by Tom Billups, C.S.C.S.
As rugby players and coaches, we have work yet to do in teaching American sports commentators the technical aspects of our game. For example, while recently watching a college football game, I heard the commentator reference a running back being stood up by several defenders in a tackle as being “in a scrum.” Like many of you would do, I yelled back at my television set, “That’s not a scrum, it’s a maul.”
A maul, defined by the International Rugby Board’s (IRB) laws and regulations, “begins when a player carrying the ball is held by one or more opponents, and one or more of the ball carrier’s teammates bind on the ball carrier.” Further, “a maul therefore consists, when it begins, of at least three players, all on their feet; the ball carrier, and one player from each team.” The IRB definition of the maul concludes, “All the players involved must be caught in or bound to the maul and must be on their feet and moving towards a goal-line. Open play has ended.” There are twenty-one separate regulations regarding what players can and cannot do after a maul begins. In this offering, I would like to present and discuss the maul and its application in attacking play.
As with any technical decisions, whether or not to employ this tactic must be determined by your team’s personnel and what you need to do to be successful. If, for example, your team is comprised of a dozen or more undersized but evasive players, a maul shouldn’t be emphasized in your patterns of play. Conversely, as teams like Argentina and Leicester Tigers have demonstrated over the years, the maul can be devastating to the defense with the right personnel and superior technique.
It is worth noting that not long ago, a maul was generally referred to as a “rolling maul.” Aptly named, mauling technique of the time saw players literally roll out around the fringe of the formation in order to rebuild or break out of the maul. The change in how a maul is referred to today is, in part, due to the techniques employed in building an attacking maul and how it is advanced toward the opposition’s goal line. Today, a successful maul is a driven assemblage of forward facing players, each fulfilling specific roles. A well-constructed maul has only one player with their back to the opposition: the original ball carrier. All others have their backs flat and noses headed toward the opposition’s tryline.
There are a number of variables involved in maul construction including where, when, and why. Where and when to create a maul is decided within your team’s pattern of play, but teams will often form a maul from attacking lineouts near either tryline. A team’s likelihood to form a maul is dependent on how successfully they execute them. As an example, during the 2004 Super Powers Cup, Team Canada was highly committed to using a driving maul and had success with this tactic. Because of their commitment to the maul, they formed mauls in all areas of the field, often creating them when a ruck was imminent. Generally speaking, the reason why teams choose to form mauls is to gather up defensive assets from other areas of the field. The more successful the maul, the more defenders will be required to commit to stopping it. A maul must advance more than a few meters to be considered a success.
Two important characteristics at the core of a successful maul are patience and determination. There exists a need for attacking players to quickly and efficiently form a maul, but at the same time, demonstrate patience once the formation has been solidified.
Mauls are rarely successful if the players involved simply hurry up and try hard. Determination plays a significant factor in the maul’s success because as a formation, your side is forcing its collective will on the defense. This battle is a significant one within the overall contest. Attacking players have to possess equal parts patience, determination, and be responsible for their own balance within an attacking maul.
Another key element within the maul formation is communication. Simply put, bound players must communicate with each other within the maul as it originally forms and when the ball is safely secured at the back. All participating players bound in the maul must demonstrate calm, concise communication regarding directional efforts, reorganization, and ball security.
There are a handful of powerful moments in a rugby match when spectators take notice. Clean line breaks, dominant scrums, and dynamic mauls are unique to our game.
Moments like these are examples of why our game is great.
Tom Billups began his rugby career in 1984 and has spent time as a player in New Zealand (Bay of Plenty), the U.S. (The Old Blues), England (London Harlequins), and Wales (Pontypridd) for domestic teams as well as representing the U.S.A. at international tournaments with the Eagles. After hanging up his boots, Billups got into coaching leading the Eagles and now with University of California – Berkeley. Read the entire bio of Tom Billups as well as Billups first column My Rugby Path and then check out what Billups is saying about the game of rugby in The Billups Column on Rugby Rugby.
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