Rugby Rules 101: What Is a Maul?

One of the most effective ways to cross over the try-line is the use of an efficient rolling maul. From club rugby to professional rugby, all the way to the international level, you'll see teams put opponents to the sword with a powerful maul. But, what are the rules surrounding this move, and how can a team make the most of a maul in a given situation?

Here's a quick breakdown on what a maul looks like, what the laws are, what you can and cannot do, and the type of situations when a maul is most applicable:

What is it?

A maul occurs when a player with the ball goes into contact with a defender, and while both players remain on their feet, at least one more player from the attacking team joins the contact. At this point a maul is formed, and looks sort of like a scrum except with the ball in the player's hands instead of on the ground. 

Here's a look at some mauls from open play:



As you can see, mauls happen fairly frequently when a ball carrier is unable to get down to the ground during a tackle. They are also occasionally used as a planned move, but require a great deal of cohesion to pull off in open play.

The much more common way to use a maul, however, is from a lineout. Particularly when teams are down near the goal line, they'll look to employ a rolling maul to try and get over the line and dot the ball down. From a lineout, teams will throw the ball up to a jumper, and as soon as he/she lands and is contacted by the defender, his/her teammates will latch on and form a maul. 

See how effective rolling mauls from a lineout can be here:


What are the laws?

According to the World Rugby Laws, a maul is when a ball carrier and at least one player from each team engage in contact, and stay on their feet. These are the guidelines for a maul, verbatim from the lawbook:

Forming a maul

  • A maul can take place only in the field of play.
  • It consists of a ball-carrier and at least one player from each team, bound together and on their feet
  • Once formed, a maul must move towards a goal line

Offside at a maul

  • Each team has an offside line that runs parallel to the goal line through the maul participants’ hindmost foot that is nearest to that team’s goal line. If that foot is on or behind the goal line, the offside line for that team is the goal line
  • A player must either join a maul from an onside position or retire behind their offside line immediately
  • Players who leave a maul must immediately retire behind the offside line. These players may re-join the maul

Joining a maul

  • Players joining a maul must:
    1.) Do so from an onside position
    2.) Bind on to the hindmost player in the maul
    3.) Have their heads and shoulders no lower than their hips

During a maul

  • The ball-carrier in a maul may go to ground provided that player makes the ball available immediately
  • All other players in a maul must endeavour to stay on their feet
  • All players in a maul must be caught in or bound to it and not just alongside it
  • Players must not:
    1.) Intentionally collapse a maul or jump on top of it
    2.) Attempt to drag an opponent out of a maul
    3.) Take any action to make opponents believe that the maul has ended when it has not
  • When players of the team who are not in possession of the ball intentionally leave the maul such that there are no players of that team left in the maul, the maul continues
  • When all players of the team who are not in possession of the ball intentionally leave the maul, they may re-join provided that the first player binds on the frontmost player of the team in possession of the ball
  • When a maul has stopped moving towards a goal line for more than five seconds but the ball is being moved and the referee can see it, the referee instructs the players to use the ball. The team in possession must then use the ball within a reasonable time
  • When a maul has stopped moving towards a goal line, it may restart moving towards a goal line providing it does so within five seconds. If it stops a second time but the ball is being moved and the referee can see it, the referee instructs the team to use the ball. The team in possession must then use the ball in a reasonable time

Ending a maul

  • A maul ends and play continues when:
    1.) The ball or ball-carrier leaves the maul
    2.) The ball is on the ground
    3.) The ball is on or over the goal line
  • A maul ends unsuccessfully when:
    1.) The ball becomes unplayable
    2.) The maul collapses (not as a result of foul play)
    3.) The maul does not move towards a goal line for longer than five seconds and the ball does not emerge
    4.) The ball-carrier goes to ground and the ball is not immediately available
    5.) The ball is available to be played, the referee has called “use it” and it has not been played within five seconds of the call
    *if any of the five actions above occur, the defending team in the maul gets a scrum awarded to them
  • If a maul is formed immediately after a player has directly caught an opponent’s kick in open play, a scrum that is awarded for any of the above reasons will be to the team of the ball catcher.



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