Referees and TMOs were once again in the spotlight this past weekend – and none more so than in the France v Springboks Test in Paris.
According to the SA Rugby Referees website, South Africa came close to scoring tries on two occasions, but on each occasion the TMO advised the referee not to award the try.
In the first instance the TMO detected a knock-on when flyhalf Morné Steyn tried to catch a high, floating pass and so centre Jaque Fourie was denied a try.
The second one is of interest in this discussion.
South Africa go right from a tackle/ruck. Fullback Willie le Roux grubbers ahead. Falling back Yoann Huget foots the ball back into the French in-goal. Huget and Francois Louw of South Africa go for the ball, Huget with right arm extended.
If Huget grounds the ball first it will not be a try.
If Louw grounds the ball first, it will be a try.
The TMO’s advice to the referee is that a Blue Player (Huget) had taken the ball back and had grounded the ball. So it would be a five-metre scrum to South Africa.
But did he ground it?
The law in this regard is most specific. There is a difference between the way a player carrying the ball is required to ground the ball and what a player is required to do if he is not carrying the ball.
Law 22.1 GROUNDING THE BALL
There are two ways a player can ground the ball:
(a) Player touches the ground with the ball. A player grounds the ball by holding the ball and touching the ground with it, in in-goal. ‘Holding’ means holding in the hand or hands, or in the arm or arms. No downward pressure is required.
(b) Player presses down on the ball. A player grounds the ball when it is on the ground in the in-goal and the player presses down on it with a hand or hands, arm or arms, or the front of the player’s body from waist to neck inclusive.
A player holding the ball is not required to put downward pressure on the ball.
A player not holding the ball is required to put downward pressure on the ball.
Huget is certainly not carrying the ball, and so (b) above tells us what he has to do.
Huget’s hand touched the side of the ball. There is no sign of downward pressure at all. The one who puts downward pressure on the ball is Louw. who puts both hands and his torso on the ball, certainly exerting downward pressure.
The try should have been awarded.