Law Discussion: Catching a kick
The Laws of must surely be one of man's most complicated achievements. rugby365 law guru Paul Dobson looks at another contentious issue.
The Laws of Rugby football must surely be one of mankind's most complicated achievements. Certainly in thew world of sport there is nothing as complicated as the Laws of the Game. And as complicated as they are we still find ways of making them more complicated.
We have a case in point.
There is a law governing the maul - law 19. In the beginning there was no such mention of a maul or of a ruck for that matter. They first appear in the law in 1967 when 'loose scrum' was made more specific.
In 1967, a maul was defined thus: "A Maul is formed by one or more players from each team, in physical contact and on their feet closing round the ball when it is being carried."
The definition has stood the test of time though the maul has gathered many clauses and sub clauses of its own.
In 1969 the following ruling was made: A maul ends when the ball or a player carrying it emerges from the Maul, or the ball is deemed by the referee to be unplayable. If the ball is unplayable, the referee should order a scrummage to be formed.
It was too simple, it seems, to use the criteria for awarding a scrum that was in use elsewhere - against the team that caused the stoppage or for the attacking team.
That stayed the way it was done into the 1970s when the maul gained a chapter all of its own - a short chapter.
This started changing in the 1990s. Now when the ball was unplayable, the scrum would be awarded to the team not in possession at the start of the maul, which is still the case but with more additions. Also changed was the principle of use it or lose it if the maul became stationary. First the referee was to allow a reasonable time and that then became, in 2001, a period of 5 seconds.
That was also too simple and the laws gathered the law about the catcher which is the burden of this discussion. It has been law for about 20 years now but it still causes confusion.
We have two incidents, one where the referee was right but was queried and one where the referee was wrong but not queried, which in itself is a comment on the laws and the knowledge of them. Referee regularly get more flak when they are right than when they are wrong.
Case 1: Ronnie Cooke of the Kings comes close to scoring a try against the Lions but is tackled into touch-in-goal. Elton Jantjies kicks the drop-out high. David Bulbring of the Kings catches the ball and immediately Lions and Kings gather around. The referee recognises the phase and calls: "Maul."
The Maul collapses, the ball is unplayable and the referee awards a scrum to the Lions. The captain of the Kings queries this, saying that it was caught from a kick. The commentator admits being confused, saying: "I'm not sure that Jaco Peyper [the referee] hasn't made a mistake." He notes that the ball was caught from a kick and wonders if the ball was on the ground or if things changed with the passing of a second or two.
Case 2: Francois Hougaard of the Bulls kicks a box kick, a poor kick. Akona Ndungane of the Bulls and Clyde Rathbone of the Brumbies jump for the ball. Ndungane catches it. This is in the midst of players of both sides. A maul forms. It collapses and the referee adjudges the ball to be unplayable. He awards a scrum to the Bulls, describing what had happened as "collapsed maul from a kick".
In one case the decision was correct; in one it was incorrect. Which is which?
Let's read the law.
In 1997 Law 22.4 (b) If a [player catches the ball direct from a kick by an opponent, other than from a kick-off or from a drop-out, and is immediately held by an opponent so that a maul ensues and the maul becomes stationary or the ball becomes unplayable his team shall pout the ball into the into the ensuing scrum
Direct from a kick means that the ball has been caught without having bounced off the playing surface or without having touched or been touched in flight by another player.
In 2013 Law 17.6 UNSUCCESSFUL END TO A MAUL
(h) Scrum after a maul when catcher is held. If a player catches the ball direct from an opponent’s kick, except from a kick-off or a drop-out, and the player is immediately held by an opponent, a maul may form. Then if the maul remains stationary, stops moving forward for longer than 5 seconds, or if the ball becomes unplayable, and a scrum is ordered, the team of the ball-catcher throws in the ball.
‘Direct from an opponent’s kick’ means the ball did not touch another player or the ground before the player caught it.
There is no change. This strange bit of law applies only when an opponent has kicked the ball but does not apply from a kick-off or a drop-out.
That decision in Case 1 was the correct one. Bull brinG caught the ball from a drop-out.
The decision in Case 2 was incorrect. The ball was not caught from an opponent's kick.
In Case 1, the scrum to the Lions was correct. In case 2 the scrum could well have been for the Brumbies.
The problem with this kind of law-making is that what looks the same is not treated in the same way. There is a law for a maul, except after a catch, but not from a kick-off or a drop-out and not when the kicker and catcher were not on the same side.
There is regularly an error when a catcher is tackled and the ball becomes unplayable. This catcher law does not apply because it is not a maul. It applies only to the maul- which adds more confusion.
By Paul Dobson