To read this exclusive analysis in its entirety and enjoy the many benefits of The42 membership including access to the indispensable Rugby Weekly Extra podcast with Murray Kinsella, Bernard Jackman, Eoin Toolan and Gavan Casey, sign up here.
YOU MAY REMEMBER how incredible TJ Perenara was when the above happened in Ireland’s midweek win over the Māori All Blacks in July.
As we shall see below, he was not the last to be surprised by a tactic which has become popular with certain Irish players. England’s Maro Itoje is another who specializes in this area.
Whether this spectacle is something rugby should allow to happen is debatable and we will be intrigued to hear whether it comes up at World Rugby’s meeting with the unions next month for discussions around laws barely a year before the next World Cup. Many in the game would like to see it banned.
As for the case in New Zealand over the summer, Perenara vehemently appealed to judge Karl Dickson that Stuart McCloskey’s actions were illegal.
“He is offside. If he’s part of the ruck, he can’t tackle, you know that!” appealed Perenara, but Dickson pointed out that McCloskey “played your arm, not the ball, which he’s allowed to do” and Ireland back-row Nick Timoney politely told Perenara: “There’s no ruck when you pick up the ball.”
It is one that Perenara struggled to accept. He has 78 Test caps for the All Blacks and is undoubtedly a true student of the game. He’s been around the block, and he simply couldn’t see it as anything other than illegal play by McCloskey.
To be fair to Perenara, it does see foul at first glance, but McCloskey, according to how referees judge this at the top level, got it right when he forced a turnover.
As we see below, McCloskey is initially involved in the tackle.
Characteristically, McCloskey manages to stay up as the Maori ball carrier goes to ground and with Kiwi center Alex Nankivell tied on him, McCloskey now becomes part of the debris.
Nankivell doesn’t push McCloskey over the ball, with the Irish center showing some fight to stay where he is – up on his feet and now leaning his left arm over towards Perenara.
At the moment above, the ball is still in the ruck because Perenara has not yet lifted it off the ground.
McCloskey shows patience and a fair degree of poise to wait for Perenara to actually lift the ball – meaning the ruckus is over.
Only when Perenara lifts the ball does McCloskey reach out to grab Perenara’s arm.
Rare insight into sport’s biggest names from the writers who know them best. Listen Behind the lines podcast.
Become a member
It is important that McCloskey is on his feet. If he was on his feet, he would not have the right to play this game at Perenara. World Rugby’s law book states that “the game is played only by players who are on their feet.”
Perenara’s argument that McCloskey is “offside” makes sense in one way. Clearly, McCloskey is ahead of the offside line here. But remember, he’s only in front of that line because he’s part of the rush.
When Perenara lifts the ball, the ruck is legally over and so we are suddenly in open play. Without a ruck, there is no offside line. McCloskey does not retreat from an offside position either, as he was part of the ruckus. So he can deal with Perenara, as he does here.
The law book doesn’t seem to specify that players on their feet in the ruck can’t play the ball themselves – we know they can in other tackle situations – but that’s how referees judge these specific cases. Dickson reminds us of that fact when Perenara complains.
The English referee supports McCloskey’s actions in this instance and it is clear that the Ulster center has been encouraged to continue with this tactic.
Below we see him in action against the Lions two weekends ago in the URC.
To read the rest of this analysis and enjoy the many benefits of membership, register here.