Defending against the maul

Defending against the maul

By Dan Cottrell

The maul is a potent attacking weapon. It saps defence's energy and spirit, whilst giving attackers space and scoring opportunities.

What is a maul?

A maul is where one player holding the ball is held, on their feet by one or more defenders AND has another player from their own side bound onto them.

For a while, the ELVs allowed defending players to collapse the maul. From May 23rd 2009, and commencing with new competitions starting after this date only, the "old" laws will reapply. Consequently, mauls will NOT be allowed to be collapsed by the defenders.


The maul has been one of the most notable attacking weapons developed since the penalty/lineout laws have been changed. A penalty hit to the corner followed by a catch and drive has been a popular and successful method of scoring 5 or 7 points instead of the 3.

However, sides are now more willing to catch and drive from much further out, sometimes even setting up a driving maul from a scrum.

What can't you do?

The laws say a maul must end for the attacking side when its momentum is halted long enough for the referee to blow up. This time is meant to be 5 seconds.

As stated, in new competitions starting after May 23rd 2009, you cannot collapse the maul, so you need to halt its progress instead.

There are two ways to do this. Either stop it once it is going or disrupt it, maybe by not letting it get started.

Tactics to stop a maul

1. A tight drive through the centre

The most basic way to prevent a maul is to drive hard through the its centre. For some sides this may be enough to reduce the momentum.

"Tight" means players working together, preferably bound together. They take short steps, with their hips below their shoulders, feeling the pressure coming through the legs and lower back.

2. Join as pairs

Players should endeavour to join mauls as pairs. Again this has the aim to stagnate the momentum of the maul.

A stationary maul is the key outcome. If the players hit together then this has more chance of achieving this than one player at a time.

The keys to stopping a maul

1. Scrum half communication

A good mauling side is not going to drive down the same axis, especially if it is meeting resistance. Groups are going to roll off either side of the initial maul.

Your scrum half (9) has to redirect your players to where the maul has taken its centre of momentum.

2. Tackle legs for no mauls

If a side likes to maul, then all your tackles should be aimed at bringing players to the ground as quickly as possible. Therefore, all tackles should be leg tackles.

Disrupting a maul

1. Catch and drive from the lineout

One of the most common starting points for a rolling maul is from the lineout. The best form of defence, apart from not allowing them to catch the ball, is to hit the jumper as soon as his feet touch the ground.

Another tactic is to tackle the jumper as an individual once the player has touched the ground. To do this, put a forward in the scrum half (9) position, so that they can drive in immediately after the jumper has reached the floor, adding additional weight and depth to the defence.

2. Push and pull

If it is not possible to stop the momentum, then a slightly more high risk manoeuvre is to use "push and pull".

The idea is to unhinge the drive by pushing towards touch from the openside or pulling into touch on the blindside. The momentum of the maul will still be forward, but the attacking maulers could easily lose shape. The ball carrier may also become exposed.

3. Talk to the referee

The player with the ball at the back of a rolling maul needs to be bound on with a full arm. The defending players should keep asking the referee if the ball carrier is still bound properly. They need to be ready to pounce when and if the referee suggests not. Also, referees will then become more aware of the validity of the rolling maul during the game.


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