When a tackled player hits the floor the current phase of play is over. But, because rugby doesn’t stop, there is no time for everyone to arrange a neat scrum. Instead whichever forwards are closest to the tackled player come and stand over him, protecting the ball and getting it back to their scrum half. Again this is a sort of blocking. Anyone on the ground is supposed to get out of the way. Standing players may try to move the ball with their feet. If there are players on the ground who are in the way it is OK to give them a gentle nudge with your boot to remind them that they are in an illegal position. Jumping up and down on their heads is generally frowned upon.
This little piece of mayhem is known as a ruck, and it is one of the most crucial parts of the game. Rucks happen a lot more often than formal scrums and it is vital to be able to rescue the ball when one of your players is tackled and get it back into play as fast as possible. A lot depends on how the tackled player falls. A good tackler will try to turn his man so that his body is between the ball and his forwards. Equally a good runner will try to fall with his back to the opposition and, rather than just drop the ball, carefully place it on the ground as close to his colleagues as possible.
A ruck is very much an improvised affair. There are no set rules about who may do what. Sometimes most of the forwards are puffing far behind and the backs have to go in to protect a tackled colleague. Sometimes the scrum half is buried on the ground and can’t get out so someone else has to step in to collect the ball and distribute it. While there are specialists in rugby, everyone has to be prepared to cover for everyone else.
You will see a lot of penalties called during a ruck. The most common one is where the tackled player sees that he has little support and so hangs onto the ball to stop the other side getting it. Diving on top of the players on the ground is forbidden, otherwise you would just get the sort of pile that happens after a fumble in gridiron and the ball would never come free. Players can also be called for handling the ball while on the ground, or for various forms of violent conduct. It is also an offence to enter a ruck from the side or from in front of the ball. Until the ball is secured you have to stay behind it.
The other type of improvised scrum you may see is called a maul. This happens when the ball carrier’s forward motion has been stopped by tacklers but he has not been brought to ground. Forwards from both sides may then pile in and try to move the logjam of bodies in the desired direction. Everyone has to stay on their feet, and you get what is effectively a multi-player blocking exercise. The trick is to spin the ball carrier off to one side, drive forward a yard or two, and repeat the process. If no progress is being made, the ball can always be fed back to the waiting scrum half. The opposition will be trying to strip the ball away from the ball carrier.
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