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Law discussion: Penalty try

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Rugby's severest punishment of an infringement of the laws is a penalty try.

By Paul Dobson, Moonsport

A goaled penalty is worth three points, a penalty try seven, and hand in hand with the seven points is an automatic yellow card - at least a yellow card.

The yellow card is required by law. It is not at the referee's discretion.

A penalty try is awarded between the goal posts if foul play by the opposing team prevents a probable try from being scored, or scored in a more advantageous position. A player guilty of this must be cautioned and temporarily suspended or sent off.

Temporarily suspended means a yellow card, a trip to the sin bin.
Sent off is a red card, the end of the match for the guilty player.

In Round 2 of Super Rugby this year, 2018, there were two penalty tries, and inevitably they caused discussion.

In the match between the Lions and the Jaguars, there were 19 penalties and just one penalty try.
In the match between the Crusaders and the Chiefs, there were 19 penalties and just one penalty try.

38 penalties and two penalty tries.

In the other seven Super Rugby matches so far this year, there were no penalty tries.

The rarity of the penalty try and its greater points' value make it worth discussing and inevitably controversial.

We shall discuss both incidents but before we do, let's look at the law, and before we do that let us make one thing clear. A penalty try is not dependent on certainty.

A try is only ever certain when it has been scored. We have all seen slip-up's when a try seemed in inevitable.

The word the law uses is probable. If we looked at a scale of 1 to 10, 1 to 9 would be possible, 10 certain. The balance of probability is over 5.

First: DEFINITIONS: Penalty try: Awarded when, in the opinion of the referee, a try probably would have been scored (or scored in a more advantageous position) if not for an act of foul play by an opponent.

Note: in the opinion of the referee. that suggests that if the referee's opinion is that a penalty try should be awarded, the referee is right. He is allowed his opinion.

Secondly, the word is probably, not certainly and not definitely. Probably suggests 6 to 9 out of 10.

Thirdly the offence is foul play.

Foul play is contained in Law 9 (used to be law 10). It deals with unwarranted physicality not allowed by the law, dangerous play, brutal play, unfair play, deliberate infringement and repeated infringement.

The incidents

1. The Crusaders are bashing at the Chiefs line. About four metres from the line, Ryan Crotty of the Crusaders picks up the ball and, low to the ground, snipes at the corner. Lachlan Boshier of the Chiefs tackles him into touch less than half a metre before the line.

Boshier's tackle on Crotty is around the neck.

Law 9.13 A player must not tackle an opponent early, late or dangerously. Dangerous tackling includes, but is not limited to, tackling or attempting to tackle an opponent above the line of the shoulders even if the tackle starts below the line of the shoulders.

Boshier's action was a part of foul play.
Boshier's action prevented Crotty from scoring.

The try was probable.

The argument that Boshier could have tackled legally does not wash. The law does not require a player to tackle, but if he does so he must do it legally. Boshier did not. Having tackled illegally he has foregone the opportunity to tackle legally and so a legal tackle is not a real option.

The referee consults the TMO, sends Boshier to the sin bin and awards a penalty try, seven points.

2. Warren Whitely of the Lions is running with the ball. He has wing Aphiwe Dyantyi unmarked on his left and only Bautista Deguy, the Jaguares' right wing, in front of him. As Whiteley nears Deguy and has him fixed, he passes to Dyantyi, but Deguy flicks out a right hand and knocks the ball away. The nature of his action gave him no chance at all to catch the ball.

Law 11: A player must not intentionally knock the ball forward with hand or arm. Sanction: Penalty.

Deguy's action is a part of foul play:

Law 9: Foul Play
A player must not:
Intentionally infringe any law of the game

The referee consults the TMO and decides that the defenders had no realistic chance of stopping Dyantyi 15 metres from the line with nobody in front of him. There were players coming across - scrumhalf Gonzalo Bertranou with Joaquín Tuculet behind him. Miracles can happen but it would have taken one for either Bertranou or Tuculet to stop Dyantyi.

The referee's opinion was that Dyantyi would probably have scored but for Deguy's foul play. The referee sent Deguy to the sin bin and awarded a penalty try, seven points.

The referees in these two incidents were amongst the best in the world - Ben O'Keeffe of New Zealand and Jaco Peyper of South Africa. They are both due to referee Six Nations matches soon - Peyper France against England and O'Keeffe Wales against France.

Peyper, a lawyer, has refereed 40 Tests, including World Cup matches, and close to 50 Super Rugby matches, including the 2017 final. O'Keeffe, an ophthalmologist, is very much on the way up. He has refereed six Tests, five of them Tier 1 matches.

They are top professional men and top referees. advert