Law Discussions

Law Discussion: Ranger's last act

Mon, 12 Mar 2012 00:00

In the very last minute of the Super Rugby match between the Bulls and the Blues, there was an incident after the try which has resulted in a citing. It is not that aspect that interests us but whether there should have been a penalty afterwards or not.

Bjorn Basson of the Bulls scored a try in the left corner. René Ranger of the Blues dived shoulder first onto Basson who was on the ground. The referee discussed the matter with his assistant who had held out his flag to indicate foul play. The referee then issued Ranger with a yellow card and also a white card which indicated a referral to the citing commissioner. The citing commissioner cited Ranger, which conformed that foul play had occurred.

The foul play consisted of two obvious actions - diving on a player on the ground and diving onto him should first. Clearly this constituted dangerous play.

What happened next. The Bulls' captain Pierre Spies wanted a penalty. The referee explained that 'in law' he could not do this, saying: "You would get a penalty back at the half-way line but because time's going to be up on the clock when he takes the conversion, it's going to be game over."

Obviously it's worth discussing, and it's not simple.

Law 5.7 (e) If time expires and the ball is not dead, or an awarded scrum or line-out has not been completed, the referee allows play to continue until the next time that the ball becomes dead. The ball becomes dead when the referee would have awarded a scrum, line-out, an option to the non-infringing team, drop out or after a conversion or successful penalty kick at goal. If a scrum has to be reset, the scrum has not been completed. If time expires and a mark, free kick or penalty kick is then awarded, the referee allows play to continue.

The ball becomes dead after a conversion, which is what the referee was talking about. The try was scored and the foul play occurred just before the  80 minutes were up, but by the time the conversion was taken, time would have been up and was in fact up.

There is another piece of law about the ball becoming dead: Law 22.11 (c) When a player scores a try or makes a touch down, the ball becomes dead.

The law does not say the ball becomes dead when the referee blows his whistle, but when the try is scored. The ball is dead when Basson grounds the ball.

The timing of the foul play may well be relevant. If Ranger's action occurred before Basson scored, the subsequent action was sufficient and complete.

If it happened after Basson had scored, the circumstances may well be different.

The incident happened quickly but could the TMO have been consulted to determine the timing of the foul play - before or after the try? That does not seem to be the case as the TMO protocol extends only to the following: 'Penalty tries after acts of foul play in in-goal.'

Let's accept that the order of events was try first and then foul play. Is that it?

Law 22.7 (c) Any other foul play. When a player commits any other foul play in the in-goal while the ball is out of play, the penalty kick is awarded at the place where the game would otherwise have re-started.
Sanction: Penalty kick

In this case, the game would not have restarted at all after the conversion. The game would usually have restarted after the conversion - failed or successful - at the half-way line, but not in this case as time was up.

The use of 'out of play' in this law is clearly inadequate as the Definitions to the Laws of the game defines out of play as: This happens when the ball or the ball-carrier  has gone into touch or touch-in-goal, or touched or crossed the dead-ball line. That definition clearly does not fit in with this law.

Look at dead to see if it fits better.

Dead: The ball is out of play. This happens when the ball has gone outside the playing area and remained there, or when the referee has blown the whistle to indicate a stoppage in play, or when a conversion kick has been taken.

This is not the same 'out of play' as the earlier 'out of play'! It has a wider scope.

If the ball is dead after the conversion, then time is up. There will be no restart and so there will be no penalty.

But perhaps the intention of the law is that there should be a penalty and 'the place where the game would otherwise have re-started' is just an indication of where the penalty kick should take place, the mark of the kick.

In fact that seems the best interpretation. It is hard to see that such an infringement has not a part to play in the match in which it happened. After the conversion the match still had unfinished business and the unfinished business was at the next place that the game would have been in action, that is at the middle of the half-way line.

For the Bulls' this would have been important if the conversion had failed as they would have needed another score to earn a bonus point./ In fact the conversion succeeded and  the penalty could have improved their situation only if they could have scored a try from it.