Law discussion: That penalty try
The penalty try, awarded in favour of the Hurricanes in the match against the Blues in Wellington, has become the most talked-about incident in the match.
The penalty try, awarded in favour of the Hurricanes in the match in Wellington between the Hurricanes and the Blues has become the most talked-about incident in the match. It is worthy of closer examination.
The penalty try happened at a crucial time in the match when the Blues were leading 16-13. Beauden Barrett of the Hurricanes kicked a long way downfield on the left. The ball bounced into the Blues' in-goal as two speedsters, Frank Halai of the Blues and Julian Savea of the Hurricanes, dived for the ball, each with an arm outstretched, a hand seeking contact. Halai's hand hit the ball and knocked it over the dead-ball line.
The referee consulted the TMO asking try or no try and directing him to look at the possibility of knocking the ball out of play. The TMO examined the incident and gave his advice: "The White player [Halai of the Blues who were playing in white] has made the ball dead intentionally. Take him out of the equation. Therefore Gold [Hurricanes] would have scored a try. So therefore a penalty try."
The referee confirmed that he should give Halai a yellow card. This is what was done.
Before we consider what was said and done, let's just look at the laws, for it is law that governs decisions made on the rugby field.
First of all what constitutes the criteria for a penalty try?
Law 22.4 OTHER WAYS TO SCORE A TRY
(h) Penalty try. A penalty try is awarded if a try would probably have been scored but for foul play by the defending team. A penalty try is awarded if a try would probably have been scored in a better position but for foul play by the defending team.
Foul play preventing the probable scoring of a try.
Note that it is probable - not possible and not definite.
Was what Halai did foul play?
We must look at Law 10 which deals with foul play.
Law 10.2 (c) Throwing into touch. A player must not intentionally knock, place, push or throw the ball with his arm or hand into touch, touch-in-goal, or over the dead-ball line.
Sanction: Penalty Kick on the 15-metre line if the offence is between the 15-metre line and the touch-line, or, at the place of the infringement if the offence occurred elsewhere in the field of play, or five metres from the goal-line and at least 15 metres from the touch-line if the infringement occurred in in-goal.
A penalty try must be awarded if the offence prevents a try that would probably otherwise have been scored.
If Halai intentionally knocked the ball over the dead-ball line it was foul play, according to the Laws of the Game and the referee was entitled to consider a penalty try if the act probably prevented the scoring of a try.
And then what about the yellow card?
Law 10.2 A player who prevents a try being scored through foul play must either be cautioned and temporarily suspended or sent off.
Temporarily suspended means sending to the sin bin which is indicated by the brandishing of a yellow card.
What the TMO had to advise is within the Laws of the Game.
We could also look at what was done.
Halai was ahead of Savea and had his hand out further than Savea did. He got to the ball. His palm was up, which suggests that he was not trying to ground the ball, which would have been a legal act. Nor does it seem that he was trying to gather the ball in to his body to get possession of it. His action certainly gives every impression of somebody knocking the ball over the dead-ball line. And that is an illegal act carrying with it the possibility of a penalty try.
But this business of taking him out of the equation is a dicey one. Surely what you need to do is take his illegal act out of the equation. He did wrong, not right. You do not then go and say that if he had done the right thing...... He did the wrong thing. Take that out of the equation. You still have Halai diving for the ball and you still have Savea diving for the ball and you still have the ball bouncing at thigh-height. It is then hard to say that Savea would probably have scored - possibly, yes but not probably. After all a try is always possible - from your own line but probable is a more serious matter.
It is hard to see that in this case a try would probably have been scored. Then it seemed that the right decision would have been a penalty, five metres from the Blues' goal-line and 15 metres in from touch.
Could Halai still have been sent to the sin bin? Yes.
Law 10.2 UNFAIR PLAY
(a) Intentionally Offending. A player must not intentionally infringe any Law of the Game, or play unfairly. The player who intentionally offends must be either admonished, or cautioned that a send off will result if the offence or a similar offence is committed, or sent off.
Sanction: Penalty kick
But the case for sending him to the sin bin would have been much weaker without the penalty try. In fact the referee has the option of three courses of action - a ticking off, a yellow card or a red card.
Of course, it's easy away from the heat of battle to make decisions of this kind. The worry is that - if in fact we are right and the TMO was wrong - that the TMO has the facility of time and replay to come to his decision. This one was quite quick.