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Law discussion: Similar but different

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Same sort of teams, similar incidents but different referees and different outcomes. It makes you wonder.

By Paul Dobson, Moonsport

First incident

Scrumhalf Antoine du Pont breaks and sets France on the attack against New Zealand who are wearing more white than black so as not to clash with France's dark jerseys. Close to the New Zealand line, the ball comes back to Du Pont who passes to his flyhalf, Anthony Belleau, who lofts a diagonal kick to his lefty.

Sonny Bill Williams of New Zealand goes back to the ball as Yoann Huget of France races for the ball. Both men jump for the ball, Williams in the more favourable position. Williams reaches up for the ball and with both hands opens slaps/bats the ball over the dead-ball line.

Williams's action is certainly intentional.

Second incident

Scotland are on the attack against Australia. They go left inside the Australian 22 and flyhalf Finn Russell grubbers through to his left. Kurtley Beale of Australia and Byron McGuigan of Scotland race for the ball as it rolls towards the corner on Scotland's left. Beale and McGuigan dive. The ball is just short of the goal-line when Beale's hand knocks it from the field of play out over touch-in-goal.

It certainly looks as if Beale's action of knocking the ball with his hand out of the field of play and into touch is intentional.


Decision

Both Williams and Beale are issued yellow cards, i.e. they were sent to the sin bin.

The basis of the decision is found in Law 10, which deals with foul play.

Law 10.2 UNFAIR PLAY
(c) Throwing into touch. A player must not intentionally knock, place, push or throw the ball with his arm or hand into touch, touch-in-goal, or over the dead ball line.
Sanction: Penalty kick on the 15-metre line if the offence is between the 15-metre line and the touchline, or, at the place of infringement if the offence occurred elsewhere in the field of play, or, 5 metres from the goal line and at least 15 metres from the touchline if the infringement occurred in in-goal.
A penalty try must be awarded if the offence prevents a try that would probably otherwise have been scored.

Both referees consider the possibility of a penalty try, as the law requires.

In Incident 1, the referee awards the penalty try, giving Scotland an immediate seven points, in accord with a recent law change.
In Incident 2, the referee awards a penalty to Scotland.

Similar

Williams and Beale both patted the ball out of play across an in-goal boundary.
Both were guilty of foul play.
Williams and Beale were both yellow-carded.

Different

In Incident 1 a penalty try was awarded.
in Incident 2 a penalty try was not awarded.

Reasoning for the penalty try

What Williams did was foul play, which is why it is in Law 10 which deals with foul play and why a penalty try is possible. Having been guilty of foul play, Williams cannot undo it. He cannot now be credited with playing fairly. That takes him out if the reckoning.

The only question is whether Huget could have caught the ball and dotted it down. Take Williams out of the equation and Huget is in an excellent position to catch the ball some four metres from the dead-ball line. From there it is an easy fall to the ground for the try.

This removal of the player guilty of foul play is a part of every consideration of a penalty try. If the player had not tackled high, if the player had not tripped, if the player had not grabbed the player's jersey when he was on the way to get the ball, he could have stopped him legally. The fact is that he did stop him illegally; he cannot now "unstop" him illegally and do it legally.

Reasoning against the penalty try

The referee said: "It is clear that he knocked the ball outside the field. It's a PK [penalty kick] and a yellow card. I'm not sure if a try would have been scored because the ball-player [Beale] is in the best player to ground it first."

The referee's reasoning is directly contrary to the reasoning in Incident 1. In this case, the referee has left Beale in the equation and suggests that he could have grounded the ball before McGuigan.

Sorting

The problem with the logic being no awarding the try is that Beale did not ground the ball at all. His hand is not shaped to play the ball in any way other than to bat it away. Beale did not even allow the ball to roll into in-goal.

Take Beale out of the equation and it is probable that McGuigan would have scored a try.

We vote for a penalty try!

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