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Tue 16 Oct 2007 | 12:00

Law Discussion - the RWC semis

Law Discussion - the RWC semis
Tue 16 Oct 2007 | 12:00

Law Discussion - the RWC semis


There were two semi-finals at the World Cup in which England beat France and South Africa beat Argentina. We have some points of law to talk about.

We also have an incident from England’s Premiership and incidents from the Currie Cup semi-finals.

Marcelo Loffreda, the coach of the Argentinian side which did so well at the World Cup, complained about the refereeing of the maul in the semi-final against South Africa – that his side twice had mauls stopped for accidental off-side where South Africa were allowed to steam ahead.

It is not always possible to see from the television broadcast what actually happened. But if a maul split so that there were only Argentinian players in the remaining formation and it became disjointed, there is the possibility of “truck and trailer”, which the kind referee may – sensibly – have preferred to rule as accidental off-side. If a South African maul split but an Argentinian player remained in the mix, it remained a maul and could proceed.

On one occasion the maul split and there were no South Africans in the mix just the Argentinians in four rows with the ball in the back row held by Carlos Ignacio Fernandez Lobbe. The leading man was Gonzalo Longo who tumbled to the ground. The referee stopped play and ruled an accidental off-side.

The citing of Sebastien Chabal was strange as Raphael Iba?ez was also involved in the tackle on Simon Shaw. Each had a thigh and seemed equally involved in capsising Shaw, but only Chabal was cited.

1. Jumping on the run

Juan Smith of South Africa tackles Juan Martin Fernandez high and is penalised and sent to the sin bin. Hernandez kicks the ball out in an attacking position for the Pumas. Mario Ledesma, the Puma hooker, takes up a position but his forwards do not hurry to be there. The Springboks line up in wait and then the Pumas, who have been battling at the line-out jog in and as they do so Ledesma throws in.

Referee: “No. You can’t run in late and do it. You must come in and stop.”

It’s not written in the law but you cannot have the provisions of the law complied with if players come in haphazardly on the run.

Law 10.7 (h) Where the line-out players must stand. The front of the line-out is not less than 5 metres from the touch-line. The back of the line-out is not more than 15 metres from the touch-line. All line-out players must stand between these two points.

(i) Two single straight lines. The line-out players of both teams form two single parallel lines each at right angles to the touch-line.

(j) Opposing players forming a line-out must keep a clear space between their inside shoulders. This space is determined when players are in an upright stance.

(k) Metre gap. Each line of players must be half a metre on their side of the line-of-touch.

2. “Ball is out!”

England have a five-metre scrum and heel the ball. They have the shove on France but Nick Easter is struggling to control the ball at the back. He is no longer bound to the scrum but holding on by fist alone.

Yannick Jauzion of France advances to towards the ball but hesitates. The referee calls: “The ball is out” and the French foot free.

It is not entirely clear whether the referee makes his call because Easter has released his bind or because the ball has left the scrum.

The release of binding by the No.8 needs to be clarified.

2. Tough line call

There were two, one from each match.

a. There was a really tough line call in the first half of the England-France match.

Damien Traille of France kicked from left to right down into the England 22. The England fullback came running across to get the bouncing ball. He does so as his feet stutter towards touch. He drops the ball which lands in the field of play. He dances back from touch and picks up the ball. The touch judges raises his flag and awards a line-out to France.

Robinson’s face registers dismay.

Even playing with slow motion replays makes this a hard call to make.

Robinson certainly collects the ball before the line. If he then steps into touch with the ball in his possession, then the call was right.

If he drops the ball back infield before his feet touch the touch-line or the ground beyond then the call was wrong.

When he picks up the ball his right heel is critical.

If his heel – even just a sliver of the heel – touched the line – even just a sliver of the line – when he had it back in his grasp, then the call was the right one.

b. There was a funny one – rare enough to be unique.

Percy Montgomery of South Africa kicked downfield towards the touch-line on their right. The ball bounced at the touch-line and then did a legbreak infield. Mario Ledesma, the Puma hooker, gathered the ball infield and then stepped into touch, believing, it seems, that the ball had gone out when it bounced.

