Law Discussion - Six Nations, Week 3

Thu, 28 Feb 2008 00:00
It was a hectic weekend with Six Nations and Super 14 catching most of the headlines. Two of the matches produced big scores and even the Paris match ended with a distinct gap between the two scores. We shall take a few incidents from the match to use for law discussions.

It was a hectic weekend with Six Nations and Super 14 catching most of the headlines. Two of the matches produced big scores and even the Paris match ended with a distinct gap between the two scores. We shall take a few incidents from the match to use for law discussions.

We have already given statistics from the matches.

We have also given statistics from the Super 14 matches and have clips from some of the matches on

We also have a reader's question to answer.

1. The silly sacrifice

a. Italy attacked down the left and Ezio Galon chipped towards the line. Mike Phillips of Wales fell back, knocked the ball, over his line and, under pressure from Gonzalo Canale, made the ball dead just inside the dead-ball line. Phillips, who plays rugby with a saturnine soul, looked angry at Canale. It was not the first time that he looked angry during the match. The referee whistled for a five-metre scrum to Italy but Italy's replacement scrumhalf Pietro Travagli came running from a long way back. From the Welsh 22 he ran over the goal-line and the length of the in-goal area - all that way and then he gave Phillips a ladylike push.

It was childish but instead of a five-metre scrum to Italy it was a penalty to Wales.

Wales kicked the ball out and the next time Italy had a chance to play it was after Lee Byrne had scored a try and Stephen Jones kicked a conversion.

But Travagli was not  sent to the sin bin. In Durban Schalk Burger also got involved in a disagreement which was not his and was sent to the sin bin, creating a national incident. His intrusion may not have been more robust than Travagli's.

This happened after 66 minutes.

b. Scotland were attacking. They were right on the Irish line. Nathan Hines was at the back of the tackle/ruck waiting for the ball to emerge. It did not emerge and the referee blew his whistle to penalise Ireland. He walked to the five-metre mark when suddenly Nathan Hines burst into ire and swung a big arm at Jamie Heaslip who fell down, as Hines mimed injured innocence.

The referee consulted his assistants. Nobody was convinced that a punch had landed and the referee then reversed the penalty. Instead of a penalty Scotland five metres from the Irish line it became a penalty to Ireland and Ronan O'Gara kicked clear.

This happened after 36 minutes.

c. Down 13-7 France attacked. They were five metres from the English linen on the left and came back right. The referee blew his whistle for a penalty to France six metres from the English line.\

After he had blown his whistle France's hooker Dimitri Szarzewski charged head-first into Mark Regan who was on the top of the tackle ruck from which the ball had emerged. The referee reversed the penalty.

This happened after 43 minutes.

They were three incidents of costly silliness.

Where would the penalty be in each case?

a. Five metres from the Welsh line, where Italy would have had a scrum.
b. Five metres from Ireland's line, where Scotland would have had a penalty.
c. Six metres from England's line where France would have had a penalty.

2. "Come in. Stop. Jump."

Early in the second half against Italy, Wales kick a penalty out five metres from the (Italian line. Italy line up and Wales take their time lining up. They wander in and  as they come into the line-out hooker Matthew Rees throws in. It's mot a good throw and Sergio Parisse gets a hand up and knocks the ball back but the referee blows the whistle and resets the line-out.

In doing so he says to the Welsh: "Come in. Stop. Jump."

There is no line-out equivalent like Crouch. Touch. Pause. Engage. This "Come in. Stop. Jump." is made up. That's not a good idea.

One supposes that the word "stand" suggests that there should be a routine of this nature. But if they are in a line and maintain the gap, one wonders why not.

If it's wrong, why no sanction?

If it's wrong, why no advantage to Italy?

If it's not wrong, why the whistle?

This happened after 45 minutes.

3. Let me go

There were two cases of "let me go" this weekend. They are unseemly affairs.

a. Ireland play. A tackle/ruck forms. Scottish hooker Ross Ford goes into it. He does so of his own free will. He is not pulled in. But then he decides to extricate himself but the Irish player, Tommy Bowe, opposite him has a grip on him. Ford starts flaying an arm to get free, looking angry.

This happened after 47 minutes.

b. France attack and there is a tackle/ruck. Mark Regan is opposite Nicolas Mas of France. Mas has hold of Regan's collar. Regan wants to extricate himself and three times hits down on Mas's hand with a forearm.

