Clip 4 - 14 February 2017 - Law 17

The runaway maul.

Rory Best of Ireland throws into an attacking line-out and tall Devon Toner catches the ball and brings it down. Ireland form a maul and begin shunting it towards the Scottish line. Best has the ball at the back of the maul with Jamie Heaslip and Jack McGrath immediately in front of him. Suddenly three players break off on the left - Best behind McGrath and Heaslip who head the breakaway. They rush to the line and a try looks certain till the referee blows his whistle. Ireland expect a penalty against themselves but instead the referee orders a scrum for accidental offside, Scotland's ball.

The problem is that Heaslip and McGrath had broken from the original maul and were no longer going in the same direction of the original maul. They went at speed and it is doubtful if best was actually bound to them if is had simply been a continued version of the original maul. Between the breakaway trio and the goal line stands, Horatio-like, Greig Laidlaw. Before the charging Irish reach the goal-line they make contact with Laidlaw who has no hope of getting to ball-carrying Best.

It is a case of obstruction.

Law 10.1 Obstruction
(b) Running in front of a ball carrier. A player must not intentionally move or stand in front of a team-mate carrying the ball thereby preventing opponents from tackling the current ball carrier or the opportunity to tackle potential ball carriers when they gain possession.
Sanction: Penalty kick
(c) Blocking the tackler. A player must not intentionally move or stand in a position that prevents an opponent from tackling a ball carrier.
Sanction: Penalty kick

If Laidlaw had not been there, there would have been no obstruction, because there would have been nobody to be impeded.

The referee could well have penalised Ireland but instead the decided that there was no intention on the part of the Irish players to stop Laidlaw from getting to Best. Instead he decided that there was no intention, just players caught up in the speed of play and that Best who had limited contact with the two in front of him, not enough to be bound to either. He was behind them and he had contact with them. They had no say in his being there. And so their contact with Best is a form of offside, but the kind referee decided that the contact was accidental.

Law 11.6 Accidental offside
(a) When an offside player cannot avoid being touched by the ball or by a team-mate carrying it, the player is accidentally offside. 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.

And so he awards a scrum to Scotland.

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