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Law discussion: Subs on the field

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What about too many players on the field? What about interference in in-goal?

By Paul Dobson, Moonsport

At Newlands on Saturday, Robert du Preez of the Stormers kicks off to start the second half. It is a deep kick and the Lions try to run the ball from inside their own 22. About eight metres from the Lions' goal-line Frans Malherbe and Bongi Mbonambi combine to tackle Harold Vorster. The Lions win the ball back from the tackle/ruck and Ross Cronje passes back into his in-goal.

In the Lions' in-goal the Stormers' replacements are warning up. Dan Kriel is in front of the rest and near the goalposts. Cronje passes at him. He avoids Cronje's pass and the ball flies over the dead-ball line. The referee awards a five-metre scrum, Stormers' ball. Cronje's gesture seems to be blaming Kriel's intrusion, even though the outfit Kriel was wearing was very different from what the Lions were wearing.

There was sympathy for Cronje.

There are people who believe that the Stormers should have been penalised, and quote the law.

Law 3.2 TEAM WITH MORE THAN THE PERMITTED NUMBER OF PLAYERS
Objection: at any time before or during a match a team-may make an objection to the referee about the number of players in their opponents’ team. As soon as the referee knows that a team has too many players, the referee must order the captain of that team to Reduce the number appropriately. The score at the time of the objection remains unaltered.
Sanction: Penalty at the place where the game would restart.

The Stormers warming up behind the Lions' goal line are clearly not playing for the Stormers at that time. They are clearly substitutes warming up and doing so behind the Lions side of the field, as they are required to be. Warming up is clearly desirable and they are required to warm up behind the Lions just to make the point that they are not playing, thus avoiding causing confusion and even temptation to sneak into the action.

They are in effect non-players. They are treated like spectators and medics. Just as the referee is not authorised to penalise spectators who dispute his decisions or the "medics" who call out things like "Holding", "Release", and "Offside". If non-players are intrusive, as has been the wont of streakers, he is entitled to stop the match while the base intruder is removed. But he does not penalise him.

The same is true for the non-playing players warming up in the Lions' in-goal. That they were silly to have been where they were when play was so close to them is an error of judgement, but not penalisable. Even if the ball had touched them - or a spectator or a parked car in in-goal - they would not be penalised.

6.A.11 THE BALL IN IN-GOAL TOUCHED BY NON-PLAYER
The referee judges what would have happened next and awards a try or a touch down at the place where the ball was touched.

In this case the ball was not touched by a Stormer.

Why a five-metre scrum?

Law 22.11 BALL DEAD IN IN-GOAL
(a) When the ball touches the touch-in-goal-line or the dead-ball line, or touches anything or anyone beyond those lines, the ball becomes dead. If the ball was played into in-goal by the attacking team, a drop-out shall be awarded to the defending team. If the ball was played into in-goal by the defending team, a 5-metre scrum shall be awarded and the attacking team throws in the ball.

The referee's decision was the right one. The referee's job is to apply the Laws of the Game as made by World Rugby. That is what the referee did.

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