Are Players Required to Release the Tackled Player Before Contesting the Ball in Rugby?
Are Players Required to Release the Tackled Player Before Contesting the Ball in Rugby?

Are Players Required to Release the Tackled Player Before Contesting the Ball in Rugby?


Rugby, a sport known for its intensity, physicality, and intricate rules, has been captivating audiences worldwide for decades. One of the aspects that make rugby so intriguing is the way players can contest for possession of the ball. However, a common question arises in the minds of both newcomers and seasoned fans: Are players on their feet required to release the tackled player before contesting the ball? In this article, we delve deep into the rules and nuances surrounding this fundamental aspect of rugby.

Understanding the Basics of Rugby Tackling

Before we dive into the specific rule regarding releasing the tackled player, it’s essential to understand the fundamentals of tackling in rugby. Rugby is played with two teams, each trying to advance the ball towards the opponent’s try line while preventing the opposition from doing the same. A tackle occurs when a defending player successfully brings down an opponent carrying the ball.

The primary goal of a tackle is to stop the ball carrier’s progress and, ideally, regain possession of the ball. When a player is tackled, both teams have the opportunity to contest for the ball. However, there are specific rules in place to ensure fairness, safety, and proper gameplay.

The Ruck: A Crucial Element of Rugby

In rugby, the phase that follows a tackle and allows players to contest for the ball is known as a “ruck.” The ruck is a critical aspect of the game, and it has its own set of rules and regulations.

What Constitutes a Ruck?

A ruck is formed when at least one player from each team is in contact over the ball on the ground. This typically occurs immediately after a tackle, as players from both sides converge to secure possession.

Key Ruck Rules

  1. Offside Line: In a ruck, there is an imaginary offside line that runs through the hindmost foot of the last player involved in the ruck. Players from both teams must stay behind this line until the ball is out of the ruck.
  2. Hands Off: Players are not allowed to use their hands to pick up the ball from the ruck. Instead, they must use their feet to “rake” the ball back towards their team.
  3. Entering from the Gate: Players entering the ruck must do so from behind the hindmost foot of their teammate in the ruck, and they must approach from the “gate,” which is a position directly behind the ruck.

The Ruck and the Question of Releasing the Tackled Player

Now that we have a basic understanding of what a ruck is and the rules that govern it, let’s address the central question of whether players on their feet are required to release the tackled player before contesting the ball.

The Tackler’s Responsibilities

In rugby, the player who makes the tackle has specific responsibilities immediately after the tackle is completed. These responsibilities are designed to ensure fair play and player safety.

  1. Releasing the Tackled Player: The tackler must release the tackled player as soon as the tackle is complete. This means letting go of the tackled player and allowing them to place the ball on the ground or present it for their teammates to play.
  2. Rolling Away: After releasing the tackled player, the tackler must make an effort to roll away from the tackle area. This action is crucial in maintaining the flow of the game and preventing players from slowing down or obstructing the opposition’s ability to secure the ball.

Contesting for Possession

Once the tackled player has placed or presented the ball, the game opens up for both teams to contest for possession. This is where the concept of releasing the tackled player becomes significant.

The Arrival of Supporting Players

When a player is tackled, it is common for their teammates to arrive quickly to support them in securing the ball. These supporting players aim to ensure that the ball remains in their team’s possession.

Legal Contesting

To legally contest for the ball at a ruck, players must follow certain rules:

  • On Their Feet: Players contesting for the ball must be on their feet. This means they cannot dive or go to ground to secure the ball.
  • Entering from the Gate: Contesting players must enter the ruck from the gate, which is behind the hindmost foot of their teammate.
  • No Hands: As mentioned earlier, players cannot use their hands to pick up the ball from the ruck. Instead, they use their feet to attempt to kick or roll the ball back to their side.
  • No Foul Play: Players must avoid foul play, such as striking an opponent or engaging in dangerous play.

The Grey Area: What Constitutes “Releasing”?

The question of whether a player has adequately “released” the tackled player can sometimes be a matter of interpretation. Rugby’s governing bodies and match officials aim to maintain a balance between allowing players to compete for possession and ensuring that the tackler respects the rules.

