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Law discussion: Oops and oops

IN THE SPOTLIGHT: @rugby365com law guru Paul Dobson takes a look at two incidents in Round Five of Super Rugby.


Referees get more flak when they are right than when they are wrong. Here we look at  two cases of getting something wrong but still avoiding any criticism.

Here we have cases of clear refereeing error. We bring them up not to gloat or mock, but just to point out what should really have been in terms of the Laws of the Game. In both cases, they are long-established laws. In fact one of these laws turns 100 this year!

Incident 1

Just 18 minutes into the match in Dunedin between the Highlanders and the Rebels, the Highlanders win the ball back from a tackle/ruck thing, and, about 10 metres outside the Highlanders 22, Aaron Smith, the Highlanders’ scrumhalf, kicks downfield. After he has kicked the ball, Matt Philip of the Rebels tackles Smith. The referee lets play go on as Dane Haylett-Petty of the Rebels catches the ball. Eventually the referee stops play and penalises the Rebels, saying “late tackle”. He goes back to where Philip tackled Smith.

It was a late tackle, but there was something wrong here.

Law 9.25 A player must not intentionally charge or obstruct an opponent who has just kicked the ball.
Sanction: Penalty. The non-offending team chooses to take the penalty either:
a. At the place of the infringement; or
b. Where the ball lands or is next played but not nearer than 15 metres from the touchline; or
c. If the ball is kicked directly into touch, on the 15-metre line in line with where the ball crossed the touchline; or
d. If the ball lands in in-goal, touch-in-goal or on or over the dead-ball line, five metres from the goal-line in line with where the ball crossed the goal-line and at least 15 metres from the touchline; or
e. If the ball hits a goal post or crossbar, where the ball lands.


In 1920, New Zealand and New South Wales proposed that at a late tackle there be an option of a free kick at the place of infringement to at the spot where the ball alights.

In 1925 that became law, stating the following:

Free kicks by way of penalties shall be awarded if any player:-
Not himself running for the ball, wilfully charges or obstructs and opponent who has just kicked the ball.
On breach of this subsection, the opposite side be awarded at their option a free kick:-
(a) At the place of infringement;
(b) at the spot where the ball alights.

Then, as does the current law, It goes on to rule on places of alighting.


It is ancient law and not at all esoteric. It should be known by now.

Incident 2

Time is nearly up when the Bulls are attacking the Jaguares line. There is a tackle about six metres from the Jaguares’ goal-line and at it the referee penalises Santiago Medrano, the Jaguares prop, for not rolling away. The ball comes back to the Bulls where their scrumhalf suggests to the referee that his side would like the penalty. The referee duly awards the penalty, Van Zyl taps and darts ahead but about a metre from the Jaguares’ goal-line, Gonzalo Bertranou of the Jaguares, with help from Medrano, tackles Van Zyl. They are standing infield from their goal-line. Eventually the Bulls lose the ball and the Jaguares clear.

12. When a penalty or free-kick is awarded, the opposing team must immediately retreat 10 metres towards their own goal line or until they have reached their goal line if that is closer.
13. Even if the penalty or free-kick is taken quickly and the kicker’s team is playing the ball, opposing players must keep retreating the necessary distance. They may not take part in the game until they have done so.
14. If it is taken so quickly that opponents have no opportunity to retreat, they will not be sanctioned for this. However, they may not take part in the game until they have retreated 10 metres from the mark or until a team-mate who was 10 metres from the mark has moved in front of them.
15. The opposing team may not do anything to delay the kick or obstruct the kicker, including intentionally taking, throwing or kicking the ball out of reach of the team awarded the penalty.
Sanction: Second penalty or free-kick, 10 metres in front of the original mark. The second penalty or free-kick must
not be taken before the referee has made the mark.

Bertranou and Medrano had not retreated the required distance – i.e. to their goal-line –  when they took up positions to defend their goal-line.

There should have been a “second penalty”.

Just a penalty?

That second penalty would have been for an infringement – not retreating the required distance before playing.

That would fall under Law 9 which deals with foul play.

A player must not:
a. Intentionally infringe any law of the game.

Penalty try?

Penalty try: Penalty try: Awarded when, in the opinion of the referee, a try probably would have been scored (or scored in a more advantageous position) if not for an act of foul play by an opponent.

What Bertranou and Medrano did would qualify as intentional infringement and therefore foul play and therefore a penalty try. After all if a deliberate knock-on can be cause for awarding a penalty try, then this, too, would qualify.

This is younger law than the late tackle option. It dates back to 1937.

Law 24 All players of the opposing team must retire to or behind the line parallel to the goal-lines and 10 yards from the mark, or to their own goal-line, whichever is nearer to the mark.

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