Law Discussion: That conversion
The Highlanders beat the Lions by one point in Dunedin. rugby365 law guru Paul Dobson looks at the referee's contentious decision.
When the Lions played the Highlanders in Dunedin the match ended with a one-point victory for the home side. The last act of the match was a conversion attempt.
Should it have been the last action of the match?
The Highlanders led 23-0 at half-time, but then the Lions came back strongly and just before the end wing Courtnall Skosan scored a try. The conversion would have won the game for the Lions, but the conversion by Elton Jantjies hit the upright and bounced back. The referee ended the game.
Should he have?
Before he kicks, Jantjies goes through his routine of looking at the posts, bending his knees and clasping his hands as if at prayer. Several of the Highlanders charge, one getting about 15 metres from Jantjies. The referee sends them back. Jantjies comes forward to kick, and the Highlanders charge. The kick is not successful and the referee ends the match.
The law involved here is ancient and clear.
In olden days the goal counted, not the try. The goal counted - kicking the ball over the crossbar. The try did what it suggests - gave the team a chance to try (attempt) to improve on the try (convert) by kicking the ball over.
The charge is impliciti in the laws (called rules then) as written in 1846 for the first time and is clearly allowed in the 1866 version. But a sanction against getting the charge wrong was first explicit in 1883.
In those days the kicker did not place the ball. He had a holder who lay down and, when the kicker was ready, lowered the ball to the ground.
In 1883 the Law said: 'The defending team may charge as soon as the ball touches the ground.'
In 1892 the law said that in the case of a premature charge, 'the charge may be disallowed.'
In 1899 the law said that the referee could order 'no charge'. If the kicker's kick is unsuccessful while the illegal charge is happening, the kicker should be allowed to take the kick again - and then the kick is regarded as a new kick.
There is more to it but it is clear that the law is old. It certainly is older than other complications like running around, swimming around, side entry, standing up under pressure. It is also an uncluttered situation.
In the matter of an early charge the law is clear and an infringement is clear. It is not an area of complicated law or difficult processing. It happens out in the open.
This is the Law in 2014, the one that applied to Super Rugby last weekend.
Law 9.B.3 THE OPPOSING TEAM
(a) All players of the opposing team must retire to their goal-line and must not overstep that line until the kicker begins the approach to kick or starts to kick. When the kicker does this, they may charge or jump to prevent a goal but must not be physically supported by other players in these actions.
Sanction: If the opposing team infringes but the kick is successful, the goal stands.
If the kick is unsuccessful, the kicker may take another kick and the opposing team is not allowed to charge.
When another kick is allowed, the kicker may repeat all the preparations. The kicker may change the type of kick.
Did Jantjies begin his approach to kick? No.
Did the Highlanders charge before Jantjies had begun his approach? Yes.
Was the kick successful? No.
And so the Lions should have been allowed a chance to kick again without any charge by the Highlanders.
It is not fanciful to suggest that the early charge was made in order to put the kicker off. If it is to be played out as it was in Dunedin on Saturday, it may become standard practice.
By Paul Dobson