The old “play to the whistle” principle applied, but have you ever seen anything like that before? In a test match?

3. Numbers

Butch James of South Africa kicks the ball out and the Pumas are to throw in. The Pumas line up with six players in the line-out and a receiver. The South Africans have seven players in the line-out and no receiver.

The South Africans win the line-out and the referee awards a free kick to Argentina.


Firstly, teams are not obliged to have receivers.

The law on numbers in the line-out does slightly funny things – unnecessarily funny.


Line-out players. Line-out players are the players who form the two lines that make a line-out.

Receiver. The receiver is the player in position to catch the ball when line-out players pass or knock the ball back from the line-out. Any player may be the receiver but each team may have only one receiver at a line-out.

Players taking part in the line-out known as participating players. Players taking part in the line-out are the player who throws-in and an immediate opponent, the two players waiting to receive the ball from the line-out and the line-out players.

That is all clear as clear can be.


(a) Minimum. At least two players from each team must form a line-out.

(b) Maximum. The team throwing in the ball decides the maximum number of players in the line-out.

The definitions do not define “players in the line-out”. Are they line-out players, as defined, or are they “players taking part in the line-out”?

It would be easier if Maximum said: The team throwing in the ball determines the maximum number of line-out players.

4. Manuel’s manual dexterity

The Argentinians drive at the Springbok line, win quick ball and immediately go left where Manual Contepomi cuts inside stumbling JP Pietersen and dives for the line as Percy Montgomery tackles him.

The ball is in Manuel Contepomi’s hands. It bounces away in in-goal.

The referee refers to the TMO.

There are only two views of what happened as the broadcasts seem to have cut down on cameras. From the front, you would say Try. Contepomi seemed to have contact with the ball when the ball made contact with the ground. After that the bouncing away did not matter.

Looked from the other angle it seems that there was a time when the ball left the hand before making contact with the ground.

In the first case the try was scored. In the second case the try is not scored.

Contepomi was holding the ball. Forget all those things you hear about control and downward pressure. If he is holding the ball, all that needs to happen is that the ball touch, however lightly or fleetingly, the ground.


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.

5. Retaliation

Do you believe that the retaliator is a worse offender than the instigator?

Agustin Pichot passed the ball. As he did so John Smit of South Africa arrived and held the back of Pichot’s jersey. The scrumhalf then became petulant and flung Smit to the ground.

The touch judge reported Smit for foul play, which cost the Springboks acres of ground and three points, for Butch James had kicked the ball out at the cornerpost of Argentina.

What Smit did was wrong. As an act in itself, what Pichot did was worse.

Somehow ordinary justice says that the instigator is worse than the retaliator. After all Pichot would not have slung Smit to the ground if Smit had not had hold of his jersey.

Law 10.4 (j) Retaliation. A player must not retaliate. Even if an opponent is infringing the laws, a player must not do anything that is dangerous to the opponent.
Penalty: Penalty Kick

The law does not say that you should not talk to the agent provocateur but one could still talk to the retaliator.

6. Let him up

Bath played Harlequins in England’s Premiership. Bath flyhalf Ryan Davis breaks sharply and chips. Paul Volley, the Quins flank, falling back dives on the ball. As players gather the referee calls out to Michael Lipman: “Let him up, 7. Let him up, 7.” Lipman withdraws from direct action.

Last month Peter Shortell of Cheltenham wrote to us about this:

“There was one incident in the opener that caused a lot of argument on the websites. Mignoni fell on the ball and almost immediately an Italian attacker arrived. He stayed on his feet, but could not get to the ball, which was tucked under Mignoni, so he held him down. Tony Spreadbury penalised Mignoni. I agreed.

However later in the game in a similar incident Spreaders was heard to shout “Let him up!”. Our referees are told that is wrong. There is no obligation to let the player up. He is entitled to get up with the ball if he can, but not as of right.

Unfortunately Stuart Barnes also believes you have to let the player up and went on about it as if he knew the laws. I raised the matter with Andy Melrose some years ago to make sure I understood the point, but it is a myth that is hard to kill off.

Law 14.2 (b) Falling over the player on the ground with the ball. A player must not intentionally fall on or over a player with the ball who is lying on the ground.

