17 March 2015

Rugby is a simple game.

A team of 15 guys has only one major objective, to get hold of the ball, run with it as far as they can, passing it to and fro amongst team mates, until they have carried the ball over the goal line of their opponents. They put the ball down on the ground to signify that they have successfully achieved their objective. Their opponents have just one simple objective, stop them from carrying the ball over the goal line and putting it down on the ground.

Rugby, reduced to it’s very basics, is a very simple game. And so it should be.

Rugby has long prided itself on being the game that everyone can play. In it’s own Lawbook the Playing Charter says:


The Laws provide players of different physiques, skills, genders and ages with the opportunity to participate at their levels of ability in a controlled, competitive and enjoyable environment. It is incumbent upon all who play Rugby to have a thorough knowledge and understanding of the Laws of the Game.”

It is about here that the entire thing starts to go wrong!

Let’s take a look at that one simple extract from that statement:

“It is incumbent upon all who play Rugby to have a thorough knowledge and understanding of the Laws of the Game.”

In almost every sport played on this planet a participant must have a basic understanding of the laws of the game. A tennis player knows when a service is legal or illegal, where the boundaries of the court are and when a ball is in or out. It is simple. A soccer player knows what the objective is of the game he is playing, and that a set of simple rules govern the way he plays it – he may not use his hands; he must kick the ball; when he is offside; when a ball is out of bounds and who will restart the game and how it will be restarted when the ball has gone out of bounds; and how to score a goal. It is all pretty simple.

Then we get the game of rugby.

The Laws of the game of Rugby are published annually by World Rugby in a publication titled:

“Laws of the Game Rugby Union incorporating the Playing Charter”

comprising 212 pages of words, pictures, illustrations and photographs.

One would think that a law book governing a relatively simple game such as rugby union would provide simple, clear, and straightforward rules to govern the sport.

Unfortunately this is not so.

Just the simple definition of the playing area of a rugby field is riddled with inconsistencies. And this is in Law 1 of the game!

The Law says:


  1. (a)   The surface must be safe to play on at all times.
  2. (b)  Type of surface. The surface should be grass but may also be sand, clay, snow or artificial grass. The game may be played on snow, provided the snow and underlying surface are safe to play on. It shall not be a permanently hard surface such as concrete or asphalt. In the case of artificial grass surfaces, they must conform to World Rugby Regulation 22.”

Right there it starts by setting a standard and then modifying it! “The surface should be grass.”

Then it says: “but may also be sand, clay, snow or artificial grass.“

Whilst this is not an unreasonable requirement, it serves to illustrate the problems with the Laws of Rugby as they are written at the moment.

This same Law 1. states that

Law 1.2 Required Dimensions

 a) The field of play does not exceed 100 metres in length. Each in-goal does not exceed 22 metres in length. The playing area does not exceed 70 metres in width.

(b)  The length and breadth of the playing area are to be as near as possible to the dimensions indicated. All the areas are rectangular.

 (c)  The distance from the goal line to the dead ball line will preferably be not less than 10 metres.

Quite simple really, the in-goal area (or dead-ball area as some older folk like to call it) shall be at least 10 meters wide and not more than 22 meters wide.

 That is an easy one to understand, except……

Law1.2 (d) then says:

“and with a minimum in-goal length of 6 metres”

Why bother with Law1.2 c) if, in the next breath Law 1.2 d) is going to change it??? Which is correct? 10m or 6m……… or both?

The Laws of Rugby are a complex minefield of definitions, explanations, stipulations, and provisions, making the game itself vastly more complex than it should be.

I want to illustrate the complexity, and somewhat illogical structure and application of the law by looking at Law 20, the law that governs the scrum.

Law 20 has 11 Definitions and no less than 13 Sections, and 70, yes that is correct SEVENTY, sub-sections.

The Law provides for 26 infringements that result in a penalty kick, and a further 19 infringements that result in a free kick.

One could venture to suggest that Law 20 is thus fairly comprehensive and governs each and every eventuality that might or might not occur during a scrum.

No, not really.

You see Law 20.4 (g) says:

“If a scrum collapses or lifts up into the air without sanction a further scrum will be ordered and the team who originally threw in the ball will throw the ball in again.

 If a scrum has to be reformed for any other reason not covered in this Law the team who originally threw in the ball will throw the ball in again.”

Fairly straight forward then? If a scum lifts up in the air, the law says the ref must blow his whistle and reset the scrum, WITHOUT SANCTION.

Well, that is what the law with regard to scrums says. But… The Laws Of Rugby are not that simple.

You see, if you page back to Law 10, governing Foul Play, under Section 10.4 (k) we find all sorts of additional laws that govern the scrum.

This Law reads:

“Dangerous play in a scrum, ruck or maul. The front row of a scrum must not rush against its opponents.

Sanction: Penalty kick

 Front row players must not intentionally lift opponents off their feet or force them upwards out of the scrum. Sanction: Penalty kick

 Players must not charge into a ruck or maul without binding onto a player in the ruck or maul. Sanction: Penalty kick

 Players must not intentionally collapse a scrum, ruck or maul.

Sanction: Penalty kick “


So Law 10 thus modifies the written law contained in Law 20. Law 20 says there is no sanction if a scrum lifts, while Law 10 says it is illegal to lift a scrum.


Why can this stuff not be included in the single law governing the scrum???

There is yet more elements of inconsistency here, let me illustrate:

Law 20 goes into detail about the law regarding Offside at the scrum. It has a whole section dedicated to this aspect, including 9 sub-sections a) through i). (Law 20.12)

Yet Law 11, containing all the stuff about Offside and Onside in General Play, makes no mention of the stuff detailed in Law 20. However, Law 11 dedicates an entire section (Law11.8) to

Putting onside a player retiring during a ruck, maul, scrum or lineout”

Just these two examples illustrate both the inconsistency and the complexity of the Laws of Rugby. If Law 20, with Eleven Definitions, Thirteen Sections and Seventy Subsections cannot cover the entire working of a scrum, what hope is there that a player or referee can ever fully understand and comply with the Law as suggested in the Playing Charter?

Law 20 is incomplete insofar as it deals with a scrum lifting, yet it happily covers most areas of off-sides at the scrum, while the law that governs Offside play, Law 11, is silent on most aspects of offside at the scrum, but does tell us how to put a player back onside during a scrum!

It is a bugger’s muddle that serves only to confuse.

Come on World Rugby, you have had more than one hundred years to get this right!

That is enough about the Laws for today. The next subject I will be looking at is the inconsistencies regarding the Maul, Obstruction, and the Flying Wedge. Suffice to say that all those driving mauls off a lineout do seem to be illegal in terms of the written law. Or are they???


Bill – March 2015