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Law discussion: Penalty try?

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Rondebosch in blue are playing Bishops in white at Bishops. With time up on the clock and the score at 10-all, Rondebosch put the ball into a scrum near the half-way line.

By Paul Dobson, Moonsport

Rondebosch win the scrum and the ball goes out to left wing Thoubaan Gabriels who has a bit of an overlap, he kicks the ball downfield, and he and the Bishops right wing race after the bouncing ball, Gabriels getting just ahead of the Bishops player.

Gabriels stoops as if to grab the awkwardly bouncing ball but instead bangs it on with his leg into the Bishops in-goal. The Bishops wing pushes Gabriels in the back and the Rondebosch boy falls into touch-in-goal as the ball heads for the dead-ball line.

The referee consults his assistant about the incident - about where what happened. He establishes that Gabriels had been pushed in the back with extended Bishops arms and that it had happened about a metre infield from the goal-line.

The referee penalises the Bishops player who pushed Gabriels.

The commentator seemed to suggest that it could have been a penalty try, saying "If it's in in-goal, it's a penalty try."

As always, let's look to the law.

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.

Three aspects are important - "in the opinion of the referee", "an act of foul play" and "probably'.

The referee decides and his decision is valid. What the Bishops player did was an act of foul play.

Law 9: Foul play

PRINCIPLE: A player who commits foul play must either be cautioned or temporarily suspended or sent off.

OBSTRUCTION: When a player and an opponent are running for the ball, neither player may charge or push the other except shoulder-to-shoulder.

Probably is so important. It's not definitely and it's not possibly. It's probably.

On a scale of 1 to 10, "definitely" would be 10. "Possibly" would be the whole spectrum of 1 to 10 because a try can be scored from anywhere on the field. "Probably" is 8 or 9, perhaps even 7 - clearly more likely than not.

The referee decides that a try was not probable. After the all, the ball was bouncing at speed towards the dead-ball line.

The idea that if the push had been in in-goal it would have been a penalty try is certainly not in the law in any way. It does not matter where on the field the foul play happens. If it prevents the probable scoring of a try, a penalty try may follow.

Then we have the place of the penalty.

The commentator suggested that it should be on the 15-metre line, which would have made a penalty goal - and victory - a distinct possibility.

What Gabriels does is a kick in terms of the laws' definition: 

Kick: An act made by intentionally hitting the ball with any part of the leg or foot, except the heel, from the toe to the knee but not including the knee. A kick must move the ball a visible distance out of the hand, or along the ground.

The place of a penalty after a late charge on a kicker is either where the tackle took place or 15 metres in from touch.

The Bishops player may have been misled by Gabriel's action of bending with hands down towards the ball into believing that he was picking up the ball. It certainly would have been an unusual case of a late tackle.

All in all, what the referee did was correct. 

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