(c) Falling over players lying on the ground near the ball. A player must not intentionally fall on or over players lying on the ground with the ball between them or near them.
Penalty: Penalty Kick

There is nothing that says Lipman had to let Volley up but Volley was required to make the ball available for play, if only by releasing it.

This business of falling on a player on the ground applies in in-goal as well. It is a safety ,measure and the danger does not evaporate because the player is in in-goal.

When Fourie du Preez intercepts and races 70 metres to score, diving to ground to do so, the only thing Horacio Agulla could achieve by falling on him with forearms in the small of his back is to hurt him in some spiteful way.

If you were to penalise that, what would you do.

You would allow the conversion to be taken and then restart the match with a penalty at the middle of the half-way line.

7. How many men in a rugby ruck?

Waylon Murray of the Sharks bursts for the Golden Lions’ line but Jaco Pretorius hauls him down. Lawrence Sephaka of the Golden Lions is first on the scene and goes straight to the ball and picks it up. The referee penalises him for “going in at the side”.

Commentator 1: “Question is – was a ruck formed?”

Commentator 2: “Ja, and you need three people to form a ruck.”

These are men who proclaim on the laws of rugby football to the world and are believed by many.

Both commentators were wrong.

First there is a penalty for going in the side of a tackle – and Murray was well and truly tackled. That a ruck was not formed was irrelevant.

Secondly, the basic number to form a ruck is two – one from each side.

Clearly they believed that the referee was wrong. The referee was right. They ere wrong – twice.

8. Accidental off-side of a different kind

It happens often that player bangs into team-mate ahead of him and the referee blows for a scrum if this gets in the way of opposition.

In this case the Golden Lions got the ball back from a tackle/ruck just as their scrumhalf Jano Vermaak arrived. The ball ricocheted off his boot and back into the tackle/ruck where Jacques Cronje was kneeling. The ball bounced off Cronje back to Vermaak.

The referee blew for accidental off-side and gave the Sharks a scrum.



(a) When an off-side player cannot avoid being touched by the ball or by a team-mate carrying it, the player is accidentally off-side. If the player’s team gains no advantage from this, play continues. If the player’s team gains an advantage, a scrum is formed with the opposing team throwing in the ball.

9. Charged down in in-goal

It happened in the match between the Cheetahs and the Blue Bulls and a reader asked about it.

a. Reader’s question

Could you answer me the following question please ?

Defensive scrum, defending side win the ball and the scrum half passes to the full back who is stood in the in goal, his kick is charged down by an opposing player and goes dead over the dead ball line, what is the decision ?

Tony. England

b. Match situation

It is sopping wet in Bloemfontein after a massive storm. Near his line Meyer Bosman of the Cheetahs passed the bball back to Alwyn Hollenbach, his fullback, who is in in-goal. Derick Kuun of the Blue Bulls charges the kick down.

Willem de Waal of the Cheetahs dives at the ball, hands out to the ball.

The ball squirts away from De Waal for the dead-ball line. Danwell Demas of the Blue Bulls dives at the ball.

The referee refers the matter to the TMO. It is a hard decision.

Did De Waal ground the ball? Because he was not holding the ball he need to press down on the ball, not just touch it.


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.

Then did Demas get to the ball before it touched the dead-ball line?

The decision that the TMNO advised was a five-metre scrum, and that is what should happen in the reader’s case as well.

When the defending team takes the ball back into their in-goal they are responsible for clearing it out of the in-goal. Because they took the ball into the in-goal and it there went dead, the attacking team gets a five-metre scrum.

10. Whose ball?

The Golden Lions attack from a line-out. Their captain Ernst Joubert charges at the defenders, Robbie Harris and Steven Sykes. The three stay upright. Anton van Zyl of the golden Lions joins in – all four on their feet, but then it falls to ground and the ball becomes unplayable.

Whose ball?

When Van Zyl joined the hugging trio it became a maul. When it fell and the ball did not emerge, it became an unsuccessful maul.

In such a case the ball goes to the side that did not have the ball at the start of the maul, namely the Sharks.

PV: 6
Law Discussion - The Rwc Semis | Rugby365