I am seeing an increase in the amount of players from attacking sides joining a ruck, going over the ball and then putting their hands on the ground. This is to my mind sealing off and should always be pinged, as is the case with a defending player with hands on the ground past the ball. Also the joining of a ruck seems to be very biased against defending players while attacking players are given a lot more leeway in where they join from, how far past the ruck they clear out and often clearing without even touching a team mate let alone binding first. While I applaud running rugby, I feel the fairness of contest is being undermined in the pursuit of a preconceived type of game.Hi
You don't say what level of rugby you are watching, but I suspect this is TV rugby you are referring to, so The Rugby Ref has to start by saying that TV rugby is a different beast from grass roots rugby that most people play and watch on a Saturday afternoon. Despite their being one law book for all, rugby at the top levels is refereed differently for a variety of reason. The players are stronger and faster; the TV people who pay for this are looking for entertainment and thus put referees under pressure to keep the game flowing. There is a whole separate debate to be had on this subject that is outside the scope of this blog.
So looking at grass roots rugby...players putting hands on the floor past the ball is indeed sealing off, or bridging, and will be penalised if it has a material effect on the breakdown. If the attacking team is not competing at the breakdown then it may not be material, although the referee has to be careful that the sealing off may be the reason they are not competing. This is covered in law as the player being off his feet and is frequently dealt with. If the player goes from hands past the ball to scooping up the ball he will generally be penalised.
Are attackers given more leeway? Positive rugby is to be applauded and rewarded, but only if it is legal. Players must join from their own side and alongside a player from their team. Depending on the size of the breakdown area this "could" give a lot of leeway. If a player clears out past the ruck area they are then offside and must reload back to their own side, however if the ball is already on it's way out this may not be material.
You are correct that there must be a fair contest, materiality may come into play, but this doesn't mean offences can be ignored. Generally the referee will talk to players at downtime and say that "this time it didn't affect play, but if you continue it may be penalised". The laws of rugby are not meant to be black and white, they are grey and open to interpretation by the referee who will use his experience to keep the game flowing. However this should not be done to the detriment of the contest.
Referees are only human and sometimes they get it wrong, sometimes they interpret it differently, although they try to avoid that through training and discussion as Society level. The core values of rugby reflect this and players will accept what the referee decides even if they disagree, this is what separates rugby from soccer and long may it continue.
The Rugby Ref