Dear Rugby Ref;
Law 14. item 7a, does not say nor imply that a tackled player may, while lying on the ground, hold the ball up in the air for a number of seconds on the back side of a ruck waiting for a teammate to grasp the ball in a hand-to-hand transfer. How can this be legal? Are referees simply letting players get away without complying with "Make the ball available so that play can continue by releasing, passing or pushing the ball...?"
U19 Backs CoachHi Claude
A tackled player must, as you state, do the following:
7. Tackled players must immediately:
a. Make the ball available so that play can continue by releasing, passing or pushingthe ball in any direction except forward. They may place the ball in any direction.
b. Move away from the ball or get up.
c. Ensure that they do not lie on, over or near the ball to prevent opposition playersfrom gaining possession of it.The key phrases for the referee are "Make the ball available so that play can continue" and "Ensure they do not...prevent opposition players from gaining possession".
In other words, the referee is looking for a fair contest and not having to blow the whistle unless necessary, to keep the game flowing.
Whether the tackled player holds the ball on the ground, or a few inches off it doesn't matter as long as it has no material affect on the game. If an opposition player legally makes a play for the ball and the tackled player releases it...Play on. If the tackled player prevents the opposition from playing the ball, he should be penalised.
What you describe is not technically legal, but it's not really illegal either. It's what happens next that really counts. Let's look for ways to keep the game going, not for ways to penalise players on a technicality. After all how many times do you see a tackled player penalised for 7b, not moving away from the ball? Never, unless they prevent the ball from being played.
Thanks for the question.
The Rugby Ref