• Law clarification requests

    This section is aimed at trying to get a better understanding of what is truly meant by the law book, which isn't always easy.

    We at RugbyRefs.com are committed to making the game consistent across all grades, and in this section you will find requests for clarification on laws we believe are not entirely clear.

    Some believe the laws of the game are a guide, but as referees, it's our only defence of what we have done on the pitch, and our only evidence for why. RugbyRefs.com believes that the law makers have been doing this for a long time, and whilst there are a few small contradictions still present, they have dramatically improved it over the last few years and know what they are trying to achieve.

    So, do the law makers really intend the game to be played as it is written? Or are we looking into some laws too deep? If the latter, how can we ever have the consistency we so desperately desire?

    As a privately owned website, RugbyRefs.com has no line of request to the IRB laws committee, and nor should we. We do however have more referees that are members than any other individual society or association in the world. So, here we are, hoping that someone with the ability to take it further will read our requests, believe that we have a point, and seek official clarification.
    Comments 58 Comments
    1. wrowe's Avatar
      wrowe -
      Recently I had a bizarre incident. In a 7's scrum the team not putting the ball in went backwards purposely, pulling the attacking team with them which obviously made the ball fly out the back.
      Is this legal?
    1. Browner's Avatar
      Browner -
      Quote Originally Posted by wrowe View Post
      Recently I had a bizarre incident. In a 7's scrum the team not putting the ball in went backwards purposely, pulling the attacking team with them which obviously made the ball fly out the back.
      Is this legal?
      See Law 20.8(g).
      Front row players must not twist or lower their bodies, or pull opponents, or do anything that is likely to collapse the scrum, either when the ball is being thrown in or afterwards.
    1. Pharginell's Avatar
      Pharginell -
      If a player is tackled close to the try line and his torso, arms and ball are all touching the ground, is he allowed to reach forward to score a try in an immediate action while his arms and ball remain in contact with the ground and his torso remains stationary?
    1. Phil E's Avatar
      Phil E -
      Quote Originally Posted by Pharginell View Post
      If a player is tackled close to the try line and his torso, arms and ball are all touching the ground, is he allowed to reach forward to score a try in an immediate action while his arms and ball remain in contact with the ground and his torso remains stationary?
      If he reaches out and "places" the ball over the line that's fine.

      If he pushes the ball along the ground, in a forward direction, that's NOT fine.
    1. Pharginell's Avatar
      Pharginell -
      Quote Originally Posted by Phil E View Post
      If he reaches out and "places" the ball over the line that's fine.

      If he pushes the ball along the ground, in a forward direction, that's NOT fine.
      Rule 15.5 (d) states that in the act of releasing the ball it may not pushed forward. The ball in the scenario I posted however, is not being released. The ball is in fact in the process of being used to score a try. In which case, surely 15.5 (g) comes into play and a reach for the line is made with no release of the ball occurring in the action.
      As an example, a player is tackled, slides while held and the ball and his arms are also in contact with ground and his arms are being extended in front of him while he slides, at which point the slide of his body ceases and a split second later the extension of his arms also ceases with the ball on the line.

      He has fulfilled 15.5 (g) and has never intended to release the ball, so surely 15.5 (d) is not relevant.
    1. OB..'s Avatar
      OB.. -
      Phil E has explained the standard interpretation of reaching out to score when the player is stationary on the ground.

      If the player is sliding along the ground he can just hang on to the ball until he crosses the line..
    1. Pharginell's Avatar
      Pharginell -
      Quote Originally Posted by OB.. View Post
      Phil E has explained the standard interpretation of reaching out to score when the player is stationary on the ground.

      If the player is sliding along the ground he can just hang on to the ball until he crosses the line..
      Cheers Phil E and OB for the replies, however.....

      The scenario does not entail the continuation of the slide. The slide terminates a split second before the players extending arms touch the ball on the line. The ball travelling forward on the ground is mentioned in the laws in terms of a tackled player releasing the ball and specifically the act of "pushing" which heavily implies an un-held ball but is not outlawed for a controlled (held) ball reaching out to make contact with the line in the act of scoring a try.

      Add to this scenario the possibility of the tackled player sliding in on his back, holding the ball with one hand, arm and ball in contact with the ground and the hand holding the ball closer to the try line than the ball. The very loose term "pushing" cannot be employed here either with the possibility of this being termed "pulling" which is mentioned nowhere. Is there a law that specifically rules out a held ball being in contact with the ground as the reach for the line is carried out, considering it can be achieved with a "pulling" motion? Rule 15.5 (d) is specific to the release of the ball and not the act of try scoring and I cannot find a rule that outlaws a controlled ball being in contact with the ground as it is manoeuvred in a try scoring action.

