I am very ignorant of the rules of Rugby Union with any precision - I understand the general idea is to score tries and goals. What happens in the unviewable mass of trunks and limbs known as a maul or ruck is a bit like what goes into sausages. Let's focus more on the outcome than the process eh? That ball will pop out eventually. In rugby, not sausages.
The driving maul however has given me a great sports question. Are there any other sports where a score is achieved which nobody in the crowd is able to verify?
So I found myself watching England v Italy on Sunday and there came along a development. The sneaky Italians used the rules to their advantage. Turned out the England players didn't know the rules that well and chose to ask the referee what to do, getting the now much-repeated answer 'I'm a referee not a coach.'
The Italians worked out that if you didn't gather round a tackled player then there was no ruck and if there wasn't a ruck they could stand where they couldn't stand if a ruck had formed because, there not being a ruck, there was no gameline and no offside. I think that's it. Purists hated it because it was against the spirit of the game. I loved it because one you can't be a purist about a game that involves so much physical violence and two it was within the rules so people formerly known as purists can suck it in.
There have been moments in my preferred game of Association Football where the authorities have had to answer the question 'Do we want this to be within the rules?' Loitering offside but not interfering? That's now OK. The Ernie Hunt/Willie Carr free kick routine? Not OK as it isn't a proper kick. Launching a throw-in after a hand-spring? Tough to do in confined space but allowed. Touching the goalkeeper with a feather? OK, bad example.
Now the English rugby team worked out at half-time what to do. No rule change appears necessary although rugby union law makers have itchy trigger fingers. It is simply that an interesting extra dimension has come along that the game does not have to be played the way it has always been played. Rucks are not compulsory and tackled players may not have the option of taking time to make the ball available, all the time.
Love it. Well done Italy.