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Deegan's daylight robbery against Zebre the latest Leinster Pro14 curiosity

Leinster’s recent games have thrown up some intriguing decisions.

A LITTLE LIKE Conor Murray’s recent try for Munster against Toulon, Max Deegan’s effort for Leinster against Zebre last weekend looked weird on first viewing.

It was the latest in a string of curiosities involving Leinster and possible tries in the Guinness Pro14.

Deegan was a standout performer for Leo Cullen’s side against the visiting Italians and his try spoke volumes about his intelligence and alertness.

Deegan Score

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It’s probably no coincidence that the referee here is Ian Davies, who was an assistant for Munster’s win over Toulon and who has probably been considering the issue of the ball leaving the ruck in the aftermath of that game.

Dan Leavy is the first Leinster player to raise the issue of the ball being out in this case.

After Zebre set up what they think is still a ruck, Leavy points to the ball with his left hand and we can hear him on the ref mic, “Ref, ball out.”

1

Deegan is thinking exactly the same as Leavy here and he turns his head from the ruck to Davies.

The ref mic doesn’t pick up Deegan’s words, but he does say something to Davies.

Deegan

Leavy points again, this time with his right hand and asks, “Ref, is that ball out?”

2

Davies’ reaction is interesting.

He doesn’t respond verbally but he does move his left hand and flick his head in something resembling a nod.

Davies

Deegan is looking back at the ruck in this split second, but the Leinster number eight is still talking, presumably asking again if the ball is out.

He glances back to Davies a second time, just as Zebre scrum-half Marcello Violi is adjusting the ball with his foot.

And this time, Davies gives a clearer nod with Deegan watching him.

Nod

Deegan takes the approval and strides off towards the ball with Leavy in hot pursuit, the openside flanker shouting, “Ball’s out, get it, get it!”

Davies, who still hasn’t uttered a word, raises his hands as if to indicate to all that this is fair game.

Of course, when the ruck is judged to be over, the offside line no longer applies and Leinster are entitled to come forward.

Over on the far side of what Zebre still think is a ruck, Tadhg Furlong [in yellow] also appears to have been asking the question of whether the ball is out.

Go For It

Deegan snatches the ball from directly under Violi’s nose and sets off for the tryline, his acceleration and power taking him clear of Carlo Canna’s attempt to rescue the situation.

“Clearly out,” says Davies after blowing his whistle and indicating the try.

It’s one of the oddest and perhaps easiest tries Deegan will score in his career, with the ball having been clearly out of the ruck.

Out

It will be interesting to see how teams test match officials in this regard in the coming weeks, having seen Leinster score in this manner.

Obviously, it’s very poor play from Zebre but there are many more borderline cases where the ball looks to be out of a ruck and the defence is uncertain whether that is the case.

Referees will often provide a verbal answer to questions about the ball being out, so it will be intriguing to see how they manage teams testing them in this regard in the near future.

If we jump back two weekends to Leinster’s Pro14 defeat away to Ospreys, there was another curious-looking try scored by the Irish province – although very different.

Barry Daly was the man to finish from an intelligent Ross Byrne kick.

Daly Try

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Lots of Ospreys fans in the stadium were unhappy about this score being awarded, but it was the correct decision from the match officials.

Daly chases Byrne’s kick into the in-goal area and touches it down, with referee John Lacey initially awarding the try without hesitation.

Try

However, his assistant referee has some doubt and seems to ask Lacey to check the score with his television match official, Simon McDowell.

“Simon, need to check possible foot,” says Lacey as he signals for the TMO review.

That review takes less than a minute and confirms Lacey’s initial on-field decision, to a chorus of boos from the Ospreys fans.

The key here is that the ball enters the in-goal area before Daly gets to it.

IG

Secondly, Daly doesn’t actually gather and hold the ball, instead simply grounding it.

Ground

The Ospreys’ fans grievances come from their view that Daly’s left foot is on the touch-in-goal line as he grounds the ball.

That is true but it is irrelevant.

Law 8.2 (e) of World Rugby’s lawbook applies here.

8.2 (e)

Daly is indeed in touch-in-goal but he does not ‘hold’ the ball, instead simply grounding it.

World Rugby’s lawbook even includes a handy image of this law.

Law

As such, Lacey correctly awards the try.

To be fair, it is rare that we see instances of this law coming into play, so it is understandable that the score caused some confusion.

Back in 2015, Christian Wade benefited in scoring an even odder-looking try for Wasps against Saracens in the Premiership.

Wade

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Again, the fact that Wade is not holding the ball means he is entirely within the laws to ground the ball, even with both of his feet over the touch-in-goal line.

Let’s jump back another Leinster Pro14 game to their visit to Parc y Scarlets for a 10-10 draw with the Welsh region and we get another curiosity.

