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Talking Eds Archive - December 2008

16 December 2008

May 22, 2009

This series of Talking Eds has now finished.  However, if you still find yourself disagreeing with the ref on the telly or your mates down the club, we've another chance to get the facts straight.   However, thanks to our new feature Spread the Word, you can put your laws' questions to one of the most familiar voices on the international scene, Tony Spreadbury. 

E-mail your question, along with your name and where you're from, to Spreaders at In the first of our weekly Spread the Word features, we'll publish his answers here on on Tuesday May 26, 2009, with the best ones featuring on the RFU podcast, out every Thursday.

November 26, 2008

Talking Eds: Hand offs - below the belt?'s weekly Talking Eds feature gives England fans the opportunity to put their refereeing questions straight to one of the game's most respected whistlers, Ed Morrison.    

Ed, who refereed the 1995 Rugby World Cup final, will explain the facts behind the IRB Laws of the Game.  Read his answers every Wednesday afternoon at or listen to him on the podcast at every Thursday from 4pm.

To submit your question simply e-mail  

This week Ed handles the hand off, covers the kick off and applauds fair play

Q Is it legal to deliberately hand-off an opponent in the head or face?  Surely allowing this would amount to an anomaly within the laws: in other respects, the head is out of bounds (dangerous play - red card offence); you cannot play an opponent if they are not in possession of the ball (penalty or yellow card); you may not strike an opponent (GBH under criminal law).  I appeal under Law 10.  Paul Roberts, Ryde RUFC

A  Although Law 10 4 (a) clearly states a player must not strike an opponent with the fist or arm, including the elbow, shoulder, head or knee(s), the Laws do not make mention of the hand off and it is therefore permissible within our game.

However the situation is different in junior rugby (below under 13s), where handing off a player anywhere is deemed to be dangerous and is therefore illegal.

Q In a recent U15s league match we were appointed a society referee.  The gentleman concerned was rather large and whilst I have no issue with this, unfortunately he was struggling to run, let along keep up with fast and fit 14 year olds.

Many obvious offences were missed including what really should have been a try for the opposition, which he couldn't give as he was so far from play.  My question is this as the head coach of a junior team do I have any right, with the agreement of the opposition coach, to ask the referee to stop.  We didn't and put up with it.  My real concern is that especially at junior level the referee is also there to ensure safe play.  Chris Munro, Sutton and Epsom U15 coach

A I'm sorry to hear you weren't happy with the performance of the Society referee appointed to your club's U14 match.  To answer you question about whether you and your opposition coach have the ability to ask the referee to stop the game, the answer is no.

However the referee has a responsibility to apply all the Laws of the Game in every match.  If you don't feel he did this or are ever unhappy with a referee's performance, the best thing to do is to write to your local society detailing your grievances. 

Q    What are your views on the current ELVs and why have the Northern Hemisphere only adopted some of them?  I think the game is getting boring - my wife says it's getting more like rugby league! Why should the great rolling mauls be killed by the ELVs just because Australia and New Zealand can't scrummage properly.

With the exception of three (not kicking direct to touch from a passed back ball; no need to match numbers in the line out; encouraging quick throw ins) I think all the others are killing the game and making it look like rugby league.

What are your thoughts? Brian Richards, Southampton

A  A huge amount of global discussion took place with regard to the ELVs and as a result, as of August 2008, 13 variations are being trialled globally.  The trial will take place over a whole season and will give the IRB an opportunity to analyse the merits of each one before deciding which, if any, to implement into the Laws of the Game.

All Unions are being invited to give their feedback and the RFU is keen to take into account the views of all rugby followers, whether referees, players, coaches or spectators.  We've set up a website ( that will allow us to collate everyone's thoughts before we provide our final response to the IRB in April/May, and I'd encourage everyone to complete the survey by the closing date (December 16).

