Law discussion - a touchline decision
The Sharks are playing the Blue Bulls in Durban. This incident happens around 56 minutes in the match.
After a scrum near the Sharks’ line, scrumhalf Cameron Wright kicks a long way downfield towards the touchline on his right. Johnny Kotze of the Blue Bulls catches the ball and is in touch when he throws in to fullback Divan Rossouw. Rossouw runs ahead and passes to his right where Jesse Kriel gathers the ball and speeds ahead, stretching to place the ball over the Sharks’ goal-line.
The referee awards a try and then has his attention drawn to the touchline occurrence.
The replay shows that the ball had crossed the plane of touch. (Law DEFINITION: Plane of touch: The vertical space rising immediately above the touch line or touch-in-goal line.)
Then Kotze caught it.
Neither of Kotze’s feet were in touch when he caught the ball.
Kotze was not in touch when he caught the ball.
After he caught the ball, Kotze’s right foot landed on the touchline.
Then Kotze was in touch.
The decision was taken that Kotze had taken the ball into touch. That meant that it was the Sharks’ ball to throw in.
The try was cancelled and the Sharks threw into the line-out.
Law 18 TOUCH OR TOUCH-IN-GOAL
1. The ball is in touch or touch-in-goal when:
a. The ball or ball-carrier touches the touchline, touch-in-goal line or anything beyond.
b. A player, who is already touching the touchline, touch-in-goal line or anything beyond, catches or holds the ball.
i. If the ball has reached the plane of touch when it is caught, the catcher is not deemed to have taken the ball into touch.
ii. If the ball has not reached the plane of touch when it is caught or picked up, the catcher is deemed to have taken the ball into touch, regardless of whether the ball was in motion or stationary.
2. The ball is not in touch or touch-in-goal if:
a. The ball reaches the plane of touch but is caught, knocked or kicked by a player who is in the playing area.
2. applies: Kotze catches the ball before he goes into touch. The ball is not in touch when he catches it.
1. applies: Kotze is a ball-carrier. He touches the touchline. The ball is in touch. Kotze carried it into touch.
Who throws in?
Law 18.8 Line-out
Event: The ball-carrier goes into touch.
Location of the mark of touch: Where the player touches the touchline or the ground beyond it.
Who throws in: The opposition.
In this case, the Sharks are the opposition to Kotze and his Blue Bulls.
The decision made by the match officials appeared to be logical and right. But it was not. And it was not wholly their fault.
The laws we have been quoting are the latest version of the laws after a rewrite which made the laws shorter. Shorter but not always clear. This version of the laws claims not to have changed laws, just expressed it differently. Because there is no change, one feels free to consult the old law and in definitions on touch we find this:
Law 19 [Old numbering] TOUCH
If a player jumps and catches the ball, both feet must land in the playing area; otherwise the ball is in touch or touch-in-goal.
He caught the ball.
When he caught the ball both feet were in the air.
He landed in touch.
Therefore, the ball was in touch.
That means that Kotze was entitled to take a quick throw-in.
That means that Kriel scored a try.
That means that the referee’s initial decision was right.
His job could have been made easier.