      Does the term "reach" have an official definition somewhere that determines the ball being lifted off the ground, projected forward and then being returned to the ground? I have looked but cannot find it.

      Thanks.
    1. ChrisR's Avatar
      ChrisR -
      Are you chopper15?
    1. OB..'s Avatar
      OB.. -
      I'm afraid there is little point in using forensic dissection of the laws. They are simply not written with that approach in mind. If they were, they would look like Statute Law and be incomprehensible to any but expert lawyers.

      The standard view is that a player is allowed to reach out with his arm to place the ball, not push it. He is not allowed to move his body forward after any slide has stopped, though he can roll off the ball if it is underneath him, so that he can place it.

      It would be helpful to have some indication about your role in the game so we can address your point of view.
    1. Pharginell's Avatar
      Pharginell -
      Quote Originally Posted by OB.. View Post
      I'm afraid there is little point in using forensic dissection of the laws. They are simply not written with that approach in mind. If they were, they would look like Statute Law and be incomprehensible to any but expert lawyers.

      The standard view is that a player is allowed to reach out with his arm to place the ball, not push it. He is not allowed to move his body forward after any slide has stopped, though he can roll off the ball if it is underneath him, so that he can place it.

      It would be helpful to have some indication about your role in the game so we can address your point of view.
      Yes I realise the laws must remain easily communicated but this is an instance where there is nothing in the laws that defines the word "reach" and therefore the act of moving the ball on the ground to the try line in the act of scoring (reaching) is not actually outlawed anywhere and may in fact be a refereeing artifact that hasn't been challenged.

      The only time the word push is used in the laws is highly specific to one act which is the "release" of the ball by a tackled player and is not a coverall statement that includes the act of scoring. It would not require any legalese style addition to the laws to define the act which is why I am trying to burrow in to your little info cell here to find out what information source some referees are party to that clarifies the view.
      I have a suspicion this "reach" vs "push" really is an artifact that has no basis in the laws.

      For a situation similar to this, the try scored by the All Blacks first five against England at Twickenham in 2014 is a good example. It was refereed by Nigel Owens who had a completely unobstructed view of the first five being brought to the ground and with his arms and ball on the ground as he came to a stop he instantly "reached" forward with the ball on the ground about 3-4 inches to touch the try line and had the try awarded by Nigel Owens. The ball maintained contact with the ground during the try scoring act.

      Was Nigel Owens wrong or was he correctly following the laws by not whistling for something that has never been outlawed?
    1. Phil E's Avatar
      Phil E -
      Are you a lawyer by any chance?
    1. ChrisR's Avatar
      ChrisR -
      Was Nigel Owens wrong or was he correctly following the laws by not whistling for something that has never been outlawed?


      If NO clearly saw that the ball was pushed forward along the ground after the player's body had come to a stop then he made a mistake.

      Otherwise he made the correct call.
    1. OB..'s Avatar
      OB.. -
      Pharginell - you still seem to believe that you can solve the problem by studying the wording of the laws. You can't. Referees develop an interpretation of the laws that in general makes sense of the various lacunae, ambiguities and contradictions.

      The lack of a definition of "reach" is a case in point. I described how it is applied in practice.

      Why are you asking and what are you trying to achieve?
    1. crossref's Avatar
      crossref -
      Quote Originally Posted by Pharginell View Post

      Was Nigel Owens wrong or was he correctly following the laws by not whistling for something that has never been outlawed?
      is there a video of this on-line anywhere? that would really help
    1. ChrisR's Avatar
      ChrisR -
      If I correctly remember the incident the player was in a pile of bodies and the ball was pushed forward about 6 inches.
    1. Pharginell's Avatar
      Pharginell -
      Quote Originally Posted by OB.. View Post
      Pharginell - you still seem to believe that you can solve the problem by studying the wording of the laws. You can't. Referees develop an interpretation of the laws that in general makes sense of the various lacunae, ambiguities and contradictions.

      The lack of a definition of "reach" is a case in point. I described how it is applied in practice.

