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Cian Healy's law knowledge nearly delivers clever try against France

The Ireland loosehead prop realised the ruck had ended on the French goal line.

PROPS DON’T GET too many tries so you could understand the rueful grin from Cian Healy as referee Ben O’Keeffe ruled out his possible score against France yesterday.

The Ireland loosehead has five tries in 87 caps – respectable numbers for a front row, to be fair – but very nearly had his sixth after some quick thinking against les Bleus in Dublin.

Ireland have just gone close to scoring before Jordan Larmour is stripped of the ball by Antoine Dupont and France attempt to build towards an exit kick.

Strong tackling from Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray, Bundee Aki and James Ryan leaves the French pinned close to their own tryline - or ‘goal line’ to give it its official name – and we end up with the ruck below.

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Healy, circled in yellow, is in an onside position to the fringe of the ruck, set up to defend in that area or attempt to pressure Dupont as kicks.

Louis Picamoles, standing guard over the ruck, rolls the ball back an inch or two with his hand, before Dupont reaches in with his left foot and rolls the ball further back.

As we can see below, a portion of the ball ends up resting on the goal line.

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Under Law 15.18, rugby’s law book states that ”[t]he ruck ends and play continues when the ball leaves the ruck or when the ball in the ruck is on or over the goal line.”

In this case, the ball is on the goal line, so the ruck has ended.

Healy is well aware of the law and he instantly makes a move as he realises the ruck is over.

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With the ruck having ended, there is no offside line in play and Healy cannot be ‘coming in from the side’ here.

It’s open play and he is entitled to target the ball from anywhere.

As Healy lunges in towards the ball with his right hand, we can see that Murray [red below] has had the same realisation and is moving towards the ball.

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Healy gets there first and makes contact with the ball, rolling it forward as he does so.

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The ball rolls forward after Healy’s touch, and just before Murray’s right hand arrives down in an effort to ground the ball [red below].

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Healy immediately gets back to his feet and appeals to O’Keeffe for the try – Murray doing the same – but play briefly continues as Dupont gathers up the ball and gets levelled by James Ryan in a tackle in the in-goal area.

At that, O’Keeffe blows his whistle and Murray walks over to him, saying, “It’s on the line, the line is over,” as Healy follows up with, “It’s on the line!”

O’Keeffe moves to assistant referee Angus Gardner and says, “I’m going to check for the grounding here.”

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Gardner replies: “Potential grounding, yeah, I believe the ball rolled onto the line and the green player may have came around.”

O’Keeffe asks Rory Best, Murray and Sexton for some space and heads for a TMO check with Ben Skeen:

“Just at that last ruck, I believe the ball came back over the line and I just want to see if it was grounded by a green player,” says O’Keeffe to Skeen. “My on-field decision is a five-metre scrum so I just want to make sure there’s no grounding by the green player.” 

70 seconds later, Skeen delivers his verdict:

“Thank you, I have a decision. Ben, he [Healy] has to show downward pressure, of which there is none, so therefore he has knocked the ball forward.”

O’Keeffe replies, “I agree, Skeeny, he hasn’t shown any downward pressure there, there’s no control as he places the ball, so it’s actually a knock-on, so blue scrum for a knock on. Yeah, good work.”

O’Keeffe delivers the verdict to Ireland, agreeing that Healy was entitled to go for the ball but underlining that he knocked it on in the process.

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The right call?

The law book – 21.1 (a) and (b) – tells us that the ball can be grounded in-goal [including the goal line] by either “holding it and touching the ground with it” or “pressing down on it with a hand or hands, arm or arms, or the front of the player’s body from waist to neck.”

There is no direct use of the words ‘downward pressure’ in the law book but it’s a useful phrase to sum up the laws above.

In this case, it is difficult to see how Healy pressed down on the ball with his hand, although that’s the fun of rugby’s laws – some might argue that he did indeed get enough of a hint of pressing down to be awarded the try.

But O’Keeffe and Skeen’s decision-making appears accurate here and Healy, with that rueful grin, moves onto his next job at the scrum, his sharp reactions and understanding of the law having nearly bagged him a try.

For an example of an Irish player scoring in similar circumstances, check out the below video of the now-retired Chris Henry bagging a try for Ulster against the Ospreys in 2016.

Source: The42.ie/YouTube

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Murray Kinsella

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