The referee penalises Regan, who is all injured innocence, and Morgan Parra goals the penalty. 13-10.

This happened after 47 minutes.

It would be different if Ford or Regan had been detached from the tackle/ruck the way a scrumhalf often is and then got pulled into the tackle/ruck. That would have been illegal.

It's not an edifying sight.

4. Blatant!

Have you noticed that whenever a referee misses something - off-side, forward pass, knock-on - it's always blatant?

We have the top referees in the world refereeing the top matches in the world with top help on the side-lines and whatever they miss is always blatant - out there in the open for all to see. These highly trained, chosen men miss what everybody else can see.

Of course, what they don't have is television, action replays. slow motion, elevated angles, unobstructed views.

The one this time was a knock-on. (There must be some irony that the referee this time was a New Zealander and the team which suffered was France whereas at the World Cup the team was New Zealand and the team that benefited was France.)

From a tackle/ruck, Morgan Parra passed left to François Trinh-Duc. The young flyhalf threw a long pass to fullback Céderic Heymans who was coming into the line. With great anticipation Jamie Noon of England rushed up to tackle Heymans. Ball, Noon and Heymans met. The ball flew back towards the French line. Paul Sackey footed on and scored.

It took a slow motion replay to show that in tackling Heymans, Noon's right hand had knocked the ball back.

Top see that the referee would have had to have had x-ray eyes to be able to see through Noon and Heymans. He would also have had to slow the action down.

The only way the referee - or the man on touch for that matter - could have been sure enough to blow the whistle for a knock-on would have been if they had guessed. And guessing is bad for referees. For one thing it's dishonest.

This happened after four minutes.

5. 2 off-sides = 1 scrum?

A line-out becomes a free kick to Scotland. Mike Blair taps and Scotland play. From a tackle/ruck Blair passes back to Chris Paterson who kicks high.

About 10 metres ahead of Paterson, Scottish flank Alasdair Strokosch takes off after the ball.

Geordan Murphy comes forward and jumps for the ball as  Strokosch approaches. Murphy knocks the ball forward. With Euan Murray of Scotland next to him, Jamie Heaslip of Ireland picks up the ball.

The referee awards a scrum to Scotland for the knock-on.

It was not a good decision for Strokosch had been off-side, which was a penalty. Then Heaslip was off-side as well.

This happened after 16 minutes.

6. Reader's question

Thomas Ralph: Hi,

In the 64th minute of the Ireland vs Scotland match today, Christophe Berdos gave a curious decision. After a kick ahead by O'Gara, Jamie Heaslip was (correctly) penalised for being around 5m ahead of the kicker when the ball was kicked, and closer than 10m to the receiver. The penalty was awarded where Heaslip was standing at the time of the kick. But should it not have been Scotland's choice of a penalty where Heaslip was when the penalty was blown or a scrum from where O'Gara kicked? (Law 11.4 (f))

Regards - Thomas Ralph

Comment: Law 11.4 deals with the 10-metre off-side which was not applicable here.

When O'Gara kicked the ball, Heaslip was a metre inside the Scottish half. The ball landed about 10 metres outside the Scottish 22. The distance between 22 and half-way line is 28 metres. That means that Heaslip was more than 10 metres from where the ball landed when O'Gara kicked.

He is off-side for advancing ahead of a kicker.

Law 11.1 (c) Offside and moving forward. When a team mate of an offside player has kicked ahead, the offside player must not move towards opponents who are waiting to play the ball, or move towards the place where the ball lands, until the player has been put onside.
Penalty: When a player is penalised for being offside in general play, the opposing team chooses either a penalty kick at the place of infringement or a scrum at the place where the offending team last played the ball. If it was last played in that team’s in-goal, the scrum is formed 5 metres from the goal line in line with where it was played.

The referee's penalty was in the right place, that is where Heaslip moved forward.

Perhaps he did offer Scotland an option of a scrum where O'Gara kicked which was about three metres inside the Irish half.

7. Plain talk

a. The referee said to the Scottish captain: "Captain, you speak too much."

b. The referee said to the Italian captain after a repeated infringement and warning him of sterner action: "You know what I'm going to do."

Why not say it as it is?

You are not to query my decisions.

I will send the offender to the sin bin.


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Team P W D L Pts
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France 5 2 0 3 11
England 5 2 0 3 10
Italy 5 0 0 5 1