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Law discussion: Charging a conversion

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The score at Newlands is 17-all and the clock reads 85 minutes. Herschel Jantjies of the Stormers had just scored a try under the posts and SP Marais is to take the conversion, as defeat was on the brink of becoming victory.

By Paul Dobson, Moonsport

There is something primal about this - kicking a goal to win a match. Originally the goal was the only way to score, as it still is in soccer and hockey. Rugby decided on points and that changed the way of scoring - try, conversion, penalty goal, drop goal and penalty try. (A converted try has for years and years been referred to simply as a goal.) The try got its name because it was only a means to allow you to try to improve (convert) the action of grounding the ball in the opposing goal into a goal. It was the goal that counted.

The kick for the goal in this match seems a formality but it turns out to be not quite so.

Gareth Wright, the Stormers' kicking coach, brings on the kicking tee and Marais places the ball. He steps back and then comes forward and adjusts the ball. Some Lions players charged when Marais moved forward, and the referee told them to go back. Wright also joins in with gestures telling Lions to go back, which he is certainly not entitled to do - not that it did any harm. The Lions go back and Marais slots the kick, to the delight of the Newlands crowd.

Should the referee have allowed the charge?

Lions supporters will be adamant that their players charged when Marais moved forward, which they were allowed to do.

All opposing players retire to their goal-line and do not overstep that line until the kicker begins the approach to kick. When the kicker does this, they may charge or jump to prevent a goal but must not be physically supported by other players in these actions.
The team must not shout during a conversion attempt.
Sanction: If the opposing team at a conversion attempt infringes but the kick is successful, the goal stands. If the kick is unsuccessful, the kicker retakes the conversion and the opposing team is not allowed to charge. When another kick is allowed, the kicker may repeat all the preparations. The kicker may change the type of kick.
If the ball falls over after the kicker begins the approach to kick, the opponents may continue to charge.
If the opposition touches the ball and the kick is successful, the goal stands.

The first line is significant: All opposing players retire to their goal-line.

Elton Jantjies does not retire to his goal-line. He is up remonstrating with the referee, presumably about the try after starting to do that right at the goal-line for what looked like a good grounding of the ball by Herschel Jantjies. Elton Jantjies continues his "conversation" with the referee up towards the 22. He then goes back towards his goal-line and stands just in front of it.

Marais places the ball. He steps back and then takes a step towards the ball, at which stage four Lions rush at him. Marais reaches the ball and adjusts it.

This produces a stand-off with Marvin Orie of the Lions prominent and Elton Jantjies again in conversation with the referee.

Let's look at the rest of the first line. and do not overstep that line until the kicker begins the approach to kick. When the kicker does this, they may charge.

Oxford Dictionary: approach v 1. come near or nearer to in distance. n 3. the action of approaching.

When Marais takes a step forward, it is towards the ball. He is coming nearer to the ball. That would suggest that he is approaching. That would suggest that the Lions could charge to block the kick.

The view we have is from a distance, but the referee, closer and within earshot, may have been aware that the kicker was going forward intending to adjust the ball on the kicking tee, not to kick the ball. He was approaching, but not to kick.

That all becomes complicated. The kicker could have avoided the complication.

In fact, it would seem that the charging Lions were entitled to do so but for the fact that their acting captain, Elton Jantjies, was intent on expressing his disagreement with the referee and was not behind the line as he was told to do.

If Elton Jantjies had in fact infringed, Marais was allowed to retake the kick and the Lions were not allowed to charge. That was rendered irrelevant by Marais's kick.

Marais goals the kick, and Newlands shouts its glee.

What a messy end to the match! advert