This time, however, Leinster don’t get the benefit.

Leinster

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Scarlets out-half Dan Jones looks to clear the ball from his side’s in-goal area, but Leinster’s Deegan gets his right arm to the kick before it ricochets off Leinster scrum-half Nick McCarthy’s foot and he falls on the ball, celebrating the try.

Referee Nigel Owens is not convinced and calls for the review with the TMO, Neil Hennessy.

“Neil, I need to check when it came off the blue player [McCarthy], it didn’t go back into the other blue player [Deegan] who was in front of him before he grounded the ball. OK?”

“Yes, I hear you,” responds Hennessy.

“Otherwise, everything is good for me,” says Owens.

Hennessy: “Ok, so we’re checking for a potential ricochet off blue?”

Owens: “Yeah, when he [McCarthy] charges down, it’s fine. Then it comes off the blue player [McCarthy]‘s foot and I’m not sure if it touches the other blue player [Deegan] before they put it down, which means he’d be offside, so that’s what I want to check.”

Hennessy confirms that he’s checking for “any reason Nigel, yes?”

Owens responds, “A try, yes or no. Or any reason, whatever…” and soon follows up with “Any reason, yeah, because the grounding is fine, I just want to see if it touches [Deegan].”

Hennessy digs into the review at this point, with Owens chipping in.

NM

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As Owens watches the above angle, he says “comes off blue there” when the ball hits McCarthy’s foot and moves forward up the pitch.

Nick M

But Owens asks again, “Does it touch that blue player there, number 20, before he [McCarthy] grounds the ball? That’s what I need you to look at.”

Hennessy: “I understand the question, mate, no problem.”

The review switches to the angle below.

Red 10

After seeing the ball making a glancing contact with Jones’ heel [highlighted above] after McCarthy’s foot, Hennessy says: “So, Nigel, it certainly comes off red 10. I’m looking for a better picture to see if it comes off blue.”

Again, Owens asks a similar question to the one he has already posed and Hennessy says he’s still looking for a better angle.

The review moves to the angle below, with Owens stating: “I can’t see from here, so I’m relying on you on the decision, OK?”

Heel

This is the shot that gives Hennessy what he calls “a definitive answer.”

“There is a reason,” he continues. “It hits the back of the blue player [Deegan]‘s heel and then obviously played by blue [McCarthy] thereafter.”

Owens: “So, no try and it is a penalty against blue, correct?”

Hennessy: “If you think he deliberately prevented the red player from playing it, or if you’re not thinking accidental.”

Owens signals no try and says, “No try lads, it’s come off the blue [Deegan] and he’s within the 10 from the kick so it’s a penalty here,” signalling a penalty to Scarlets.

Leinster captain Ross Molony sprints forward from the halfway line, where he has been waiting, and Owens calls for a timeout.

Molony

“You’re the captain, I’ll explain to you, of course,” says Owens. “When you charge down, it then came off your player and into your blue player in front. Because it’s the kick and it’s within 10 [metres], it’s come off his leg, it’s a penalty and not an accidental offside.”

Molony asks, “What if it’s in the dead-ball [meaning the in-goal]?”

But Owens says, “It doesn’t matter, you’re still offside in-goal.”

Firstly, let’s deal with the seemingly widespread notion that offside does not apply in the in-goal area.

Molony either believes it doesn’t or is simply chancing his arm, but it’s worth reiterating that offside applies in the in-goal area.

World Rugby’s simplified lawbook, which was introduced on 1 January of this year, states that “A player can be offside anywhere in the playing area” [Law 10.2].

The in-goal area is part of the playing area, so a player can most certainly be offside there.

So what of the decision? Deegan is certainly offside when the ball comes off McCarthy’s foot.

Again, we refer to the lawbook to confirm that Owens and Hennessy make the correct call.

Law 10.4 (c) is what we’re looking at.

Law 10.4 (c)

Keeping this in mind, Deegan was in front of a team-mate, McCarthy, who kicked the ball.

Deegan failed to retire immediately to an imaginary line across the field 10 metres on that player’s side from where the ball landed.

The law still applies if the ball touches an opponent, which it does in this case as it glances off Jones’ heel.

Interestingly, the lawbook states that the ’10-metre law’ does not apply when a kick is charged down.

However, it would be very difficult to argue that Jones’ touch here is anything approaching a charge down attempt.

One could also perhaps question whether the ball ricocheting off McCarthy’s foot qualifies as a ‘kick’, and whether Law 10.5 might apply in that case.

10.5

Hennessy does seem to be prompting Owens that way when he says “if you’re not thinking accidental” upon his confirmation that the ball hit Deegan’s foot.

However, Owens is firm in interpreting McCarthy’s touch as a kick and this time Leinster are on the wrong side of the law.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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