08 Feb 2019
On Sunday the Stormers played the Bulls. The Bulls won a turnover, Handré Pollard kicked and Juarno Augustus charged down the kick, gathered and scored.
By Paul Dobson, Moonsport
The referee consulted his assistant and then the TMO, and the try was awarded.
André van der Lingen had the following query about the chain of events:
"In the match between Stormers and Bulls on 3 February 2019, the Stormers No.8 charged a kick from Pollard down and scored a try. The referee asked the TMO whether the No.8 was offside. The TMO replied that he was offside but was put onside when the ball emerged from the scrum. Does this mean that Law 10.9 was changed?"
Let us see first what the law says in the most recent wording of the law.
Law 10.9 A player who is offside at a ruck, maul, scrum or line-out remains offside, even after the ruck, maul, scrum or line-out has ended.
That law has not changed. The simple answer to the question is No. But a simple read between the lines, suggests that the questioner is asking for more than that.
Let's recall the incident.
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The Stormers get the ball back from a tackle and replacement scrumhalf Herschel Jantjies passes to hooker Scarra Ntubeni who is heavily tackled by Duncan Matthews and both players go to ground. It is a tackle all right. Matthews immediately gets to his feet and drives forward.
The Bulls win a turnover. The ball comes back to Pollard who kicks. Augustus charges down the kick, grabs the bouncing ball and runs off for a try.
The referee consults the TMO and there are several replays, none from an angle that would clearly show the position of Augustus' feet at the "ruck" in relation to the players in the "ruck".
The referee's consultation with the TMO is audible and not really what is contained in the query. The TMO gives his view first: "It is not clear and obvious that the player [Augustus] was offside. The ball was already out of the ruck. So he can charge down. So play on."
The TMO did not say that Augustus was offside. He said that is was not "clear and obvious", and "clear and obvious" is a criterion for deciding an infringement. It is laid down in the TMO protocol where it states "Any relevant information taken into consideration must be CLEAR and OBVIOUS."
In his explanation to the Bulls' captain, Lood de Jager, the referee says: "The ball was outside the ruck. It was clearly not offside."
Before we go into that, let's look at the "ruck".
Law 15.2 OFFSIDE AT A RUCK
A ruck is formed when at least one player from each team is in contact, on their feet and over the ball which is on the ground.
It's not easy to tell if this was a ruck, though the fleeting contact between Matthews and Cobus Wiese (7) of the Stormers may have been enough to form a ruck and establish offside lines.
Law 15.4 Each team has an offside line that runs parallel to the goal-line through the hindmost point of any ruck participant.
The problem with the replays available is that none can establish where the offside line on the Stormers' side was and where Augustus was in relation to it.
And, by the way, under present playing laws, it does not matter if it was a ruck - the word the referee and the TMO use - or not.
If it was not a ruck, it was a tackle. There is no offside line at a tackle, but a recent law amendment makes provision for one if there is a player crouching over the ball in the tackle.
Law 14.10 Offside lines are created at a tackle when at least one player is on their feet and over the ball, which is on the ground. Each team’s offside line runs parallel to the goal line through the hindmost point of any player in the tackle or on their feet over the ball.
Again the angle of the replays does not make it clear and obvious if Augustus' feet are nearer the Bulls' goal-line than they should be.
This is a long attempt to answer the question and any misgiving it may have. But it suggests that the referee and his helpers made a correct decision.