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Law Discussion: Obstruction?

Thu, 01 Jul 2010 00:00

In the second Test between South Africa and Italy, played in East London, the referee penalised South Africa for obstruction after a line-out. The South Africans were taken by surprise and did not believe the referee.

Were they right not to believe the referee? What was the penalty about anyway?

South Africa throw into a line-out. Andries Bekker catches the ball and comes down to ground holding it, his back to the Italians. Jannie du Plessis and Bakkies Botha bind on each side of Bekker. Other South Africans bind together behind Bekker as if forming a maul.

But there is not maul as the Italians opt not to make contact, but stand back as the South African formation moves towards them.

The referee calls out: "Use it." The South Africans keep possession and keep plodding ahead. There is no reason why they should not plod ahead.

The referee penalises South Africa, giving the obstruction signal.

When this happens Bekker stands up to show that he had possession of the ball.

The South Africans query the decision and the referee tells them that Bekker was not in front but had two men in front of him.

Commentator: "A good call by the referee."

Was it?

The first part of Law 10, which deals with Foul Play, deals with obstruction.

Law 10.1 (c) Blocking the tackler. A player must not intentionally move or stand in a position that prevents an opponent from tackling a ball carrier.
Sanction: Penalty kick

First point: at no time do the Italians make contact or attempt to make contact.

Second point: Bekker clearly had the ball unless the Springboks were capable of some sleight of hand.

Was there a South African between Bekker and the Italians? No.

Were the Italians blocked from getting to Bekker? No. There was a clear path to Bekker - not that anybody was attempting to get to him.

Did it matter that Bekker was moving backwards towards the Italians? No. There is nothing against running backwards; it may just not be the best form of locomotion!

If Bekker had not had the ball and the ball was back with somebody behind him there would have been a case for blocking though it was not clear who would be blocked if nobody was attempting to tackle.

The referee may well have thought that the ball was with somebody behind Bekker. If he thought that, he must have been guessing unless he had x-ray eyes. It is dangerous for a referee to guess.

Why the referee called "Use it", is not clear.  That is the call when a maul gets stuck, but this is not a maul

The commentator was wrong when he praised the referee and it may have been fair enough for the South Africans to be puzzled. They knew that what they had done was not illegal. It's not illegal for players to hug each other in this way - provided that they do not commit obstruction.

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