Law discussion: Best foot forward
There was considerable discussion of the penalty try and yellow card in the match between the Stormers and the Sharks on Saturday.
There was lots of upset people with the decision.
South African referees have a website which allows readers to ask questions for explanations on points of law. On Saturday evening I recived the most obscene e-mail I have ever had, purporting to come from a Dave Snow and referring to the TMO and his decision.
I replied to the given address, firstname.lastname@example.org, but it was returned undelivered, because 'The e-mail account that you tried to reach does not exist'.
Let's look at the incident and the law.
As the Sharks bashed at the Stormers line in the second half, Cobus Reinach of the Sharks ran at a diagonal towards the goal post. Tackled from behind by Coleman, Reinach stretched towards the goal-line near the goal post but the ball was dislodged from his grasp and Jano Vermaak cleared.
This led to a TMO examination in which it was clear that Siya Kolisi's left boot had made contact with the ball, dislodging it.
The referee and the TMO agreed that Kolisi's act constituted foul play and that Reinach would otherwise probably have scored a try. This resulted in a penalty try and a yellow card for Kolisi.
Both of the English commentators immediately disagreed with the decision and made their decision known with the force of infallibility.
There are thus several things to consider – the action, the law and the administration of the law.
The ball was in Reinach's right hand roughly above the plane of the goal-line. It is dislodged from his grasp by the boot of Siya Kolisi of the Stormers. The ball then hits the padding and Jano Vermaak of the Stormers gets the ball to kick it out of immediate danger.
Law 22.4 (e) Tackled near the goal-line. If a player is tackled near to the opponents’ goal-line so that this player can immediately reach out and ground the ball on or over the goal-line, a try is scored.
(fl) In this situation, defending players who are on their feet may legally prevent the try by pulling the ball from the tackled player’s hands or arms, but must not kick the ball.
There is no sanction there but there is here.
Law 15.6 (j) When a tackled player reaches out to ground the ball on or over the goal-line to score a try, an opponent may pull the ball from the player’s possession, but must not kick or attempt to kick the ball.
Sanction: Penalty kick
Kicking the ball is not illegal but kicking it out of somebody else's hand is illegal, because it is dangerous. Dangerous play is a part of foul play, as is unfair play.
Was it a kick?
Kick: a kick is made by hitting the ball with any part of the leg or foot, except the heel, and from knee to toe, but not including the knee.
What Kolisi did could well be described as a kick.
The commentator says it was not deliberately done. There is the matter of intention and accidental is mentioned. The law does not speak of intention at all. Kolisi was not forced to do what he did.
He could have avoided doing what he had done. He stride is a wide one to get his foot to the ball, his hands much further from the ball and with no chance of getting to it.
The Laws of the Game have used various words to describe what a player does without an outside force compelling him to do what he did – intentionally, deliberately, voluntarily and even willfully. It probably means of his own accord, not forced to do what he did, of his own accord.
In any case the referee is required to deal with what happens. He is not a mind reader.
It would seem that it was fair to judge what Kolisi did as contrary to the law – in other words a serious infringement.
It would seem that Reinach would probably (probably – not certainly, not definitely) have scored a try. His hand, which once held the ball, came down onto the line.
Law 22.4 (h) Penalty try. A penalty try is awarded if a try would probably have been scored but for foul play by the defending team.
The penalty try seems thus a fair decision.
Law 10.2: A player who prevents a try being scored through foul play must either be cautioned and temporarily suspended or sent off.
The law requires that a card, yellow or red, must follow a penalty try. That is what the referee did.
To say what the commentators said is irresponsible. The referees did not get this 'completely' wrong. It was not 'ridiculous'. It was not 'a bad decision'.
In cases like this, there will always be divided opinions. Sharks' supporters will agree with the penalty try while Stormers' supporters will disagree but for commentators to speak to the world as they did with self-styled infallibility is likely to incite anger in various forms.
To suggest that the referee 'felt embarrassed' in giving the decision borders on the bizarre – the ability to read the referee's mind and emotions is farfetched, and in any case the final decision is the referee's and he is entitled not to accept the advice of the TMO.
He could have avoided feeling embarrassed if he had wanted to.
By Paul Dobson