My question: when does a ruck end? I think you are going to say: either when the ball successfully leaves it (play on), or when it becomes unplayable (scrum to someone, or worse)……
…….But what I am really getting at is: can the defending team effectively end a ruck by disengaging from it? I can see nothing in the laws that says it ends if there become too few players involved.
(I have not been back through the whole of the Italy v England game, but I am fairly sure that in a number of cases an Italian player committed to the ruck (ruck formed, as in my view you don't need to wait for the ref to say so) and then decided against it and backed out again. I am not in any way criticising Italy for what they did, but I am interested to know if M. Poite policed it correctly - I am expecting that we will see this tactic at club level now and we are working on solutions to it).
Good question following on from the "not engaging" Italy tactic.
Your first statement is correct: The ball leaves (successful end); The ball is unplayable (unsuccessful end).
16.6 SUCCESSFUL END TO A RUCKA ruck ends successfully when the ball leaves the ruck, or when the ball is on or over the goal line.
16.7 UNSUCCESSFUL END TO A RUCK(a) A ruck ends unsuccessfully when the ball becomes unplayable and a scrum is ordered.So to move to your second question. If players from one team leave the ruck have we satisfied 16.6 or 16.7 above? The answer is 'No' we haven't, so the ruck still exists.
The Rugby Ref also thinks that Romain Poite may have got it wrong on a couple of occasions, but we are talking about split second decisions in a dynamic moving environment. You turn to check the offside lines for a second and in that moment someone can engage to form a ruck and then leave again, so we can't blame the referee. As ever play to the whistle. Romain Poite was very good at verbally explaining to the players what phase of play they were in to try and avoid any issues. "Tackle only". "Ruck formed".
To paraphrase M. Poite "I am a referee not a coach", but most referees have played the game. If Italy are pushing players forward to surround the tackle area then they must be leaving holes in their defensive line, so pick and drive should exploit those holes. Once beyond the line you can then pass out to your wings. This is effectively what England did, but it took them around 33 minutes to work it out.
The Rugby Ref