Law Question: Three penalties close to goal line


Whites have penalty 10m from Blacks try line. Take a tap and Blacks infringe again.

Whites have second penalty now on 5m line. Blacks infringe by not staying behind the try line.

Third successive penalty – on 5m line. Blacks again infringe by not going behind the try line and intercept the man with the ball.

What’s the call and should there be penalty try and or yellow card at third offence or earlier?

Does the level of the game affect the decision?

Society response:

Playing Charter (2018 Law Book, page 11); Principles of the Laws and their Application:

There is an over-riding obligation on the players to observe the laws and to respect the principles of fair play.

Law 9.9: A player must not repeatedly infringe the laws. Sanction: Penalty

Law 9.10: When different players of the same team repeatedly commit the same offence, the referee gives a general caution to the team and if they repeat the offence, the referee temporarily suspends the guilty player(s).

“Escalation” is an established, accepted and often used tool in game management – e.g. repeated free kick offences are escalated to penalty kicks.

So if the same player commits several different offences, the referee should formally caution that player and if he commits another such offence, the referee is justified in escalating that subsequent penalty to a Yellow Card,

Where different players in a team can even be considered to “take turns” in committing an offence, then Law 9.10 specifically requires the referee to issue a Yellow Card.

Justifying a penalty try requires the “probability” of a score by the attacking side. (Law 8.3) The referee has to make that decision based on exactly what he/she observes in that specific instance. Call it as you see it there and then, but from the description given above (assuming that “intercepting the man with the ball” means tackling him rather than preventing a “scoring pass” to an unmarked player) then a Yellow Card is certainly warranted. If the latter then a penalty try and a Yellow Card to the offending player. (Second sentence in Law 8.3)

Game/Player Management suggestion:

After a second penalty within 10m of their own goal line, it is worth warning the captain of the offending side of the possibility of escalation. This should not be a threat, but an encouragement to the offending side to adjust their behaviour or risk/suffer the consequences. The referee can even ensure that all players are onside before the third penalty is allowed to be taken. (Particularly in junior rugby.) It certainly can’t be taken quickly if the referee is issuing a caution.

With respect to the level of game, referees need to understand the level of competence, knowledge and awareness of the players. There are no “rigid rules” here. Early communication to the captain of the side committing repeated offences is essential in the hope of avoiding the escalation to Yellow Cards – but if behaviour does not improve then there is no option – as the frustration of the non-offending players can lead to more serious issues with which the referee has to deal.

Response written December 21st, 2018.

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