That's basically my question. When a ball carrier is tackled, he usually lets go of the ball (behind him more often than not). Why can't the opposing team pick up the ball? And who is legally allowed to pick up the ball at that moment? Is there a name for this position?

Edit: Why is the blue team not going for the ball in this scenario:

enter image description here


4 Answers 4


The tackler can and often does pick up the ball. The person that is tackled must release the ball behind them. Once they release the ball they may pick the ball up and get up with it.

Once the tacklee lays down and set the ball they form their "side". The tackler must be on his side before he can return to grab the ball.

I played wing for large university outside of football season - and have also broken this rule 20+ times so I have an understanding of it.

When I tackled another wing in the open field they would lay down, set the ball behind them, while I am jumping over them or going around them to be on side, and then it is a fight to get the ball first. Often they would get the ball again. If I did get the ball in that situation it would often lead to score or big gain. If I didn't get the ball after the tackle, the other wing picks it up and is retackled but at that point there is reinforcement and ruck follows.

And in most cases me or the other wing is going to get cleated and kicked as the guys working the scrum have quite the disdain for wingers. I mention the wing position because this kind of play happens most in the open field where wings would get the ball. Normally in more congested part of the field a player is tackled, set the ball behind them and then a teammate picks it up while stepping over them.

  • Thanks for your input! So my question is, looking at a picture like this: encrypted-tbn2.gstatic.com/… , why isn't the blue team trying to go for the ball? Commented Jun 21, 2016 at 16:41
  • That is a totally different question. That is a question about how you are allowed to engage the ball on defense once a ruck is formed. So the green team has established control, formed a ruck, why isn't blue going after ball. First there are many styles of rugby and I believe this scenario has varying rules. The 1-1 tackle situation is easy. Here I believe that blue cannot go after the ball until it breaks the outside of the ruck or unless blue player goes through the ruck.
    – Coach-D
    Commented Jun 21, 2016 at 16:54
  • The ball-carrier is not required to release it behind them; they must place it and release it but this can be in any direction they choose.
    – Nij
    Commented Jun 22, 2016 at 10:35
  • @Nij - Right - I was unclear on that. They release behind to create a side. If they release in front the defender would just pick up the ball and run.
    – Coach-D
    Commented Jun 22, 2016 at 15:51
  • @ Coach-D I was more concerned that this is what allows tries to be scored despite being tackled outside the in-goal area, if and when the questioner or others see this occur, it would cause some confusion.
    – Nij
    Commented Jun 22, 2016 at 22:19

They can, but only if they're on their feet and onside. This is known as jackalling. If a player is tackled, he must release the ball. If a player from the tackling team can reach over the ball and grab it, it's his. If the tackled player refuses to let it go to stop the jackaller from getting it, that's a penalty for not releasing. Jackalling is one of the most common kinds of turnover. But if the jackaller is unable to keep his feet, and handles the ball while his knee is on the ground or he's otherwise not supporting his weight on his feet, that's a penalty against him.

The main way the attacking team will try to stop the jackal is by rucking. Teammates follow the ball-carrier, and when he is tackled and releases the ball, they form up over it and push opposing players away. Once a ruck has formed you can only play the ball with your feet - playing the ball with your hands in a ruck is a penalty - and the offside rules are very strict. You have to join the ruck from behind - if you join from the side, that's a penalty. Rucking players try to push their opponents backwards and move the ball backwards with their feet, making it available for their teammates. Once it's out the back of the ruck, it can be picked up. The rules of the ruck favour the tackled player's team, but if the tackling team successfully push their opponents back and move the ball to their side with their feet, it's their ball. This is called a counter-ruck.

Here's a video demonstrating how to prevent the jackal.


That's a ruck, which usually forms after a tackle.

There are special rules for a ruck. Players can only enter the ruck from behind the hindmost foot of the players already in it, and must stay on their feet.

So the only way to go for the ball is to try and push the team with the ball backwards. You can't go around because then you'd be "coming in from the side" (offside?). You could try to go over but that's difficult because you also have to support your weight with your feet otherwise you'd be "off your feet". Either offence concedes a penalty.

So you have to go through. If you manage to push the team with the ball back quickly enough, there's a good chance you can get the ball because the tackled player has to release it or concede a penalty themselves. (though they may try and place it for the scrum-half, the trick is to disrupt it before they can do this)

In this case it's likely the blue team (France I think) have decided rather than commit several players to the ruck to compete for the ball, it would be tactically better to use them to form a stronger defensive line, as the green team (Ireland?) seem to be well in control of the ball.


In the picture, green has control of the ball in the ruck. If the ball comes out (passes the foot of the last green man) then the blue team can engage if they are coming from an onside position. The onside line for them would be the foot of the last blue man in the ruck.

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