Law Discussion: pressure & control

Fri, 12 Apr 2013 16:40
Large chris pollock2 Large keith brown Large chris pollock

The Highlanders played the Brumbies in Dunedin on Friday and a TMO decision provoked some discussion.

The Highlanders played the Brumbies in Dunedin on Friday and a TMO decision provoked some discussion.

Just before half-time with the Highlanders trailing the Brumbies 9-17, the ball reaches Hosea Gear on the wing for the Highlanders. He beats Jesse Mogg and heads for the line. Close to the line Christian Lealiifano tackles him around the ankles, Gear falling forward as Tevita Kuridrani and Joe Tomane try to stop him. Gear goes to ground, twists and reaches out with his right hand to ground the ball.

The referee refers the matter to the TMO. The TMO's advice is that Gear had lost the ball forward and the upshot was a five-metre scrum to the Brumbies.

There are several replays. The commentators wonder whether Gear got downward pressure. They also wonder if he had control.

Gear did lose the ball forward but what happened before then? What about downward pressure? What about control?

First there is this often repeated matter of control. Nowhere in the law dealing with the scoring of a try is there any mention of control at all. Talking about control in this context is loose talk of no use. The law does talk about grounding the ball by an attacker. In this case Gear is the attacker.

If Gear grounds the ball in the Brumbies' in-goal he scores a try. That stops play. After he has grounded the ball, play ends. It does not matter if the ball then goes forward, if he loses the ball, if he loses control or whatever.

This brings us to grounding the ball and the pressure business.

There are two ways a player can ground the ball:
(a) Player touches the ground with the ball. A player grounds the ball by holding the ball and touching the ground with it, in in-goal. ‘Holding’ means holding in the hand or hands, or in the arm or arms. No downward pressure is required.
(b) Player presses down on the ball. A player grounds the ball when it is on the ground in the in-goal and the player presses down on it with a hand or hands, arm or arms, or the front of the player’s body from waist to neck inclusive.

Gear was carrying the ball. That means he was holding it. The ball was not on the ground. That means that we must ignore (b) and look at (a). And (a) says that no downward pressure is required. If Gear is holding the ball, all he needs to do to score the try is touch the ground with the ball. If he does that he scores a try and it does not matter whether the ball goes forward after that.

Does Gear hold the ball and touch the ground with it?

He is certainly holding the ball when he is tackled. He still has hold of it when he stretches out, his hand cocked at the wrist over the ball. It does not seem that the ball leaves his hold on it till after he has touched the ground with the ball. There is no separation between Gear's arm and the ball, in which case he is deemed to be holding the ball. What happens after he touches the ground with the ball, is irrelevant.

It may well be that the TMO got it wrong. But even if it did, it is a good exercise in getting the law clear in our minds.