Referee’s Decision

Ultimately, the referee on the field is responsible for determining whether the tackled player has been released sufficiently for a ruck to form. Referees use their judgment to assess whether the tackler has made a reasonable effort to release the player, and this can vary from one situation to another.

Continuous Motion

In some cases, the release of the tackled player may occur almost simultaneously with the tackler contesting for the ball. This continuous motion is often accepted as long as it is done safely and within the rules of the game.

Penalties and Sanctions

Failure to release the tackled player or engage in the ruck legally can result in penalties or sanctions for the offending team. These penalties may include:

  • Penalty Kick: The opposing team is awarded a penalty kick from the location of the infringement.
  • Free Kick: A free kick may be awarded to the non-offending team if the infringement is less severe.
  • Yellow Card: In cases of repeated or deliberate foul play, a player may receive a yellow card, which results in being temporarily sent off the field (sin-binned).
  • Red Card: For serious foul play or dangerous actions, a player may receive a red card, resulting in expulsion from the game.

Exceptions and Special Situations

While the general rule is that players must release the tackled player before contesting the ball, there are exceptions and special situations that can alter the dynamics of a ruck.

The “Jackal” Technique

In recent years, a specific technique known as the “jackal” has become prevalent in rugby. The jackal is a player who, immediately after making a tackle, positions themselves over the tackled player, attempting to secure the ball. This player must release the tackled player but does so in a manner that allows them to contest for the ball almost instantly.

The jackal is a specialist in this role and relies on speed, strength, and timing to secure turnovers for their team. It’s a high-risk, high-reward strategy, as the jackal player must be quick and accurate in their execution, or they risk conceding penalties.

Holding the Tackled Player

In some situations, the tackled player may intentionally or unintentionally hold onto the ball, making it difficult for the tackler to release them. In such cases, referees may use their judgment to determine whether the tackler’s inability to release is due to the actions of the tackled player.


Counter-rucking is a tactic employed by the defending team to disrupt the attacking team’s possession of the ball. In a counter-ruck, players from the defending team aggressively drive into the ruck, attempting to dislodge the ball or disrupt the attacking team’s efforts to secure it. This tactic adds another layer of complexity to the question of releasing the tackled player, as players involved in a counter-ruck often engage in close contact without clear releases.

The Importance of Consistency and Fairness

Maintaining consistency in the application of rules is vital in rugby, as it ensures a fair and balanced playing field for both teams. Referees play a critical role in upholding the rules of the game, and their decisions can significantly impact the outcome of a match.

Player Safety

Safety is a paramount concern in rugby, given the physical nature of the sport. Requiring players to release the tackled player before contesting the ball helps reduce the risk of injuries, as it discourages dangerous play around the tackle area. This emphasis on safety is a fundamental principle of the sport.

Fair Competition

Rugby prides itself on being a sport of fair competition, where both teams have an equal opportunity to win. Requiring players to release the tackled player ensures that the team in possession of the ball has a fair chance to retain it and progress in the game. Without this rule, the game could become heavily skewed in favor of the defending team.

Maintaining Flow

The release of the tackled player and the subsequent contest for the ball at the ruck are essential for maintaining the flow and pace of the game. When executed correctly, the transition from tackle to ruck is seamless, allowing the game to continue without unnecessary interruptions.

The Evolution of Rugby Rules

Rugby has a rich history, and its rules have evolved over time to accommodate changes in playing styles, tactics, and safety concerns. The question of whether players are required to release the tackled player before contesting the ball has been a point of discussion and refinement in the sport’s history.

Historical Perspective

In the early days of rugby, there were fewer regulations surrounding the tackle and the contest for the ball. The game was often characterized by a chaotic, scrappy nature, with players jostling for possession in a manner that would be considered illegal today.

Modernization and Safety

As the sport modernized and safety became a primary concern, rugby’s governing bodies introduced stricter rules to protect players and maintain fairness. The requirement to release the tackled player before contesting the ball is a direct result of these efforts to make rugby safer and more structured.

Ongoing Review

Rugby’s rules are not set in stone and are subject to ongoing review and adjustment. Rule changes and interpretations are often discussed and debated within the rugby community, with input from players, coaches, referees, and administrators. This collaborative approach helps ensure that the game continues to evolve while maintaining its core values.