Q I was at Twickenham to watch England play Australia and was appalled by the behaviour of a large number of spectators (seemingly from the South Stand) during Australia's place kicking. It used to be the case at Twickenham that you could hear a pin drop whoever England were playing against.  Jerom� Freedman, Croydon, Surrey

A  The behaviour of the crowd is not a refereeing issue.  However, I understand that the Union took some measures that, thankfully, ensured that behaviour wasn't repeated against South Africa.  I agree with you that there's no place for it in the game and I hope that's the last occasion we witness such behaviour at Twickenham.

Q I can't find the answer to this in the law book so hopefully you can give me your interpretation.  From a restart, the receiving team fields the ball and a maul forms immediately.  The maul remains static so the ref blows his whistle.  Who gets the put in to the scrum as technically the receiving side did not take the ball in to the maul.  Bob McDowall, Beckenham RFC

A The Law says that if a maul is formed and remains stationary or has stopped moving forward, the side in possession of the ball has a responsibility to move the ball away from the maul.

Law 17.6 (h) states that from all kicks other than a kick or 22 drop out, if a player catches a kick and is immediately help by an opponent and a maul forms, it's the receiving side that gets the scrum put in.  From a kick off, the scrum throw in goes to the side that kicked off.


The next Talking Eds feature will be published on Wednesday December 3.

November 19, 2008

Talking Eds: Try and try again?

This week Ed reviews some of Twickenham's �tries' and gets tough on guards

Q At the end of England's game against the Pacific Islanders last weekend,   Paul Sackey was high tackled whilst going over for his second try, causing the referee to consult the Television Match Official (TMO).

Over the reflink the referee could be clearly heard to say that he was going to award a penalty try if no try had been scored.  If this was the case, why did he not immediately award the penalty try as there is a clear advantage in taking the conversion direction in front of the posts rather than from the corner? Bob Hankin, Brussels, similar question from Graham Knight, Somerset

A  I think in this case, the referee was trying to be sympathetic towards Paul Sackey.  Replays of the incident clearly show the England winger was high tackled and the referee could have, provided he had a clear view, immediately awarded a penalty try.  However, as indicated, I believe George Clancy chose to award the try to Paul, rather than award a penalty try which, in law, is not attributed to an individual but to the team.

Q In England's game against the Pacific Islanders, the referee was playing advantage to the Islanders when one of their players picked up the ball from a breakdown and dived over the tryline.  The referee disallowed the try, called them back and made them take the penalty but why did he not allow the try given that he was playing advantage to them in the first place?
Kim Bailey, Ashford, Kent

A If you review the incident, initially England fell offside at the ruck and the referee was playing advantage to the attacking side.  .  The Pacific Island player, who was part of the ruck, picked up the ball and dived over the goal line, grounding the ball.  The referee correctly ruled that because a ruck had formed, no player (attacking or defending) could handle the ball.  He therefore went back to the original offence, awarding a penalty 5m from the goal line.

Q   I often see players acting as �guards' at the side of rucks, standing in front of the back foot and not bound to the ruck.  Referees in National One seem to allow this, should this be the case?  Paul Jaques, Otley

A  Absolutely not, the law is quite clear and the players in question are in an offside position and should be penalised accordingly.

Very often referees will be looking at the defending players at a ruck and not paying enough attention to the actions of the attacking players, who sometimes get away with creeping forward. Unfortunately this occurs at all levels of the game, and although the referee is the sole judge of fact, those officials taking charge of the higher leagues who are lucky enough to have assistant referees will often rely on their assistants to bring these actions to their attention.

Q A defending team kicks the ball from within their own dead ball area to clear.  The kick is charged down by an attacking player and the ball bounces back into the dead ball area where it's touched down by a defender.    What's the correct restart here?  Graeme Silk, Canvey Island RFC.

A  The side responsible for taking the ball into the in goal area will determine the referee's decision.  Assuming the charge down took place in the field of play (meaning the attacking team was responsible for taking the ball into in goal), the referee's decision would be a 22m drop out.  If the ball was taken into in goal by the defending side (the charge down occurred in goal) then the decision would be a 5m scrum to the attacking team.


