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Law discussion: Try, no penalty try

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There has been considerable discussion about an incident in the Paris final of the ninth World Rugby Sevens Series.

By Paul Dobson, Moonsport

The final was played at Stade Jean Bouin, the home of Stade Français, and South Africa won it 15-5. They were leading 10-5 when the ball reached Rosko Speckman on the South African 22. He raced down the left and with George Horne (9) chasing him Speckman kicked ahead on the Scottish 22.

The ball rolled into the Scottish in-goal. Philip Snyman of South Africa and James Fleming of Scotland race for the ball. The ball stopped just short of the dead-ball line and the chasing pair dived for the ball.

The referee consulted the in-goal judge and then referred the matter to the TMO.

In doing so the referee said that, if a try had not been scored, he would award a penalty try.

The TMO referral makes it clear that Snyman did get the touchdown for the try. The referee awards the try and sends Horne to the sin bin. South Africa missed the conversion but led 15-5 with about a minute to play and Scotland down to six players.

The debate has been about the decision to award the try and not a penalty try. A penalty try makes life easier as these days in Sevens it is an automatic seven points, no struggle with a drop-kicked conversions, which the South Africans missed in this case.

The points' system may have changed but not the law governing penalty tries. And it is the law that is important. That is what referees have to apply. They have no right to make up laws that suit their own ideas or their sympathies.

The problem arises because, after speedy Speckman had kicked the ball, Horne tackled him. It was a late tackle, which is a part of foul play.

Let's look to the law.

Law 22.17 (b) Foul play by the defending team.
The referee awards a penalty try if a try would probably have been scored but for foul play by the defending team.
The referee awards a penalty try if a try would probably have been scored in a better position but for foul play by the defending team.

There was foul play but the try was actually scored. There was no prevention of a probable try. The try was scored.

Then - did the late tackle prevent the try from being scored in a better place? It would take a long stretch of the imagination to be believe that. Speckman would also have had to race for the ball and have been grateful to score it where it was scored.

The referee was 100% right to award the try and not the penalty try and also 100% right to have yellowcarded Horne. The law was correctly applied.

There is another debate altogether, inspired by this action but not affecting this action and not really relevant to the law as applied here.

It arises from the automatic award of seven points for a penalty try. In this case, if Snyman had not tried as hard as he did, South Africa would have been awarded a penalty try - and seven points - instead of the try and five points. It does not make sense that a team should be deprived of two points by playing particularly well - two points that could have been had without trying at all.

The difference could matter in a match.

*Rosko Speckman's name is spelt in many different ways. We have taken the way it is spelt in the South African Rugby Annual, such a reliable source.

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