20 Nov 2018
In keeping with the spirit of November's Tests in 2018, there is debate about a refereeing decision - this time the awarding of a try to Scotland's Hamish Watson after a line-out five metres from South Africa's goal-line.
Embrose Papier of South Africa kicks and Stuart Hogg of Scotland comes racing away with the ball down the left flank. He chips ahead well into the South African 22 where there is an empty space. Willie le Roux of South Africa races towards the ball and, getting there before Hogg, flykicks it into touch conceding a line-out to Scotland five metres from the South African line.
The Scots line up with flank Watson as their receiver. Gordon Reid is at the front of the Scottish line of line-out players with Steven Kitshoff marking him.
As Stuart McInally of Scotland throws the ball, Gordon Read moves forward and Kitshoff moves forward as well. About three metres behind Reid, Ben Toolis, the Scottish lock, leaps straight up, helped by Ryan Wilson. But the ball is thrown in low and Watson darts forward catches the ball in the gap and plunges over the goal-line. The referee awards the try that brings the scores level at 17-all.
How legal/illegal is all this? That is the debate.
We need to go to the law. The pre-abbreviation law is fuller than the abbreviated law though the law in the fuller version is claimed to be unchanged. That means that, in this case, the pre-abbreviation law still applies.
We need to do this carefully, starting with the definitions at the front of the abbreviate law, which we shall use as much as possible.
Lne-out players: The players in either line of a line-out.
Participating players at a line-out: These consist of line-out players, one receiver from each team (if present), the player who throws in and an immediate opponent.
That means that Watson, as a receiver, is a participating player at the line-out.
Law 18.16 If a team elects to have a receiver, the receiver stands between the five-metre and the 15-metre lines, two metres away from their [sic] team-mates in the line-out. Each team may have only one receiver. Sanction: Free-kick
Watson is Scotland's only receiver. Look at the still picture and you will see that Watson is indeed two metres from the line-out as McInally throws in.
Law 18.25 The line-out commences once the ball leaves the hands of the thrower.
The ball has left McInally's hands and Watson has started his run from two metres from the line-out.
Now we need to move from the abbreviated version to the previous version when the line-out was in Law 19.
Law 19 (i) Once the line-out has commenced, the receiver may move into the line-out and may perform any of the actions available to players in the line-out and is liable to related sanctions.
One of the "actions available to players in the line-out" is - obviously - catching the ball, which is what Watson does. He is also allowed to carry the ball, which is what Watson does.
Law 18.36 The line-out ends when:
a. The ball or a player in possession of the ball:
i. leaves the line-out
Examining what happened and the relevant laws suggests strongly that Watson and his fellow Scots did nothing illegal and that the referee was right to award the try.