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Law discussion: try or penalty?

IN THE SPOTLIGHT: The laws are not always easy to apply and that includes the act of scoring a try, the most important occurrence in a rugby match, the game’s crowning glory.


Rugby365‘s law guru Paul Dobson looks at a real incident from a real match.

At the World Rugby’s Sevens Series in Cape Town, New Zealand play Russia. Just before half-time, Russia get the ball back from a tackle some five metres inside the New Zealand half. Kristina Seredina of Russia passes to her left on the short side but Stacey Waaka of New Zealand intercepts the ball and sets off for the right corner. About four metres from the goal-line, Alena Mikhaltsova, the Russian captain, dives to tackle her and Stacey Waaka falls to the ground in possession of the ball. She is less than a metre from the goal-line, rises up on her knees and plunges at the goal-line where she grounds the ball.

The referee consults the TMO who examines the incident and says to the referee: “You may award the try.”

But the referee then says: “Peter, I’m not going to award the try. It’s a double movement. She clearly propelled herself from her knees forward. For me it’s a penalty on the five-metre line.”

The referee penalises Stacey Waaka.

The referee is in charge of the match and it is well within her rights to contradict the TMO. It’s a pity if there is not agreement but in the end it is the referee’s responsibility to make the decision.


This is what the TMO protocol says:

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.

We shall look at the siituation, considering two possibilities.

First, let’s see if it was a tackle or not.


Law 14 Requirements for a tackle
1. For a tackle to occur, the ball-carrier is held and brought to ground by one or more opponents.
2. Being brought to ground means that the ball-carrier is lying, sitting or has at least one knee on the ground or on another player who is on the ground.
3. Being held means that a tackler must continue holding the ball-carrier until the ball-carrier is on the ground.

Stacey Waaka is certainly brought to ground.

Is she held until she is on the ground? The “until” bit is important. She does not have to be held at any time after she is brought to ground for her to be tackled. Clearly there was a time after she is on the ground that she is not held. That may well be why the commentators announce that she was not held. But it does not make them right.

The referee has a better view than the camera and clearly believed that she was held.

Let’s accept that it was a tackle, i.e. that Alena Mikhaltsova still had a grip on Stacey Waaka when Stacey Waaka hit the ground.

As a tackled player, Stacey Waaka was required to act in certain, specific ways.

Law 14.7 Tackled players must immediately:
a. Make the ball available so that play can continue by releasing, passing or pushing the ball in any direction except forward. They may place the ball in any direction.
b. Move away from the ball or get up.
c. Ensure that they do not lie on, over or near the ball to prevent opposition players from gaining possession of it.
Sanction: Penalty.

Stacey Waaka did not do a.
Stacey Waaka did not do b.
Stacey Waaka did not do c.

That made the referee’s decision to penalise the correct one.

But what about stretching out to score?

Law 8 .2. TRY
A try is scored when an attacking player:
d. Is tackled near to the opponents’ goal line and the player immediately reaches out and grounds the ball.


Law 21 In-Goal

1. The ball can be grounded in in-goal:
7. If a tackled player has momentum that carries them into their own in-goal area, they can make a touch down.

Momentum must be continuous; other wise it is not momentum

Stacey Waaka’s movement towards the goal-line is not continuous. Her movement towards the goal-line stops. She then provides the forward momentum by propelling her body forward. She gets the ball lover the goal-line but not by simply stretching out with it.

But what if Alena Mikhaltsova did not have a grip on Stacey Waaka when Stacey Waaka hit the ground, in other words Alena Mikhaltsova had merely knocked Stacey Waaka to ground?

Then there was no tackle.

But as a player on the ground with the ball in her possession, Stacey Waaka was required to act in certain specific ways.

Law 13.1 Players, who go to ground to gather the ball or who go to ground with the ball, must immediately:
a. Get up with the ball; or
b. Play (but not kick) the ball; or
c. Release the ball.
Sanction: Penalty.

Stacey Waaka did not do a.
Stacey Waaka did not do c.

What about b.?

What is a player required to do to play the ball?

The ball is played when it is intentionally touched by a player.

At the very least, Stacey Waaka was touching the ball.

It would seem that the try could then have been awarded in this case.

Before the abbreviated laws were brought into use, the law was clearer.

(a) A player with the ball must immediately do one of three things:
*get up with the ball
*pass the ball
*release the ball
Sanction: penalty kick

If Play the ball is meant to mean pass the ball, then Stacey Waaka fulfilled none of the three requirements and should have been penalised.

As she was.

There is a huge difference between getting a try and getting penalised!

Video credit: NZRugbyVidz

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