Rugby Union: Ruck law makes no sense

Leicester 33 Gloucester 16

`I don't care what the law is, just tell me who the judge is." Like all the best jokes, Roy Cohn's acerbic one-liner contains more than an element of brutal honesty. While there is no evidence that the acid- tongued American attorney ever played rugby for the US Eagles, he might just as easily have been discussing events at Welford Road on Saturday as the reality of life in a federal courtroom.

Forget about the eight foreign players who, depending on your point of view, either graced or infested the finest club arena of them all for Leicester's opening appearance in the new Allied Dunbar Premiership. The protectionist members of the Fran Cotton Fan Club may believe eight to be eight too many, but there are thousands of loyal, lifelong followers of the Tigers who consider themselves downright fortunate to be watching Waisale Serevi, Joel Stransky and Eric Miller indulge their many and varied talents on a weekly basis.

The identity of the real termite gnawing away at the fabric of what is supposed to be a booming spectator sport was exposed in no uncertain terms as Leicester recorded a distinctly flattering 33-16 victory over much- improved Gloucester with an overdue rush of 17 points in the final nine minutes. Yes, you guessed it. We're talking about the ruck. Or, more specifically, the refereeing of the ruck.

For every bewildering flash of twinkle-toed escapology from Serevi, each breathtakingly athletic driving run from Miller and every bone-splintering South Sea Island tackle from Terry Fanolua, Gloucester's Western Samoan centre, there was an outbreak of wholly understandable frustration at the breakdown. Why? Because players of both sides were confused to the point of paralysis. They simply did not know what the law, in the shape of Ed Morrison, expected of them and it is a stone-cold certainty that they will be none the wiser come next weekend.

Do you have to be on your feet to play the ball at the breakdown or can you still burrow away on the floor like Bill Beaumont in his heyday? Do you need to make ground to retain possession or simply place the ball on the deck to ensure advantage at the scrum? Can you use your feet to clear opposition bodies out of the road or is rugby still clad in carpet slippers? Answers on a postcard, please...

It was not Morrison's fault, far from it; he remains the most sympathetic referee on the domestic scene - and on the world scene, come to that - and as usual, he bent over backwards to ensure a spectacle for the 11,000 honest souls who paid good money at the gate. But the rules and regulations surrounding the ruck - rugby's single most important dynamic, the key to its multi-dimensional appeal - are so convoluted as to deny any possibility of consistency. Ten different officials will offer 10 different interpretations of how a tackle ball can be legally recycled and, as a consequence, the game is losing some hard-won credibility.

"We've got total confusion," said Richard Hill, the Gloucester coach. "I'm not clear on what is and what is not permissible at the ruck, the players aren't clear and I don't think the referees are either. They have a hell of a job and they do what they consider to be right, but there is no common theme. They make policy on the hoof and interpret situations as they go along. It's a shambles and there is a desperate need for a meeting between coaches and officials to sort things out."

Hill's was not a lone voice. A week previously, his old clubmate and the current Bath coach Andy Robinson expressed his intention to send a video of his side's match with Newcastle to Steve Lander, another international referee, complete with personal comments on the ruck issue. Suffice to say that Lander's approach was entirely different to Morrison's, and if the law-makers consider that to be progress, it is no better than the progress achieved by equipping cannibals with forks.

Thanks to Miller's forceful ball-carrying and Neil Back's tireless support work, Leicester emerged from the trough of indecision a shade better than the visitors, and, ultimately, their cleaner delivery won them the day. But it took them more than 70 minutes to fully subdue a Gloucester side who, with the deeply impressive Fanolua and the madcap Saint-Andre brothers breathing fresh life into a once pedestrian three-quarter line and Chris Catling continuing his striking progress at full-back, are handily equipped to cause all manner of problems this term.

Indeed, they led 16-13 at half-time, answering Michael Horak's fine early try - the crucial inside pass from Serevi was quite magical in its vision - with an equally good one of their own, Fanolua cleverly delaying his lay-off to allow the looping Mark Mapletoft a straight run to the posts.

But Leicester's rejuvenated front-row were already in command of the scrummage, Martin Johnson was at his bristling best and with Serevi operating as a free-spirited libero, Gloucester found themselves pinned down for long periods of the second half. Stransky, a shade off colour if truth be told, levelled it with his third penalty on 45 minutes and then nudged his side in front nine minutes from time when Morrison pulled up Phil Greening for handling at a ruck.

The England hooker's hands let him down again five minutes later when he contrived to miss Mark Cornwell at a defensive line-out, overthrowing so comprehensively that Back was able to hoover up possession at the rear. Stransky took an unexpected and difficult pass with aplomb and sent Will Greenwood haring through a wrong-footed Gloucester midfield for the wrap- up score.

Their task completed, Leicester added insult to injury in time-honoured style, wrestling Back over following a Johnson two-handed catch at a close- range line-out. The Tigers may not know their way around the ruck at the moment, but they still understand the mechanics of the driving maul.

Scorers: Leicester: Tries: Horak, Greenwood, Back; Conversions: Stransky 3; Penalties: Stransky 4. Gloucester: Try: Mapletoft; Conversion: Mapletoft; Penalties: Mapletoft 2; Drop goal: Mapletoft.

Leicester: M Horak; C Joiner, S Potter, W Greenwood, W Serevi; J Stransky, A Healey (J Hamilton, 77); G Rowntree, R Cockerill, D Garforth, M Johnson (capt), M Poole (L Moody, 54), M Corry, E Miller, N Back.

Gloucester: C Catling; R Saint-Andre, T Fanolua, R Tombs, P Saint-Andre; M Mapletoft, S Benton (L Beck, 60); A Windo, P Greening, A Deacon, R Fidler, M Cornwell, P Glanville (capt), S Devereux (E Pearce, 77), N Carter.

Referee: E Morrison (Bristol).

Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Voices
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
A poster by Durham Constabulary
news
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Emily McDowell Card that reads:
artCancer survivor Emily McDowell kicks back at the clichés
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvBadalamenti on board for third series
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Standing room only: the terraces at Villa Park in 1935
football
Sport
Ben Stokes celebrates with his team mates after bowling Brendon McCullum
sportEngland vs New Zealand report
News
Amal Clooney has joined the legal team defending 'The Hooden Men'
people
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine