Law Discussion: Obstruction?

Wed, 06 Nov 2013 20:20
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England's winning try against Australia at Twickenham has raised much discussion.

England's winning try against Australia at Twickenham has raised much discussion.

It is pretty polarised obstruction. If you are English, you don't think it was. If you are Australian you are convinced it was. It's that sort of polarisation!

The try was awarded and will remain so to the crack of doom. But it is nonetheless worth talking about,

England attack Australia as they did  for much of the second half. The scores are tied at 13-all. England threw into a line-out near the Australian 22 on England's right. They moved the ball wide left and then came back in phases far right and then went back again in phases to the left.

England got the ball back from a tackle/ruck after Billy Twelvetrees was tackled and Ben Youngs passed back to flyhalf Owen Farrell who was deeper than usual in such an attack. Farrell hesitated momentarily then dashed ahead at a slight angle through a gap and over the line to ground the ball at the posts.

The referee immediately consulted his TMO about the possibility of obstruction, as he was entitled to do. (In the case of the touchline decision, the referee was not allowed to consult the TMO because there had been two restarts between the catch at the touchline and the scoring of the try.) The referee and the TMO agreed that the obstruction was not material enough and awarded the try.

When Farrell darted ahead his hooker Dylan Hartley was about 10 metres in front of him facing Farrell. Ben Mowen of Australia was originally in the gap but was veering off to his left. There was no English player to obstruct Mowen. But there was also the Australian hooker, Stephen Moore. He had been about five metres from Hartley, behind him and to Hartley's left. Moore bangs into Hartley's back when Farrell is six or seven metres away. Why Moore runs into Hartley is not immediately clear as he could have avoided him. When Farrell gets to the gap Moore lunges at him and Mowen turns to get him but Farrell's speed is too great.

The referee, as referees are encouraged to do, looks at the big screen to see the incident. He tells the TMO that as far as he is concerned, there is 'not enough obstruction' to negate the try. The TMO agrees and so the try is awarded.

Let's go to law.

(b) Running in front of a ball-carrier. A player must not intentionally move or stand in front of a team-mate carrying the ball thereby preventing opponents from tackling the current ball-carrier or the opportunity to tackle potential ball-carriers when they gain possession.
Sanction: Penalty kick
(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

There is so much to consider here.

i) Harley was in front of Farrell.
He was not running in front but he was in front.

ii) Intentionally?

Players are cunning and there even is the suggestion that being obstructive is practised. But would it not have taken extreme cunning to be in Moore's way when Farrell suddenly decided to race ahead?

iii) How did Hartley get there?

Hartley had been tackled by James Horwill immediately before the tackle on Twelvetrees. Hartley had got himself up from the heap of players and was on his way back to his side.

There is nothing wrong with his being where he was but the fact is that he was ahead of his ball-carrier and in the way of a would-be tackler.

iv) Did Farrell deliberately decide to attack because Hartley was there, in the way that some players use the referee as a gap-maker?

It may have been so and it may have been that Farrell had seen Mowen hive off and that that was invitation to break.

v) Was Hartley in an offside position?

Yes. He was ahead of the last feet in the ruck that formed about Twelvetrees.

vi) Was he liable to penalty?

(a) A player who is in an offside position is liable to sanction only if the player does one of three things:
• Interferes with play or,
• Moves forward, towards the ball or
• Fails to comply with the 10-Metre Law (Law 11.4).
A player who is in an offside position is not automatically penalised.

Does Hartley interfere in play? Yes. And it may just be that Hartley actually moves slightly to be in Moore's way.

Then he could definitely be penalised for offside and obstruction.

There are many things to consider. As we said originally, decisions will probably run with nationality but for the referee and the TMO there would be no such bias, just a desire to get the decision right.

Maybe they did; maybe they didn't.

The matter 'enough obstruction' is odd. It either was obstruction or it wasn't. Maybe the referee meant that the obstruction that existed was of Moore's own making and that Moore could still have tackled Farrell. Maybe the two believed that it was not clear and obvious that Hartley was guilty of obstruction.

It's a hard one. But getting the hard ones right is important for refereeing consistency.