The next Talking Eds feature will be published on Wednesday November 26.

November 12, 2008

Talking Eds: Ed's favourite ELV, the crooked feed and why bridging is out

November 12, 2008 Talking Eds: To handle or not to handle, tackling offside and when is a chargedown not a chargedown.

Q Please could you clarify the offside law. The blue team win the ball from a ruck. The scrum half passes the ball to a back who runs it forward at least 5m, past the line of the last ruck. Are the red players getting up from that ruck now offside (they are in front of the ball)? What happens if the blue ball carrier accidentally passes the ball to one of these red players?

This happened in one of our minis games and although I initially thought it was offside, having re-read the laws I see that a pass or run of more than 5m puts the opposition onside. Guy Palmer, Old Albanians minis.

A In this scenario, the red players were onside because the ball carrier's 5m run (or scrum half's 5m pass) meant the ruck had ended and the ball was therefore in open play, where there is no offside. If the blue ball carrier had been tackled and another ruck had formed, then the red players getting up from the original ruck would be offiside - this is what we would call a slow retreat - and it's why you often see players jogging back onside with their hands above their head to signify they are no interfering with play.

Q My son's under 17 side recently had a penalty successfully blocked by the opposition team lifting a player up in front of the kicker. The ref on the day allowed it. Is this legal and if so, why don't the professional teams do this? From Gareth Opie, Saffron Walden U17s

A This is actually illegal. If you think about it, players on the opposing team have to be still while a penalty is being taken. Lifting a player involves movement and is therefore illegal.

In theory you could do this for a conversion though, where players can move once the kicker approaches the ball. But generally speaking, most referees wouldn't allow this as it's deemed to be outside of the spirit of the game.

Q In the recent EDF game between Cardiff Blues and Bath, the referee awarded Bath a penalty try for a high tackle on Joe Maddock, but the conversion was charged down. A normal penalty does not allow the opposition to charge so why now? Thanks, Paul Box, Somerset Referees Society and Old Redcliffians RFC

A The law is clear that you can't charge a penalty but you can a conversion. Although a penalty try was awarded, the conversion is still a conversion. The term 'penalty try' applies only because it was a penalty offence that prevented the try from being scored, or scored in a more advantageous location.

Q Where would you say is the best position for a referee to be in at kick off? Some refs say 5-10m in front of the kick, others say on halfway and run with the kicker. Is it personal choice - where do you stand (or run) on this? From Peter Shortell, Gloucester & District Referees Society

A It's not personal choice, the referee should be where the game starts and that means on the halfway line checking everyone is onside. If you are in front of the kicker it's easy to get in the way, I would encourage referees to adopt the traditional position on this.

Q I often see tackled players lying on the ground after a ruck has formed, passing the ball back along the ground into their scrum half's hands. The law prevents handling in rucks, is this a concession allowed by referees, it never appears to be mentioned by TV commentators? Bob Dick, Woodley, Berks

A This isn't a concession. Once a tackled player hits the ground, he is allowed to play the ball, immediately and in any direction. Hence as long as it is done quickly, before the referee calls 'ruck,' he is perfectly entitled to pass it or push it back along the ground and that's what you're seeing.

November 5, 2008 This week, Ed addresses the popular topic of crooked feeds, lifts the lid on his favourite Experimental Law Variation and sets the record straight on why bridging is out.

Q There seems to be a significant variation between refs about playing advantage. Is it the opportunity of advantage or realised advantage. 

For example, at a knock-on, the advantage is played and the opponents gather the ball and kick for touch - meaning the opportunity for advantage has taken place. However the kicker is outside his 22 and the ball goes straight out - meaning the advantage is not realised, not because of the knock-on but because of the error of the kicker.

What is the correct interpretation here?  Bob Densley, from Kent

A Different people will have different opinions on this, but what a referee would consider in this situation is whether or not the kicker was under pressure when he kicked the ball.

