17 Mar 2020
This happens 54 minutes into the match in Durban between the Sharks and the Stormers: From just inside his own half, Curwin Bosch of the Sharks kicks a long kick down to the touchline on his right. Inside his 22, Ruhan Nel of the Stormers sprints from midfield towards the dropping ball. He slides on his knees, catches the ball and slides on. He claims a mark.
Some said mark, some said out with a lineout to the Sharks, some said out with a lineout to the Stormers. The commentator suggests that the TMO was involved.
The upshot was a lineout to the Sharks inside the Stormers' 22, i.e. where Nel caught the ball.
Nel caught the ball and he claimed a mark, showing this by raising a clenched fist, a gesture that has become common and a great aid to referees when the player's call is hard to hear and the player no longer needs to be stationary or in fact even on the ground. All he needs to do is be in his 22, which Nel was, and catch the ball, which Nel did.
Law 17 CLAIMING A MARK
1. To claim a mark, a player must:
a. Have at least one foot on or behind their own 22-metre line when catching the ball or when landing having caught it in the air; and
b. Catch a ball that has reached the plane of the 22-metre line directly from an opponent’s kick before it touches the ground or another player; and
c. Simultaneously call “mark”.
What is crucial here is the position of Nel's knees, more particularly his left knee. The relationship between Nel's knee and the touchline is crucial here.
If Nel's knee is not on the touchline when he catches the ball, the mark would be allowed.
If Nel's knee is on the touchline when he catches the ball, he is in touch.
If he catches the ball while his knee is in touch, the ball is in touch.
Law 18 TOUCH OR TOUCH-IN-GOAL
The ball is in touch or touch-in-goal when:
b. A player, who is already touching the touchline, touch-in-goal line or anything beyond, catches or holds the ball.
If we accept that, Nel's knee was on the touchline when he caught the ball;, the ball became out when he caught it.
But Bosch kicked the ball. Wouldn't that mean that mean a lineout just inside the Sharks' half, i.e. opposite the place where Bosch kicked the ball?
That, it seems, would be too simple for the laws of rugby football.
Law 18.1 b. ii If the ball has not reached the plane of touch when it is caught or picked up, the catcher is deemed to have taken the ball into touch, regardless of whether the ball was in motion or stationary.
Plane of touch: The vertical space rising immediately above the touchline or touch-in-goal line.
In this case, Nel caught the ball before it reached the plane of touch. That made him responsible for taking the ball into touch.
If the match officials got this right, their eyesight, judgement and knowledge of the laws are all excellent.
By the way, the TMO protocol suggests that this was no place for input by the TMO.
The TMO's input is confined to foul play, which this was not, or possible infringement in the lead-up to a try, and there was no try here.