. Higginbotham, now on the ground, aimed a head butt so soft that it could only be called a Sydney kiss. There was no intent to harm.

Yet Higginbotham, who had a previously exemplary disciplinary record, received a two match ban. Jannie Lubbe, the citing officer who previously exonerated Quade Cooper for a scuffle with McCaw,recognised that there was no intent to harm. Yet Higginbotham still received double the ban of Greyling.

The world is about face. It seems the worse the offence on McCaw, the more lenient the sanction. In the final of the World Cup McCaw was eye gouged, but the IRB swept the incident under the carpet. They didn’t want the scandal. No action was taken about an incident that shamed rugby. Better to pretend it didn’t happen.

10 months later Greyling assaulted McCaw. His coach apologised to the All Blacks captain and called his actions unacceptable. Captain Jean de Villiers was appalled and said his team would never condone playing dirty. Yet Greyling received a one match ban. It’s a joke and not a very funny one.

So when Higginbotham roughed McCaw, coach Steve Hansen called it another cheap shot and pointed out that his captain was subjected to them every week. McCaw said: “It does get frustrating at times and annoying, but there’s not much I can do about it.”

There’s actually quite a lot Richie could do about it, like staying onside, but world class openside flankers don’t think like that. They push the law past breaking point. That’s why rucking was a good solution. Any stud near the head was an automatic sending off offence, but the rest was fair game.

At the moment the game is anything but fair. The psychos are getting away with murder and the likes of Higginbotham are receiving rough justice.

If the IRB won’t go back to rucking, at least appoint a few more ex internationals – as they do in cricket – to the disciplinary panel. At least that way we might get some understanding of the difference between gratuitous violence and onfield vigilantism.


A few comments made

“It has nothing to do with rucking but everything to do with players being sick and tired of watching one Richie McCaw hang around on the wrong side of the ruck over and over taking his sweet time to get out of the way and only a few referees punish him.

I for one as a fan am sick and tired of seeing him treated as if he were untouchable and maybe the time has come for some consistency, it is about time that his almighty Richie is binned, because in my opinion, he is not binned enough and as a result he will keep on playing like that and if the refs will not stop him, frustrated players will.

If Richie is seriously injured one day, will the IRB and the Referees claim responsibility, because if they applied the laws equally to every player, Richie will not be so eager to slow down play”

“I have watched RM in the past really take his time to roll away and get out of the players way, I have also seen him stand up and menouvre himself in such a way as to slow down play. Referees allow him to do these things, rucking would not help, this is simply down to enforcing the law..”

The problem isn’t McCaw. It’s the fact that he understands the application of the Laws better than most referees and definately better than arm-chair critics including most “rugby journos”. He knows there is a fine line and an even finer split second between a tackle and a ruck forming, which, if you look at it objectively as stated in Law 16 of the game reads:

Law 16. Ruck

A ruck is a phase of play where ONE or more players from EACH TEAM, who are ON THEIR FEET, in PHYSICAL CONTACT, close around the ball on the ground.

Therefore, this Law asks certain questions at every post-tackle situation which McCaw has the fastest answers too.

Q: Is there a player from EACH team present? A: No – this means no ruck has formed and ANY player can contest the ball from direction as their is no offside line (yet)

Q: Are the players present from each team ON THEIR FEET contesting the ball? A: No – this means no ruck has formed (yet) and so a player on their feet has all the rights to contest the ball from ANY direction as their is no offside line (yet).

McCaw knows that until all the conditions are met in Law 16, he can dispute each point with the ref and suggest that he was contesting from the position he was in before ALL of those conditions were met to define a legal ruck.

Some refs will argue their point back and bat away his points but McCaw’s understanding of the application of the Laws means he comes across technically superior. This creates doubt in the ref’s own mind as to their speed of thought and speed of positioning to blow the whistle correctly.

McCaw is without doubt a technical master and his incredible engine enables him to be one step ahead (most but not all of the time) not only of the refs but the booing opposition supoorters who only see and shout what they want to see — a McCaw red card!

The Ref’s do not debate on a field and the law also says that a player needs to roll away from the ruck, he does take his time and he does obstruct, whether he knows the law or not, the ruck is not the issue, the issue is interpretation, and IMO…you have 2 things in life.

Laws – they should be clear and concise Guidelines – Open for interpretation

So in rugby if a “Law” can be interpreted differently, then it is not a “Law” but more a “guideline”, that means the IRB need to work on it and make sure there is clarity, we have the same problem with the tip tackle, there is no clear indication as to what is what..

The Law says that the TACKLER needs to roll away.

The next player on the scene does not have to adhere to this so long as ALL the conditions in Law 16 are not met. That player (who is often McCaw) has free reign to contest from any direction as I stated because technically NO ruck has yet formed despite some refs insisting it has

That is incorrect. The second player must still come “through the gate”, he cannot enter from any direction.

2 Responses to Was rugby better with good old-fashioned RUCKING allowed?

  • 1

    Instate the ruck law and call up Bakkies. Richie will announce his retirement soon after.

  • 2

    The old rucks kept players honest.You made sure you moved out of the way pronto if you got caught on the wrong side of the ruck. Agree with the article that the laws of rugby should not be open to interpretation. My biggestbug bear is maybe not a law, but a guideline, and that is the advantage rule. Teams play how phases on a penalty advantage, and when a breakdown occurs the ref goes back to the penalty of how many phases ago, irrespective of whether the team has gone over the advantage line or not. If a team takes the ball through 5 or 6 phases, for a penalty and actually advances territorially, then surely they have used their advantage up? Scrum advantage should be 3 or 4 phases.

    RM does get away with murder. Rucking would cause him to alter the way he plays.


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