Law discussion: Why no try?

Mon, 12 Feb 2018 08:38
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rugby365 law guru Paul Dobson looks at the most contentious incident of the weekend - in the Six Nations match between England and Wales.

Look at what the player did and what the law says. Then decide.

Wales play England at Twickenham. England has just gone into a 12-0 lead when Wales attack. They go left near the England 22 and Welsh flyhalf Rhys Patchell kicks a diagonal across the field to his left. The ball bounces infield and strikes left wing Stef Evans as Danny Care of England scurries across in defence. From Evans, the ball twists its way into the England in-goal where Anthony Watson of England and Gareth Anscombe of Wales dive for the ball. Anscombe's right hand comes down onto the ball which then squirts away.

The experienced referee consults his experienced assistant. The referee then consults the TMO, asking him to tell him whether it was a try or no try. He asks him to check the grounding and to see how the ball came infield from Evans.

There are replays.

It is immediately clear that the ball comes of Evans's left knee. It is then all in the grounding.

After replays, the TMO tells the referee his findings: "The ball came off the knee of the Welsh player but it was not clearly grounded. The English player was the first to ground the ball. Therefore it is a five-metre scrum."

It would seem that Anscombe brings his right hand down from about 34cm above the ball onto the ball and that his hand makes contact with the ball on the ground only just before Watson's left hand contacts the ball.

This is clear in slow motion.

We shall go into the law now, but, please, do not listen to what a commentator says about the law, for he gets it wrong.

Law 21 deals with in-goal. It used to be Law 22.

Law 21.1 The ball can be grounded in in-goal:

a. By holding it and touching the ground with it or

b. By pressing down on it with a hand or hands, arm or arms, or the front of the player’s body from waist to neck.

3. An attacking player grounding the ball in in-goal scores a try.

Does Anscombe ground the ball?

The ball is on the ground. Does he press down on it with his right hand?

We see slow motion. Slow motion tells that Anscombe's hand first made contact with the ball and that the contact was with the top of the ball.

This action does not happen in slow motion but in urgent speed. Anscombe brings his hand down onto the ball from some 34cm above the ball. It would be impossible for him not to be pressing down on the ball.

That the ball then squirts away has meaning only if a try has NOT been scored. If the try is scored, it does not matter what happens to the ball afterwards. Rugby's most glorious act has happened. 

This happens frequently when a ball-carrier grounds the ball and it then spurts away - and the try is awarded.

It is hard to see why the try is not awarded in this case.

It is also hard to see what grounds the TMO has for telling the referee that a five-metre scrum should be awarded. Welshmen had put the ball into the England in-goal. No Englishman had knocked on in in-goal. There is in the TMO's mind no doubt about who first grounded the ball. Presumably, though the TMO does not say it, it may have been in his mind that Anscombe had knocked on.

A five-metre scrum makes no sense at all.

A commentator says: "He doesn't need downward pressure anymore. He just has to have control."

The one thing he needs is downward pressure. One wonders where on earth "control" comes in and what it's supposed to be.

The way the laws of the game are dealt with in this case are worrying.

The manner in which the TMO tells the referee what to do is also not in keeping with World Rugby's protocol. We have two quotes from the protocol.

Guiding principles
• The TMO is a tool to help referees and assistant referees. The referee should not be subservient to the system. The referee is responsible for managing the TMO process
• The referee is the decision-maker and must remain in charge of the game
• Any relevant information taken into consideration must be CLEAR and OBVIOUS and in the context of materiality
• The application of the TMO system must be credible and consistent, protecting the image of the game.

And

1.7 When the TMO has concluded his analysis, he/she will provide the match referee with his advice and recommendations. The referee should repeat the TMO’s recommendation to ensure that he/she is absolutely satisfied that he has heard what has been recommended.
1.8 The TMO will then advise the referee as to when he/she may go ahead and signal his decision. (This process is important in order to allow time for TV to focus their cameras on the referee for his decision).
1.9 The referee will then communicate his/her decision in the correct manner. Play will then continue, and the time clock restarted. 

The decision is the referee's.