Tue 28 Jan 2020 | 09:39

Law discussion: One part debateable, one part certain

Law discussion: One part debateable, one part certain
Tue 28 Jan 2020 | 09:39
Law discussion: One part debateable, one part certain

PRO14 SPOTLIGHT: @rugby365com law guru Paul Dobson takes a look at a contentious incident in last week’s spiteful derby between the Southern Kings and Cheetahs.


There are two incidents in this sequence of events in the PRO14 match between the Southern Kings and the Cheetahs, played in Port Elizabeth that are worthy of a law discussion.

There are six minutes to go in this match and the score is 30-17 in favour of the Kings, the Cheetahs attack.

After a Kings’ box kick, Cheetahs fullback Raynor Smith darts ahead but is caught by Bader Pretorius and Erich Cronjé of the Kings. The pair hold Smith up, as he struggles to get a knee to the ground. Just as he does so, the referee calls “Tackle” and Pretorius rips the ball from Smith’s grasp and runs away with it. But the referee stops him and penalises him for not releasing in a tackle.

The Cheetahs kick out for a lineout five metres from the Kings line. Wilmar Arnoldi of the Cheetahs throws in. Bobby de Wee of the Kings leaps up and slaps the ball back to his side. The ball flies straight to substitute scrumhalf Theo Maree who is standing at the Kings’ goal-line. Maree kicks, and the ball is immediately charged by Luan de Bruin. The ball flies back over the Kings’ dead-ball line.

The referee orders a drop-out, which some Cheetahs dispute.

There are two things to talk about – the tackle and the drop-out.


Tackle – is it really a tackle?

It has become accepted as law in recent times that if a player is held up off the ground but gets a knee on the ground, there is a tackle.

If that really is so, then the wording of the law needs to be changed.

The method of holding a ball-carrier and bringing that player to ground.
Tackled player: A ball-carrier who is held and taken to ground by a tackler or tacklers.


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.

In this case and as is frequently the case, ball-carrier Smith is not brought to ground. On the contrary, the two Kings players are striving to keep him off the ground, so that they can get the put-in at a scrum after a failed maul. Smith forces a knee to the ground so that he can claim the protection of being a tackled player.

This must happen before any of Smith-team mates join the battling group. If they had done so, it would constitute a maul, ending the possibility of a tackle.

In this case it would seem that Smith dabs his knee to the ground fractionally before Gerhard Olivier and Wilmar Arnoldi drive into what would then have been a maul.

The referee may appear to call tackle after Pretorius has done his ripping, but this could appear so because the speed of light is many thousands of times faster than the speed of sound.

Let’s accept that Smith is a tackled player. Then Pretorius is bound to release him so that he can play the ball.

Law 14.5 Tacklers must
d. Allow the tackled player to release or play the ball.

Pretorius does not go to ground and so is, strictly according to law, not a tackler, but the principle of releasing the tackled player is established.


Now the drop-out.

It is unclear why there should have been any querying of the referee’s decision.

11. Apart from at a kick-off or restart kick, if the ball is played or taken into in-goal by an attacking player and is made dead by an opponent, play is restarted with a 22-metre drop-out.

It was certainly Luan de Bruin who knocked the ball from the field of play into the Kings’ in-goal where it became dead.

The drop-out is clearly the right decision.

PV: 1135