Law discussion: grounding for a try

Fri, 17 Mar 2017 12:09
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IN THE SPOTLIGHT: When is the ball grounded for a try and when not? rugby365 law guru Paul Dobson explains!

We have two incidents from last weekend's matches - two similar incidents. In one case the try is not given; in the other the try is awarded.

Scoring a try.

Try. When an attacking player who is on-side is first to ground the ball in the opponents' in-goal, the player scores a try.

There are two ways a player can ground the ball:
(a) Player touches the ground with the ball. A player grounds the ball by holding the ball and touching the ground with it, in in-goal. ‘Holding’ means holding in the hand or hands, or in the arm or arms. No downward pressure is required.

i. the Cheetahs attack the Sunwolves. After a tackle, Clinton Swart of the Cheetahs picks up the ball and darts towards the line. As Derek Carpenter of the Sunwolves, tackles him, Swart reaches out in an attempt to ground the ball for a try.

The referee and his assistant discuss the incident to reach an 'onfield decision', that is a decision which they would have given if there had been no TMO. It is at present a requirement that the referee presents an onfield decision to the TMO which the TMO is allowed to disagree with if there is "compelling evidence' to do so. In this case the TMO advises that against awarding a try.

ii. The Jaguares attack against the Lions. Tomás Lezana races down the left touchline and passes inside. The ball eventually reaches flyhalf Nicolás Sánchez who heads from the corner as Ross Cronje tries to stop him. The two go to ground in in-goal.

The referee consults his assistant and their 'onfield decision' is a try. They consult the TMO and the TMO advises that the try should be awarded.

In i. look at the ball, Swart's hand and his forearm as he attempts to ground the ball. The law requires the player to be 'holding' the ball. Swart's fingertips are on top of the ball and his forearm is on top of the ball. If the ball had been a cup and he attempted to hold it in that fashion, the cup would immediately fall and shatter.

Swart was not holding the ball.
So he did not ground the ball as the law required.
So it was no try.

So the match officials have got it right when they decide against awarding a try.

In ii. is Tuculet holding the ball? His hand has turned so that it is vertical to the ground with his palm against the ball. Could he be holding the ball in this position?

This is a much harder decision than the one in i. above. Tuculet could have been holding the ball, especially if his left thumb had been under it.

There was no compelling reason for the TMO to change the onfield decision.