De Villiers and off-side!
There are two readers who have asked questions about the law and how it pertained to Jean de Villiers's intercept in the Tri-Nations match between South Africa and New Zealand on Saturday. They are worth discussing as they fall into the "new to me" category!
André Pretorius of South Africa kicks left-footed from well inside his 22. Rodney So'oialo catches the ball near New Zealand's 10-metre line. He passes to Leon MacDonald who runs up in counterattack. Just over the South African 10-metre line CJ van der Linde brings him to ground. It is just a tackle, not a ruck.
The ball comes back. So'oialo picks it up; and drives ahead but does not get far as Victor Matfield tackles him. They both go to ground and a ruck forms.
The ball comes back from the ruck to Byron Kelleher who passes immediately to right-wing Rico Gear going left. Gear gets the ball on the South African 10-metre line and breaks brilliantly. At about the South African 22 Percy Montgomery gets ahold of Gear. Neither goes to ground. Held, Gear swivels round and passes back to Kelleher who passes straight to Jean de Villiers who sets off for the New Zealand posts and scores a try.
Reader 1: My question is prompted by Jean de Villiers's "intercept" try in the recent game at Newlands. Not that I am suggesting the Boks didn't deserve their win – the ABs took some shocking options – I have simply been curious about many similar incidents in games involving many different teams.
Am I right in assuming that in general play there is a line through the ball parallel to the try-lines, and that players must remain on their side of this line until the ball is passed?
It appears players on the wrong side of this line can often be pinged for "loitering" if they so much as get in the potential path of a pass, let alone grab the ball and score a try. I have no problem with the concept of intercept tries, as long as the player concerned was on-side when the pass was made. As teams use the "rush defence" some players inevitably will misjudge their run and end up amongst the opposition backline, but are they not obliged to retire and take no part in the game until they are on-side again?
Or is this situation simply a case of the referee judging that de Villiers was actually somehow in line with (or behind!) the imaginary line at the moment it left Kelleher's hands?
Any clarification on players taking part in the game whilst on the opposition side of the ball would help.
Martin Middleditch – Auckland, New Zealand
Reader 2: This week I was particularly interested in the discussion on loitering and wonder at its application to the Bok try. Although I haven't seen a replay since reading your column my memory is that De Villiers had placed himself in the NZ back line and was making no attempt to retreat to his side of the tackle that had formed. Was he not therefore guilty of loitering and could the try have been disallowed?
Martyn – London
Comment: There is no off-side line through the ball in general play. There never has been. As long as the All Blacks were playing with the ball, any South African could be anywhere he liked on the field and play the ball if it came to him or the New Zealander is he had the ball.
Off-side means off your own side. The basic off-side is being in front of a player of your team who last played the ball. That is not the case here.
Then off-side is produced by scrums, line-outs, rucks, and mauls.
There had been a ruck here – where So'oialo was tackled. If Jean de Villiers was on-side there is no reason to penalise him when New Zealand were playing with the ball.
In any case Gear's long run made everybody on-side who had not interfered with earlier options for New Zealand.
A tackle does not produce an off-side line in theory though the restrictions on entering the tackle and playing near the tackle are tantamount to off-side lines. But Gear was not tackled. To be tackled he needed to go to ground while Montgomery held him. He did not go to ground. That means there was no tackle.
Reader 1's assumption is wrong. That means that the rest of his thesis is wrong.
Reader 2 had the facts of play wrong. There had been no tackle. Even if there had been a tackle, it in itself would not make an off-side line.