07 Jun 2017
A clear law this, but not one easily accepted by the watching public.
By Paul Dobson, Moonsport
Rhys Webb of the B&I Lions kicks a long way down towards the Blues goal line. About five metres from his line left wing Rieko Ioane picks up the ball, runs forward and kicks downfield. The kick is not out and Dan Biggar of the Lions catches the ball about two metres inside his own half.
James Parsons of the Blues is about three metres infield from Bigger. Biggar runs downfield and so does Parsons. Near the Blues 10-metre line, Parsons tackles Biggar with a heavy tackle that forces Biggar to drop the ball. Rieko Ioane who had been chasing his kick, scoops up the ball and runs with it to the Lions' goalposts.
The referee, who had let play continue, now consults his assistant and they agree to consult the TMO. After one look at the replay, the decision is made that Parsons was offside and should be penalised. There is an untidy hesitation about where what should be, and eventually a scrum is formed where Ioane kicked the ball.
The most rudimentary part of the offside law: Law 11 In general play, a player is offside if the player is in front of a team-mate who is carrying the ball, or in front of a team-mate who last played the ball.
(General play - play that is a part of rugby's mode of play and not a part of or immediately preceded by a scrum, line-out, ruck of maul. The action discussed here takes place in general play.)
When Ioane kicked the ball Parsons was well in front of him - a good 40 metres if not the mile of Kiwi hyperbole.
The word is offside - singular - because it means off your side and so not allowed to play on your side.
It is sensible that being in an offside position does not incur a penalty unless the offside player does something. Otherwise after every scrum eight forwards would be penalisable when the scrumhalf picks it up.
The penalty comes in if the offside player does something in the play.
Law 11.1 Offside in general play
(a) A player who is in an offside position is liable to sanction only if the player does one of three things:
Interferes with play or,
Moves forward, towards the ball or
Fails to comply with the 10-Metre Law (Law 11.4).
A player who is in an offside position is not automatically penalised.
A player can be offside in the in-goal.
Parsons certainly interferes with play. The other Blues players do not move forward.
Could Parsons have been put onside by what Biggar did?
Law 11.3 Being put onside by opponents
In general play, there are three ways by which an offside player can be put onside by an action of the opposing team. These three ways do not apply to a player who is offside under the 10-Metre Law.
(a) Runs 5 metres with ball. When an opponent carrying the ball runs 5 metres, the offside player is put onside.
(b) Kicks or passes. When an opponent kicks or passes the ball, the offside player is put onside.
(c) Intentionally touches ball. When an opponent intentionally touches the ball but does not catch it, the offside player is put onside.
Now we have to tackle this special 10-metre Law. It is obvious that it adds to the burden of a player in an offside positions, a player such as Parson.
This happens at kick where an offside player is within 10 metres of where the ball lands, in this case where Biggar catches it. Parsons is within 10 metres of Biggar.
The 10-metre zone is 20 metres wide - 10 metres behind Biggar and 10 metres in front of him and it stretch the whole width of the field. Parsons is the only Blues player in that zone. They were ahead of Ioane but did not move forward nor were they within 10 metres of where Biggar caught the ball. None of them is liable to be penalised.
So it's about Biggar, Parsons and 10 metres.
These two bits of Law 11 are relevant.
11.4 Offside under the 10-metre law
(a) When a team-mate of an offside player has kicked ahead, the offside player is considered to be taking part in the game if the player is in front of an imaginary line across the field which is 10 metres from the opponent waiting to play the ball, or from where the ball lands or may land. The offside player must immediately move behind the imaginary 10-metre line or the kicker if this is closer than 10 metres. While moving away, the player must not obstruct an opponent or interfere with play.
Sanction: Penalty kick
(b) While moving away, the offside player cannot be put onside by any action of the opposing team. However, before the player has moved the full 10 metres, the player can be put onside by any onside team-mate who runs in front of the player.
cannot be put onside by any action of the opposing team.
Nothing Biggar does can put Parsons onside.
When Parsons is running back to his own line. Ioane does not pass him.
Parsons was not put onside.
The whole time Parsons is running back, keeping pace with Biggar, he is offside. In that offside position he moves closer to Biggar. That is interference, which Parsons then ramps up with an heavy tackle.
Parsons is offside, interferes and is penalised.
There should not have been such a long delay in sorting out how the match should restart.
Law 11.4 (f)
Sanction: When a player is penalised for being offside in general play, the opposing team chooses either a penalty kick at the place of infringement or a scrum at the place where the offending team last played the ball. If it was last played in that team’s in-goal, the scrum is formed 5 metres from the goal line in line with where it was played.
That means the Lions have the choice - a penalty where Parsons tackled Biggar of a scrum where Ioane kicked the ball. It is clear that from the start they wanted the scrum, and the scrum is what they eventually got.