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A tackle occurs when the ball carrier is held by one or more opponents and is brought to ground. Opposition players who hold the ball carrier and bring that player to ground, and who also go to ground, are known as tacklers. Opposition players who hold the ball carrier and do not go to ground are not tacklers, they are referred to as a 'Tackle Assist'.
This part of the game is generally one of the hardest areas to control, with so much to look at in such a short space of time you have to be there to make the calls, it is no good arriving after the supporting players have arrived and made a ruck (or a mess).
What can go wrong?
There are many areas in a tackle where players can infringe, most of which result in a penalty. These are:
- Tackler not releasing the tackled player & the ball
- Tackle Assist not releasing the tackled player & the ball
- Tackled Player not releasing the ball
- Tackled player or tackler not rolling away
- Other players or Tackle Assist not entering tackle zone through 'the gate'.
- Players off their feet playing the ball
- Other players going to ground and sealing off/bridging the ball
All of the above infringements are penalty offences, with the penalty going to the non offending team. Once you have given the penalty do not allow players of the offending team to slow play down as the non offenders may want to take a quick tap penalty.
The best way to prevent these offences is to communicate with the players, however do not get into a habit of always telling players what they should be doing, such as roll away, release, etc, as players will learn that you will do this, and will continue to offend until you tell them, which in turn slows the attackers ball down.
If you find yourself advising players too much, a warning at the next similar penalty for the captain may be required, with the possibility of yellow cards for further infringements.
Tackler/Tackle Assist not releasing the tackled player & ball
Once the tackle has been made the tackler or tackle assist must release the tackled player and the ball without delay to enable the tackled player to pass, place or release the ball. Even if they get stuck in the middle of a pile up because supporting players are quick to arrive the release should be possible, if they are able to clear themselves out the way of the ball and not interfere in play, this should be encouraged.
Once at the tackle a loud shout of 'Release *colour/number*' should help you, try to avoid repeating it too often. (See section above).
If the tackle assist is on the wrong side of the tackle, they must move to their own side (come through the gate) before they compete for the ball again. It is hard to prevent this as it happens quick, often a quick shout of 'No! *colour/number*' will be sufficient, but if it isn't then you need to apply the advantage or penalty.
Tackled Player not releasing the ball
A tackled player must do one of three things, pass the ball, place the ball or release the ball.
If a tackled player is isolated (i.e. no team mates close enough to them) they will often hold on to the ball in order to slow down the phase. This extra second may be all that is required for their team mates to get there and effect a clear out. This is where it is important for you to be at the tackle before any other players. An order to the ball carrier to release should be given and non compliance should result in an immediate penalty. This will give the non offending team the ability to make use of the quick ball and disorganised opposition. Playing advantage here will also allow the offending team time to regroup, thus ruining any opportunities the advantaged team may have had.
Other tricks are:
- Releasing to the opponent but still having an arm over the ball, claiming it was stuck (it very rarely is).
- Holding both arms above their head but bringing their knees up to trap the ball, or
- Releasing and then playing the ball on the ground to stop an opponent getting to it first.
Be very firm on these as allowing them to continue will ruin the flow of your game and create increased frustrations.
Tackled Player or Tackler not rolling away
In order to free up the tackle are and allow both quick ball and a competition both the tackler and tackled player must roll out of the tackle zone, with the emphasis being on the tackler to roll away first.
Should you believe the tackled player is not able to get out despite trying (note: they should be trying) you can blow quickly and award a scrum to the team going forward (or the attacking side if no team is going forward).
Players on the ground should not be permitted to roll over the ball, this is a tactic used to slow the ball down and should be discouraged with a penalty.
Players off their feet playing the ball
Players who have been involved in a tackle and have gone to ground through no fault of their own must not play the ball. Rugby is a game to be played by players on their feet. Players who are on the ground are out of the game.
Other players or Tackle Assist not entering tackle zone through 'the gate'.
Once the tackle has been made all other players must enter through their own 'gate', that means from behind the ball and from directly behind the tackled player or the tackler closest to those players’ goal line.
Players not entering the tackle zone through the gate are removing the competition of those who are entering correctly and advantage should be played, and a penalty awarded where no advantage accrues.
Other players going to ground and sealing off/bridging the ball
The law states that "After a tackle, all other players must be on their feet when they play the ball. Players are on their feet if no other part of their body is supported by the ground or players on the ground".
At a tackle the arriving players should do one of two things, they should either play the ball, which means attempt to take possession of it and then move it away from the tackle by pass, kick or run; or occupying the space over the tackle in anticipation of a ruck forming so that they are ready to protect their possession.
When taking the space they should arrive in a position where their shoulders are above their hips, this is more commonly referred to as "Plan taking off, no plane landing", plane landing being where the players hips are below their shoulders.
Where players go straight to ground and remove any contest for the ball a penalty should be immediately blown.
NOTE: Players who enter a tackle in order to drive their opponent off the ball, who then go to ground due to their inability of the opponent to sustain the pressure are not sealing off the ball, and should not be penalised.
Well Known Examples
There are numerous videos on websites showing where players have infringed at the tackle. Rugbyrefs.com suggests looking at South African Referees who have an up to date selection of videos of which at least one normally involves a tackle infringement, and the iRB Laws Website which also has a number of good videos to highlight these issues.