Law discussion: That 'erroneous' call
The penalty try is rugby's toughest sanction against an infringement and rugby's greatest folly.
In the semifinal of Sevens Series in Las Vegas, twice South Africa were ahead and twice they forfeited their lead to penalty tries, ending up knocked out of the Final by Australia who beat them 14-12.
It's a foolish way to lose.
Law 22.17 (b) Foul play by the defending team. The referee awards a penalty try if a try would probably have been scored but for foul play by the defending team.
The referee awards a penalty try if a try would probably have been scored in a better position but for foul play by the defending team.
A penalty try is awarded between the goal posts. The defending team-may charge the conversion kick after a penalty try.
A player who prevents a try being scored through foul play must either be cautioned and temporarily suspended or sent off.
A penalty try is awarded under the posts.
Foul Play includes dangerous tackling, which includes high tackles and armless tackles.
Law 10.4 (e) Dangerous tackling
A player must not tackle (or try to tackle) an opponent above the line of the shoulders even if the tackle starts below the line of the shoulders. A tackle around the opponent's neck or head is dangerous play.
Sanction: Penalty kick
Law 10.4 (g) Dangerous charging. A player must not charge or knock down an opponent carrying the ball without trying to grasp that player.
Sanction: Penalty kick
The penalty try – and yellow card – for 'not using the arms in a tackle' came first.
In this clip, Quade Cooper of Australia runs towards the left corner while Rosco Speckman of South Africa races across in cover defence. Cooper is upright as Speckman closes in. Speckman puts out his left arm around Cooper's back and stretches out his right arm round his front. Cooper dips his right shoulder into Speckman's chest. The collision knocks Cooper into touch.
The referee asks his assistant and the goal judge about grounding. There is no grounding. But the assistant says: "There was no attempt to make a tackle. Foul play." The referee interprets this as a penalty try and a yellow card for Speckman (8). He asks the goal judge if he agrees. The goal judge agrees. Speckman is sent to the sin bin and a penalty try awarded.
At the Las Vegas Sevens there was no TMO. Instead a replay could be shown on the big screen for the referee and his assistant to look at – the video review. The referee does not use this facility in this case but takes his assistant's word for it.
The assistant's word seems to be erroneous, for both Speckman's arms were out to tackle. The law does not even require him to tackle but to 'try to grasp' the opponent, which is what Speckman seems to try to do in having his arms outstretched towards Cooper's body.
The reason for this 'trying to grasp' is to remove the hard knob of a shoulder, which can cause harm. Drop your shoulder towards a target and the hard knob is leading; stretch out an arm and the hard knob recedes. If anybody uses the knob of the shoulder in this collision it was Cooper, certainly not Speckman.
It seems a wrong decision, which has serious consequences in the match. It would have been wiser to use the referee's video review.
The second case is easier.
Time is up and South Africa are leading 12-7 but Australia have the ball. Branco du Preez is penalised for a high tackle. The Australians tap and are heading for the fatal left corner. Ed Jenkins (9), the Australian captain, has the ball and a try is likely till Speckman again arrives on the scene and fells Jenkins by grabbing him around the neck.
The referee awards a penalty try and a second yellow card to Speckman, which amounts to a red card, though it has no bearing on the game as the time is up.
The high tackle was foul play. It – and no other means – stopped Jenkins from scoring a try. The penalty try was certainly correct.
The argument that Speckman could have stopped him with a legal tackle is specious because he simply did not use any other means than a high tackle to stop Jenkins.
It really is folly to concede a penalty try. If both these tries had been scored they would have been scored in the left corner, with difficult conversions to follow. Instead they were scored under the posts with easy conversions to follow.
You will see this often – a maul or a try collapsed far out becomes a try under the posts. And a high tackle is far easier to detect than the collapsing of scrum or maul.
By Paul Dobson