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Can the rolling maul be neutralized?

Roar Pro
27th June, 2009
27
2016 Reads

Surely there are others who spend an inordinate amount of time pondering the laws and mechanics of the rolling maul, looking for a way to counter it – legally.

My stomach drops whenever I see the Boks or the ABs employ this option. The prospect of the Wallabies confronting it in the up-coming series literally keeps me awake at night. Knowing that Robbie Deans may have something in mind is no comfort. Even if he does there will still be suffering.

So, what actually can be done?

Start with the definition: ‘A maul begins when a player carrying the ball is held by one or more opponents, and one or more of the ball carrier’s team mates bind on the ball carrier. A maul therefore consists, when it begins, of at least three players, all on their feet; the ball carrier and one player from each team. All the players involved must be caught in or bound to the maul and must be on their feet and moving towards a goal line. Open play has ended.’ Source IRB Laws 2009.

The mini-maul, in open field play, following a stand-up encounter between ball carrier and opponent (not a ‘tackle’) with at least one teammate from either team involved is normally readily converted to a tackle by bringing the ball carrier to the ground or bringing the ball out and moving on.

The highly problematic rolling maul requires the presence of enough players and organisation to keep the ball carrier on his/her feet and the conscious, tactical intent to move the ball forward as a group. The lineout with all its legal niceties would seem to provide all the elements for this ‘perfect play’ or ‘perfect nightmare’ depending on your perspective – or does it?

Actually, it appears to me that collectively, we have assumed a lot and failed to do our homework. If (a very big IF) the applicable Laws are applied (rather than some vague traditional dispensations/interpretations) there may be both simple and technically challenging solutions to the conundrum that is the rolling maul.

Consider this. Players at the Lineout are not actually required to:

• contest the throw-in
• attempt to prevent the ball winner from advancing forward with the ball

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While not doing these two things may be counter intuitive to most players (certainly in the second case) and entail risk, these points warrant very serious consideration as the collective Achilles Heel in the tactical use of the rolling maul. How so?

Consider this match illustration:

Situation – Lineout is formed

1. Team A has a lineout on the 50m line. Confident of their lineout supremacy (ABs or Boks) they prepare to take the ball, form a maul and drive downfield
2. Team B anticipates losing the ball and the Team A’s ensuing maul
3. Team A wins the ball uncontested and attempts to form a maul
4. Team B commits no players but they correctly stay at the line-of-touch while moving away from the opponent’s cluster of players – thus there is no applicable Law (in particular for off-side) other than those for the lineout in general
5. Team A drives forward in formation but without opposition but its cluster of players does not meet the requirements for a formed maul
6. Team A’s non-maul almost instantly leaves the line-of-touch and, importantly, ends the lineout.

Situation now – open play

1. Team A’s players are now variously off-side and/or obstructing opponents from reaching the ball carrier
2. Team B’s players are now free to attack the now illegally protected ball carrier since there are no lineout or open play off-side provisions to restrict their movement
3. Team A without opposition must break up or run the risk of a number of full arm penalties – not least because they must now allow opponents clear access to the ball carrier

In principle this tactic seems a viable option to an energy sapping, maul contest on the opponent’s terms. It is likely to result in the loss of a few meters of space – but no more than a heads up rapid retreat to prepare for a quick tap penalty (rather routine stuff). The initial uncontested forward movement is also just as likely to result in the attackers being penalized for obstruction or the use of a ‘truck-and-trailer’ formation.

One of the more obvious problems in executing this would be having unwilling defenders dragged into the so-called maul to create a semblance of legitimacy. Referees should be asked to police this. Another scenario where the ball carrier breaks loose can be dealt with by an ankle tackle to eliminate any potential to form a maul. Yes they can pass the ball but having defeated the rolling maul, open play is far less problematic.

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As is always the case there are important distinctions to be made in terms of where on the pitch to apply any approach. In this case taking a risk on allowing a ball winner at a lineout inside the 10m line to turn and run unopposed may not be seen as a good tactic. However, when there is the prospect of being driven 20-30m by a well organized opponent, there may be very good value to refining this approach. If it is the defending team’s throw-in and winning is their own ball is problematic, a minimum number of players in the line-out is a starting point. There are other options.

I have a few other ‘law aware’ ideas. For the moment this one should be enough to attract some well intended efforts to disabuse me of my ‘misguided’ ideas and perhaps ad some value to the discussion. One request: if you don’t actually have a bloody clue what the current Laws say – do us all a favour…thank you.