What is the law of the rugby ruck?

When a tackle occurs in Rugby Union, but the possession of the ball isn’t taken cleanly by one team or another, sometimes the referee will call a ruck, leading to a little understood phase of play.

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Rucking isn’t nearly as complicated as it first seems, so here is a breakdown of what’s involved, that will hopefully lead to greater clarity.

What is a ruck, and how is it formed?

A ruck is formed when the ball is grounded, usually from a tackle, and players from opposing teams come into contact on the feet and around the ball. When that happens, the referee should call a ruck.

Once a ruck is called, players may not play the ball with their hands, and must stay on their feet in order to avoid penalties.

What happens in a ruck?

Rugby drills, such as those from https://www.sportplan.net/drills/Rugby/, can assist in understanding and correctly playing a ruck. Once a ruck has been called, the players involved must stay on their feet, and can not play the ball with their hands.

Each team will attempt to free the ball from the ruck into their control, which usually means feeding it backward or out the side of the ruck, but this is not necessary – a ball kicked forward out of a ruck could be legally played by whichever team reaches it first.

How can a player join a ruck?

Players who are on their feet can join a ruck “through the gate”, similar to a maul or any other rugby support play. This means that the players must come from behind the back feet of the rearmost player, and must bind at least one arm around a player already in the ruck.

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Players must enter a ruck on their feet, and with their head and shoulders above or even with their hips. Entering a ruck from the side or diving into a ruck will result in a penalty against that player.

How does a ruck end?

Ideally, a ruck ends when one team plays the ball with their feet out of the ruck, and the referee calls that the ball is free, so either team can legally play the ball, and regular play resumes, but often a ruck will end due to a penalty.