Law discussion: The in-goal area
We shall start with a point made by David Walsh of New Zealand.
Late in the match between Australia and South Africa, Will Genia of Australia kicks the ball down towards the South African 22 where Bryan Habana catches it not far from the touchline on his right. Habana moves forward and then when he is about 12 metres inside his own half, he kicks ahead. The ball bounces in the Australian 22 and rolls on into the in-goal while Quade Cooper of Australia monitors its progress.
The ball is rolling towards touch-in-goal with Cooper in touch-in-goal when Cooper leans over and presses down on the ball which is still in in-goal. The referee awards a scrum to Australia about 12 metres inside the South African half, that is where Habana kicked the ball.
Law 22.8 Ball kicked dead through in-goal
If a team kicks the ball through their opponents’ in-goal into touch-in-goal or on or over the dead-ball line, except by an unsuccessful kick at goal or attempted dropped goal, the defending team has two choices:
To have a drop-out, or
To have a scrum at the place where the ball was kicked and they throw in.
In this case the ball is not kicked into touch-in-goal. It does not reach touch-in-goal.
But Cooper played the ball and he was in touch-in-goal. Does that not mean the ball is in touch-in-goal?
There is nothing explicit in the laws but look at this.
Law 22.9 Defending player in in-goal
(a) A defending player who has part of one foot in in-goal is considered to have both feet in in-goal.
(d) If a player with one or both feet on or behind the dead ball line, picks up the ball, which was stationary within in-goal, that player is deemed to have picked up the ball in in-goal and thereby that player has made the ball dead.
(e) If a player with one or both feet on or behind the dead ball line picks up the ball, which was in motion within in-goal, that player has picked up the ball outside the playing area.
Surely the same must apply to touch-in-goal as well.
But the most significant part of all this is that Cooper does not pick up the ball. He puts his hands on the ball and pushes down on it. He grounds the ball.
If Habana had done what Cooper did it would have been a try to South Africa.
Law 22.4 (g) Player in touch or touch-in-goal. If an attacking player is in touch or in touch-in-goal, the player can score a try by grounding the ball in the opponents’ in-goal provided the player is not carrying the ball.
Cooper grounded the ball when it was in his in-goal.
Law 22.5 Ball grounded by a defending player
(a) Touchdown. When defending players are first to ground the ball in their in-goal, it results in a touchdown.
(b) Player in touch or touch-in-goal. If defending players are in touch-in-goal, they can make a touchdown by grounding the ball in their in-goal provided they are not carrying the ball.
Accept that Cooper, a defending player, grounded the ball in his in-goal. It was a touchdown. What happens next?
Law 22.7 Restarting after a touchdown
(a) When an attacking player sends or carries the ball into the opponents’ in-goal and it becomes dead there, either because a defender grounded it or because it went into touch-in-goal or on or over the dead ball line, a drop-out is awarded.
That is what should have happened here, it seems – a drop out by Australia, not a scrum to Australia in the South African half.
If Cooper had picked up the ball without grounding it, the scrum would have been the correct decision.