Clip 5- 13 February 2017 - Law 7

When does emerging become emerged?

Ben Youngs of England kicks downfield and Virimi Vakatawa of France gathers the ball. He runs with it, chips and gets it back. Jonny May of England hangs onto Vakatawa's leg and George Ford adds to the group. Vakatawa falls to ground with May hanging on. Ford stays on his feet. Yoann Maestri and Cyril Baille of France arrive and crouch over Vakatawa in protective stances.

The ball comes back to France but there is no receiver in position. The referee ;proclaims the ball is out and Nathan Hughes of England comes around the side and bends to pick up the ball as Baptists Serin of France arrives. The ball seems to hit Serin's foot and then ricochet back, possibly off Baille. Tom Wood of England comes round the side and falls on the ball.

The referee penalises Wood, saying: "You can't dive on the ball. You must stay on your feet. You can't dive on it coming out of the ruck." There are English queries, and the referee goes on to say: "It was out but you can't dive on an emerging ball coming out of a ruck. He must stay on his feet. It's emerging out of a ruck."

Law 16.4 (e) A player must not fall on or over the ball as it is coming out of a ruck.
Sanction: Penalty kick

Are "out" and "coming out" the same thing? At what stage is coming out, out? When the referee said the ball was out, it suggests that coming out has been completed. After it was declared out, three players played it before Wood fell on it.

There is another question to ask: Was this a ruck?

Law 16 Definitions
A ruck is a phase of play where one or more players from each team, who are on their feet, in physical contact, close around the ball on the ground. Open play has ended.

You need both sides. When Baille and Maestri crouched over the ball on the ground, they were not in any contact with people on their feet. When Ford touched Baille with his left hand, he certainly was not closing around the ball, nor was May who got to his feet and put a left hand on Maestri.

It may not have been a ruck, though the referee called it one, but it was a tackle. May holds ball-carrying Vakatawa who goes to ground. Could Wood then dive on the ball?

Law 15.6 Other players
(a) After a tackle, all other players must be on their feet when they play the ball. Players are on their feet if no other part of their body is supported by the ground or players on the ground.
Sanction: Penalty kick

Hughes was on his feet when he played the ball. And of Serin played the ball, as he seems to have done, he, too, was on his feet. There must be a limit to the prohibition of falling on the ball.

Clear and obvious seem to be falling by the wayside as watchwords. But in this case there is no clear and obvious ruck, nor is clear and obvious that Wood fell on the ball while it was in the process of coming away from the tackle. Nor is it clear and obvious that the tackle law should still apply.

A case could be made for penalising Hughes, whom the referee declared no problem.

Law 15.6 (d) At a tackle or near to a tackle, other players who play the ball must do so from behind the ball and from directly behind the tackled player or the tackler closest to those players’ goal line.
Sanction: Penalty kick

Law Definitions: Near: Within one metre.

The ball is possibly within one metre of the tackle and Hughes did not come from behind. Perhaps there was after all a problem there. But if there was it was by a hair's breadth.

Is this rugby pedantry at its worst?

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