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Law discussion: Farrell again - penalty try?

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The clock has reached half-time with England leading Australia 13-10.

By Paul Dobson, Moonsport

Australia has a scrum on their right in England's half. They win the ball and Will Genia sets them going left. Burly Samu Kerevi charges ahead and makes ground. He gets a pass away to wing Jack Maddocks on his left.

Jonny May of England tackles Maddocks but Australia get the ball back from the tackle/ruck, Genia brilliantly and accurately picks out tall Izack Rodda who races into a gap.

He avoids a tackle by prop Kyle Sinckler coming from Rodda's right. The tall man looks about to score but Owen Farrell. England's flyhalf collides with Rodda, both fall to ground. Australia again wins the ball and carry on attacking till the referee brings them back for a penalty because England was offside.

Matt Toomua goals the easy penalty and the players leave the field at 13-all. There was Australian anger that the referee had not awarded them a penalty try.

Much was made of Farrell's second shoulder-forward tackle this month. The other was in England's match with South Africa when Farrell stopped André Esterhuizen in the last minute of the close match.

There were some similarities between the two incidents. In both cases, Farrell was the defender who stopped the ball-carrier and in both cases, the first contact was by Farrell's shoulder to the upper torso of the ball-carrier.

But there were differences, too. In the first case, Farrell actually moves forward to Esterhuizen. In the Australian match, Farrell is coming across the field, not forward. He was firmly on his feet as he moved forward in the Esterhuizen incident; in the Rodda incident, his balance was not as good.

But the most important difference may well have been the place of the collision. In the Esterhuizen incident, the collision happened some 42 metres from the England line. In the Rodda case, the collision took place about two metres from the England line.

It is possible that Esterhuizen could have scored a try but certainly not probable, in fact unlikely. In the Rodda case, Farrell's action almost certainly prevented a try from being scored, certainly probably. In fact, it is highly unlikely that Rodda would not have scored.

In neither incident was Farrell cited, but then citing is reserved for incidents of foul play which warranted a red card, i.e. a permanent sending off. But it does not have to be a "red card" offence for an act to be one of foul play. A tackle around the neck is foul play even if no card, red or yellow, is brandished.

Foul play is an essential component of a penalty try.

DEFINITION
Penalty try: awarded when, in the opinion of the referee, a try probably would have been scored if not for an act of foul play by an opponent.

Was what Farrell did to Rodda an act of foul play?
Would a try probably have been scored but for Farrell's foul act?

Two Yeses are needed for a penalty try to be awarded.

An important ingredient of foul play is contained in the word "intentionally". Was Farrell's action intentionally foul play or was it more in the nature of a collision, as Rodda, beating Sinckler, turned slightly to his left and into Farrell's path. Farrell may well have been taken by surprise, rather than intending to knock Rodda down with forbidden tactics.

Law 9.16 A player must not charge or knock down and opponent carrying the ball without attempting to grasp that player.

Farrell did not charge Rodda but he did knock him down, something he would have liked to have done, thus preventing an Australian try. But just perhaps Rodda was equally a participant in the collision that saw Farrell knocked down as well.

The debate is: was it foul play or an accident?

There is a great deal for a referee to process in an instant. The way the debate can go backwards and forward, tells how difficult it is - and would have been had the referee consulted the TMO.

Is there one day going to be a verb - to Farrell: a means of stopping an opponent by hitting him with the shoulder? 

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