If the player had a clear opportunity to kick the ball but made an unforced error then as far as the referee is concerned the advantage is over, and there is no second bite at the cherry, so to speak. 

If on the other hand, the kicker was under pressure from the team that knocked on, then in that scenario, I would go back for the scrum.

Another thing to consider is that the advantage for a penalty offence will be much longer than the advantage for a technical offence like a knock on or a forward pass.  Penalty offences are more serious and give teams the opportunity to go for points so in this scenario referees would be looking to ensure that teams had what we term a clear and significant advantage.

Q Could you please tell me why the majority of referees are not pinging the crooked scrum feed?  I've been to a fair number of games and watched more on TV and I can remember only a few half backs being penalised for  bad feeds, when there have been hundreds of obvious infringements.

Best Regards, Bernie Kilcullen in Springfield, Milton Keynes

(similar questions received from Paul Edson in Wheatley RUFC, Oxfordshire, Ray Penrose in Bedhampton and Toby Shaw from Lee-on-the-Solent in Hampshire.)

A The first thing to be clear on here is that the law is the law and that refs should be applying it to the letter. 

The IRB and the RFU are taking this very seriously, I have made it quite clear to all our elite referees that we need to be strict on this.

One of the major principles of our game is the idea that there is a contest for the ball.  Anyone who watched Northampton's EDF Energy Cup match against Scarlets at the weekend will have seen Wayne Barnes being very proactive, reminding the teams at every scrum that he wanted to see the ball put in the middle.

Q I coach U11s and have seen that other clubs are coaching their players to �bridge' over the ball at the ruck.  This means that they are supporting their weight by holding onto the player on the ground.  Is this legal?  It is my understanding that all players must remain on their feet and be able to support their weight on their feet.  By bridging over, the player is exposing his head and neck to anyone who counter-rucks which is dangerous, especially for junior players.  Regards Andrew Hutchinson, Portsmouth U11s coach

A This is a very important one.  At any level and at any age, particularly with young people, we must always discourage players from putting themselves in potentially dangerous or vunerable positions.

I've never been a fan of the term bridging, technically it doesn't exist, but the best way to describe it is like a swan with its head under water - it's a very vunerable position for a player to be in.

The law is very clear on this - players arriving at a breakdown have to be able to support their own bodyweight.  Everyone involved in the game, especially people working with Under 11s as Andrew refers to, should be clear that we shouldn't be putting people in a vunerable position at the breakdown.

Q   In your opinion as a ref which of the new ELVs has been your favourite and which is the least favourite to referee. Cheers, Rob Chamberlain, Nottingham

A Firstly I should say that although I've retired I have actually refereed a few games under the new laws! A couple of weekends ago I refereed a game between two of my local teams, a very famous pub team called The Peelers from Clifton and Imperial.

I would have to say that my favourite is the quick throw.  I think the fact that you can now throw the ball in back towards your own goal line is really positive and although we're only a few weeks into the season, I think it's going to be an exciting one for players and spectators.

I would say it's far too early to comment on a least favourite. As I keep reminding people, we're only a few weeks into the nine month trial and it's important that we all remain open minded.  I'm sure the effects will be clearer in six months or so.

Q When the opposition break away from a maul, leaving the ball carrying team going forward, is this not a "flying wedge" which is illegal?  Paul Mitchell, Diss, Norfolk

A The answer to this depends on where the ball is. 

If it's in the hands of the front player then this is legal because his team mates are behind in and are therefore on side.

If the ball is at the back then this is clear obstruction (a maul requires there to be opposition players on their feet contesting for the ball).  This practice, known as a flying wedge, was made illegal a number of years ago, you don't tend to see it any longer but in law terms a flying wedge was deemed to be illegal because technically it is an obstruction. 

Also, the ability of the defending team to contest for the ball is a key element of the game and it was felt that this was impossible to defend against - without being dangerous.