The Influence of Coaching and Strategy

Coaching and strategy play a significant role in how teams approach the question of releasing the tackled player. Different coaches and teams may emphasize various techniques and tactics based on their playing style and the specific strengths of their players.

Defensive Strategies

Coaches often develop defensive strategies that focus on the contesting of possession at the ruck. This may involve teaching players to excel in the jackal role or emphasizing the importance of counter-rucking to disrupt the attacking team’s flow.

Offensive Strategies

On the offensive side, coaches work with their players to ensure efficient ball presentation after a tackle. This involves teaching ball carriers how to release the ball quickly and securely to their support players, minimizing the risk of turnovers.


Successful rugby teams are often those that can adapt their strategies to the specific circumstances of a match. This adaptability extends to how players release the tackled player and contest for possession, as the dynamics of a ruck can vary greatly depending on the situation.

Video Technology and Referee Decision-Making

In modern rugby, the use of video technology has become an essential tool for match officials. Video replays allow referees and their assistants to review critical moments in the game, including tackles and rucks, to ensure accurate decision-making.

TMO (Television Match Official)

The TMO, or Television Match Official, is a designated official who reviews video footage to assist the on-field referee in making decisions. The TMO can help determine whether players have properly released the tackled player and whether there have been any infringements in the contest for possession.

Referee’s Discretion

Despite the availability of video technology, the on-field referee still holds the final authority in making decisions. Referees use their judgment, informed by the information provided by the TMO, to determine whether players have followed the rules correctly.

The Speed of the Game

Rugby is a fast-paced sport, and decisions often need to be made quickly. While video technology can provide valuable insights, referees must balance the need for accuracy with the need to keep the game flowing smoothly.

Player Education and Awareness

Education plays a crucial role in ensuring that players at all levels of rugby understand the rules and regulations surrounding releasing the tackled player and contesting for the ball. This education begins at the grassroots level and extends to professional rugby.

Referee Briefings

Before matches, referees often hold briefings with team captains to discuss specific points of emphasis for that game. This communication helps ensure that both teams are aware of the referee’s expectations regarding the release of the tackled player and other key aspects of the game.

Coaching and Training

Coaches and players spend significant time in training sessions, where they work on fundamental skills and tactics. Proper technique for releasing the tackled player and contesting for possession is a central component of this training.

Player Responsibility

Ultimately, players are responsible for knowing the rules of the game and adhering to them on the field. Ignorance of the rules is not an excuse, and players are expected to play within the established framework of the sport.

The Impact of the Tackle and Ruck on Rugby Matches

The tackle and ruck are pivotal moments in a rugby match, and how they are executed can have a profound impact on the outcome. Let’s explore some of the key ways in which these aspects of the game influence rugby matches.

Momentum Shifts

A successful tackle and turnover at the ruck can lead to a significant shift in momentum. The team that wins possession in such situations often gains a surge of confidence and may go on the attack with renewed energy.

Territory and Field Position

Rugby is a territorial game, and the outcome of the tackle and ruck can dictate where the game is played on the field. A turnover in the attacking team’s half can lead to a quick transition into scoring position, while a successful defensive stand can force the opposition to retreat.

Scoring Opportunities

The tackle and ruck often set the stage for scoring opportunities. Quick ball from a ruck can catch the defense off guard, while a solid defensive effort can thwart the attacking team’s plans.

Psychological Impact

The physicality and intensity of the tackle and ruck can also have a psychological impact on players. Winning the battle in these areas can boost a team’s confidence and create doubt in the opposition’s minds.

Tackler Release!

The question of whether players on their feet are required to release the tackled player before contesting the ball in rugby is a fundamental aspect of the sport. It speaks to the balance between fair play, safety, and the competitive nature of rugby.

As we have explored in this extensive article, rugby’s rules and interpretations surrounding the tackle, the ruck, and the release of the tackled player have evolved over time to ensure that the game remains true to its values while adapting to modern demands. Coaches, players, and match officials all play a crucial role in upholding these rules and maintaining the integrity of the sport.

Whether you’re a die-hard rugby fan or someone new to the game, understanding the intricacies of the tackle and the ruck adds depth to your appreciation of this thrilling sport. The next time you watch a rugby match, pay close attention to the moments when players release the tackled player and contest for possession, as these are the moments that can shape the outcome of the game.