      Why are you asking and what are you trying to achieve?
      The wording of laws is a valid technique for defining laws. The poor wording of laws allows artifacts to introduce themselves. For instance, this is a possible addition that could avoid this very situation being investigated "At no point during play, can a player holding the ball project the ball forward if it maintains contact with the ground during the action" There is no complex word salad required, it appears to have no holes in the statement and is brief. No coverall statement like this appears in the laws. Or this "To reach with a ball in the act of scoring shall be defined as elevating the ball off the ground to ensure any forward motion is achieved without contact with the ground" Again, hardly a word salad. I swing spanners for a living and am, like many rugby fans, just one in a large group that communally mulls over various facets of the game and the possibilities of geographical refereeing artifacts is one of them.

      The dichotomy of interpretations between NH and SH referees gives credence to the notion of artifacts appearing via localised repetition of personal interpretations. This may be one of those "repetition of statement" artifacts that takes hold despite having no basis anywhere apart from "it just is, okay" similar to the "female wage gap" myth.

      My posts are essentially the voice of a group of rugby fans talking via one keyboard to find out whether referees have a directive from a body to enable this call to be made (as I stated previously, this can not come from the laws as they are written) or whether it is an artifact of repetition.

      If it is an artifact then it may be deserving of a challenge or a clarification being issued by World Rugby.

      Here is a link to the All Blacks try https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KkMUQvYiuqA
    1. damo's Avatar
      damo -
      Yep. No surprises that it is a whinge about the All Blacks that is at the bottom of all of this.

      I think that is very close. Right on the border between a push and a place. Live, in the position that NO was in I'd probably give it. On slow mo with the TMO, it was probably a dubious decision.

      On the other hand, that clip displays some excellent rugby from the All Blacks. The back play to get the ball to a free Ben Smith when there was no overlap to begin with was brilliant, as was the run from Bender, and the clean out close to the line to create the quick ball. Thanks for sharing that clip, it makes me happy to see such good rugby on display.
    1. Dickie E's Avatar
      Dickie E -
      Quote Originally Posted by Phil E View Post
      Are you a lawyer by any chance?
      I think its a fair question.

      If the tackled player maintains clear posession of the ball is it a "push" (for the purpose of Law 15.5) if the ball makes contact with the ground while on its way to the goal line? Was it the law makers intent to require that the ball be lifted clear of the ground? (he'll be home from primary school now, I'll ask him).

      IMO the answer to both questions would have to be yes. The only other type of "push" would be where the ball carrier loses possession of the ball and that would clearly be no try.
    1. Pharginell's Avatar
      Pharginell -
      Quote Originally Posted by damo View Post
      Yep. No surprises that it is a whinge about the All Blacks that is at the bottom of all of this.

      I think that is very close. Right on the border between a push and a place. Live, in the position that NO was in I'd probably give it. On slow mo with the TMO, it was probably a dubious decision.

      On the other hand, that clip displays some excellent rugby from the All Blacks. The back play to get the ball to a free Ben Smith when there was no overlap to begin with was brilliant, as was the run from Bender, and the clean out close to the line to create the quick ball. Thanks for sharing that clip, it makes me happy to see such good rugby on display.
      I'm an AB's supporter damo, there is no whinge here and I feel that is a valid try by the written laws.
      The fact that there is no clear statement in the World Rugby rules book has allowed this to become debatable instead of clear. Having been tortured by the indignant and rabble rousing, jowly flobbering of Brian Moore over the years it would be great to snipe each of these little law deficiencies as they break from cover and deny that sentient potato a chance to get a round off.

      There are clear additions to the rules to outlaw certain actions deemed anathema to the game and this action is not one of them. So how exactly has the interpretation given been established? My bet is regional interpretation becoming accepted artifact and this is not a valid technique in the eyes of many fans.
    1. Pharginell's Avatar
      Pharginell -
      Quote Originally Posted by Dickie E View Post
      I think its a fair question.

      If the tackled player maintains clear posession of the ball is it a "push" (for the purpose of Law 15.5) if the ball makes contact with the ground while on its way to the goal line? Was it the law makers intent to require that the ball be lifted clear of the ground? (he'll be home from primary school now, I'll ask him).

      IMO the answer to both questions would have to be yes. The only other type of "push" would be where the ball carrier loses possession of the ball and that would clearly be no try.
      What if the player is holding the ball one handed and that hand is gripping the forward end of the ball?
      This would now, surely become a "pull" under the interpretations posted here and receives no mention anywhere at all in the rules.

      The fact that the term"IMO" gets included in any discussion on rules is a red flag that something has not been established by an authority and is merely a current and potentially localised consensus.

      Catholics vs protestants, sunni vs shia, push vs reach, this is how the great schisms occur....... lack of clarity. LOL