Law discussion: That last decision in that semi
Time is running out quickly as the Crusaders lead the Hurricanes 30-26 with a place in the Super Rugby final at stake and the Hurricanes are attacking well inside the Crusaders’ 22.
The Hurricanes go right. TJ Perenara passes a long pass to Beauden Barrett about 15 metres from the Crusaders’ line. Andrew Makalio immediately tackles Barrett. They both go to ground. Vaea Fifita (20) of the Hurricanes and Sam Whitelock of the Crusaders arrive simultaneously and make immediate contact with each other over the tackle and on their feet. Perenara arrives and swoops to pick up the ball when Whitelock’s big left hand goes over the ball. The ball is lost and the referee blows his whistle and orders a scrum to the Crusaders for a knock-on by Perenara, who is visibly upset by the decision.
The Crusaders win the scrum as the final siren sounds and Richie Mo’unga kicks the ball into touch to book the Crusaders’ place in the final.
There has been upset at the decision, especially in the Hurricanes’ camp. There were claims that Whitelock had handled the ball in the ruck, that he had slapped the ball from Perenara’s grasp, which was cynical, and that Perenara had not knocked on at all.
Ruck: A phase of play where one or more players from each team, who are on their feet and in physical contact, close around the ball, which is on the ground.
There is no ruck, because the ball is not on the ground. Barrett is holding it up.
But is what Barrett does legal?
Law 14.7 Tackled players must immediately:
a. Make the ball available so that play can continue by releasing, passing or pushing the ball in any direction except forward. They may place the ball in any direction.
b. Move away from the ball or get up.
c. Ensure that they do not lie on, over or near the ball to prevent opposition players from gaining possession of it.
Barrett is not wholly legal.
Are Whitelock and Fifita legal, with more emphasis on Whitelock than Fifita?
Law 14.8 Other players must:
a. Remain on their feet when they play the ball.
c. Arrive at the tackle from the direction of their own goal-line before playing the ball.
Whitelock and Fifita arrive legally and stay on their feet
Perenara first puts hands to the ball in the action of picking it up. Then Whitelock puts his hand beyond the ball in an attempt to pull it from Perenara’s grasp and back towards the Crusaders’ side.
Go from Law 1 to Law 21.18 and you will not find anything that says that what Whitelock did was illegal.
He is allowed to get the ball out of Perenara’s grasp, just not kick it. He is allowed to pull it or knock it with his hand – provided that he does not knock it forward.
The shape of Whitelock’s hand suggests he was attempting to get/pull the ball back and does not a knock it on.
The only question left is whether it was a knock-on by Perenara or not.
Knock-on: When a player loses possession of the ball and it goes forward, or when a player hits the ball forward with the hand or arm, or when the ball hits the hand or arm and goes forward, and the ball touches the ground or another player before the original player can catch it.
Accept that the ball goes from Perenara’s hand towards the Crusaders’ line, but does he lose it or was it taken from him? If it was the latter, play could have been allowed to go on.
The referee was in an excellent position and had a clear view of what happened. He decided that Perenara had lost the ball forward and that it was a knock-on.
It would seem that complaints of cynicism or gross error are unfounded.