Law discussion: Similar incidents treated differently
@rugby365com law guru Paul Dobson looks at different matches with different referees, and similar incidents are treated differently.
The matches: Wales vs Australia in Cardiff and France vs South Africa in Paris.
In each of these matches, a player kicks the ball and then is knocked to the ground by an opponent.
Leigh Halfpenny of Wales kicks the ball and then Samu Kerevi of Australia knocks him to ground.
Camille Lopez of France kicks the ball and then Faf de Klerk of South Africa knocks him to ground.
Differences between the Two Acts
a. Halfpenny had his kicking foot back on the ground when Kerevi made contact.
Lopez had his leg in the air when De Klerk made contact.
This suggests that Kerevi’s contact was later than De Klerk’s.
b. Kerevi is turned sideward and the knob of his shoulder makes co intact with Halfpenny’s upper chest and head.
De Klerk has his hands out in an attempt to charge down Lopez’s kick. The contact is face to face.
a. Halfpenny and Lopez are both hurt and replaced.
b. In Incident 1, the referee declares that it was not a deliberate act of foul play.
In Incident 2, the referee consults the TMO, decides it is a late tackle and penalises De Klerk at the place downfield where Lopez’s kick had landed. France scores three points from the penalty.
In recent time, there have been additions to the laws to protect players as more matches are played at high level with changed techniques and television shows them to a world that could be frightened off by things like tackles around the neck, air tackles and charges with a hard shoulder, which previously had not been legislated against.
The law against playing an opponent who does not have the ball makes sense and dates back to at least 1888. In 1899 it became: Free kicks by way of penalties shall be awarded if any player wilfully holds an opponent who has not got the ball. In 1910 “holds” became “tackles” In 1925 it became
Free kicks by way of penalties shall be awarded if any player, not himself running for the ball, wilfully charges and obstructs an opponent who has just kicked the ball.
The law then allowed for: “free kick by way of penalty” to be advanced to where the ball alighted.
The late tackle was born and it is essentially the same nearly a century later.
Law 9.13 A player must not tackle an opponent early, late or dangerously. Dangerous tackling includes, but is not limited to, tackling or attempting to tackle an opponent above the line of the shoulders even if the tackle starts below the line of the shoulders.
Law 9.14 A player must not tackle an opponent who is not in possession of the ball.
Law 9.15 Except in a scrum, ruck or maul, a player who is not in possession of the ball must not hold, push, charge or obstruct an opponent, not in possession of the ball.
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:
At the place of the infringement; or
Where the ball lands or is next played but not nearer than 15 metres from the touchline; or
If the ball is kicked directly into touch, on the 15-metre line in line with where the ball crossed the touchline; or
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
If the ball hits a goal post or crossbar, where the ball lands.
There is enough there to suggest that Kerevi and De Klerk should both have been penalised. Nobody and nothing forced them to do what they did. It was entirely of their own volition.
The law does not require a player to tackle an opponent but just requires him to do so.
It is best treated as a fact: if a player does not have the ball and an opponent makes strong contact with him, the opponent is late and is treated appropriately.
If it is treated as a fact, consistency is more possible and the discrepancies, as in this case, would be avoided.
By Paul Dobson