Ask the Ref - 'The Flying Wedge'

James Jones sheds light on another question posed regarding the lineout.


'A team drills its players to all step away from the lineout at the point at which the opposition intend to form a rolling maul, (without contact being made). If subsequent contact is made by the attacking team with a defender, could it be construed as a penalty to the defending team for forming a 'flying wedge'?'


There are 3 parts to this question which I would like to address.

1)  A team cannot all 'step away' from a lineout before the lineout ends as this would be deemed a penalty offence:

Law: 19.14(e)
No player of either team participating in the lineout may leave the lineout until it has ended.
Penalty: Penalty Kick on the 15-metre line

However, a team can chose not to engage in contact with the oposition which is slightly different.

2)  Should a team chose not to engage, and the opposition gain posession of the ball; firstly the ball must stay in posession of the front player (known as the 'arrow head') as if the ball is not kept with this player and transferred back to other players bound onto him / her, this will be deemed an obstruction resulting in a scrum to the opposition.

3)  Should the ball winning team keep the ball at the front of the formation, with players bound on behind the ball carrier it is not deemed a maul, however would not be deemed a 'flying wedge' as the formation starts stationary and there is an oportunity to defend this 'drive' prior to it starting to move forwards. A Flying wedge is defined as:

Law: 10.4(o)
Flying Wedge and Cavalry Charge. A team must not use the ‘Flying Wedge’ or the ‘Cavalry
Penalty: Penalty Kick at the place of the original infringement.
‘Flying Wedge’. The type of attack known as a ‘Flying Wedge’ usually happens near the
goal line, when the attacking team is awarded a penalty kick or free kick.
The kicker tap-kicks the ball and starts the attack, either by driving towards the goal line or
by passing to a team-mate who drives forward. Immediately, team mates bind on each side
of the ball carrier in a wedge formation. Often one or more of these team mates is in front
of the ball carrier. A ‘Flying Wedge’ is illegal.
Penalty: Penalty Kick at the place of the original infringement.

Therefore a flying wedge is deemed illegal due to the safety issue and inability to defend it safely once it has gained momentum. From a static situation in a line-out the defending team has every opportunity to defend the formation and are at most 1-2 metres away when it forms and starts moving (unlike the Flying wedge as defined above).

I hope this clarifies and answers your question.