Law Questions – August 2019

Offside question 1, defending scrum half:

I’m after some clarification on where the opposition scrum half can go at the scrum if they’re not following the ball round. It’s something I’ve never pinned down.

Do they have to stay on the eight’s back foot if they go the opposite side to the put in?

Society response:

2019 law book: law 19.30 states:

Once play in the scrum begins, the scrum-half of the team not in possession:

    1. Takes up a position with both feet behind the ball and close to the scrum but not in the space between the flanker and the number eight or
    2. Permanently retires to a point on the offside line either at that team’s hindmost foot, or
    3. Permanently retires at least five metres behind the hindmost foot.


Hence the non-throwing scrum half has THREE options when he/she’s on the same side as the throwing in scrum half – but only TWO options should he/she not follow the ball on that side – i.e. behind No 8’s feet or back five metres.  However, he/she can track sideways away from the scrum remaining behind the No 8’s feet and does not have to remain in close proximity to the scrum.

This particular scenario is in the current World Rugby Law test.

One subtlety though: the throwing in scrum half MAY elect to throw in on the “wrong” side – which rarely happens other than in Sevens where the rearmost foot and the ball are virtually the same place immediately often the throw in.


Offside question 2, in in-goal:

When a team are trying to get out of their 22, say on a defensive 5m scrum, and put their kicker deep in the in-goal area to clear, do his/her teammates need to be behind him/her to be onside to chase the kick legally? Or does the try line form their offside line?

I can’t find anything to clarify this in Law 21 In-goal.

Society response:

Law 10 Offside and onside in open play

A player who is in front of his/her team mate who last played the ball is offside.  Hence any player in front of that kicker who kicked from deep within his/her “in goal” is offside unless either the kicker puts them onside or they retire until they put themselves onside or a player from behind the kicker puts them onside.

The laws have to be read as a “whole” not selectively and in the same way that offside at scrum, lineout, ruck and maul are shown within those sections, even though there is a section for “in goal”, much of what does happen in goal generally happens in open play, so Law 10 is also relevant.

Food for thought:

If the ball is put into in-goal by the defending side and then made dead, the restart favours the attacking side.  If the ball is put into in-goal by the attacking side and then made dead, the restart favours the defending side.

If from a defensive 5m scrum the fly half receives the ball in in-goal and an opposition flanker breaks legally as the scrum half passes and the flanker charges down that attempted clearance kick and the ball goes dead, how the referee restarts the game depends on whether the flanker charges down the kick in in-goal (5m scrum, attacking throw-in) or the ball has crossed the plane of goal back into the field of play when the flanker charges it down (22m drop out).  In such situations, Referees are well advised to quickly get to the plane of the goal line to make the correct call.


Offside question 3, defending player in “three point stance” rather than just on their two feet:

Is a player offside if, although his feet are on side, he has a hand in contact with the ground ahead of the offside line?  (This query was supported by a photo showing a defender at a ruck near his own Goal line with feet behind the Goal line but a hand on the ground in front of the hindmost players on his side of the ruck.)


Society response:

Principle of Law 13: The game is played only by players who are on their feet.

Law 13.3: A player on the ground without the ball is out of the game and must (c) Not tackle or attempt to tackle an opponent.

Any defending player has to be no further back than his/her own goal line and this is clearly defined at PK, FK, scrum, lineout, ruck and maul.

The pictures supporting the offside law (within the various sections of the Law book) show that this applies to both feet, but only show any such player in a “two point” stance (i.e. feet only in contact with the ground), but can show such a player with their hands on his/her own knees and this may well bring that player’s torso over the plane of the offside line.

Hence should a defender have both feet behind his/her offside line and no other part of his/her body on the ground (i.e. they are demonstrably self-supporting entirely on their feet), then they may have torso, shoulders head or arms over the plane of the offside line, but a three point stance with the hand on the ground over the offside line can be justifiably sanctioned.

However, a three point stance with the hand also behind the offside line might render that player to be judged as not carrying his/her own weight entirely on his/her feet and as the game is to be played by players on their feet, justifying sanctioning that player depends on the referee’s judgement as to whether lifting the hand would cause that player to fall off his/her feet.

Should that player attempt to tackle an opponent by lifting the hand and driving forwards and if lifting the hand and stepping forward (when legal to so) restores the player to his/her feet, then a penalty is hard to justify as that player has started entirely from an onside position and got back to his/her feet before attempting that tackle.

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