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Dublin: 9°C Thursday 25 February 2021

Scotland got a let-off against England as a little-known law was missed

Stuart Hogg’s long 22-metre drop-out should have provided England with a prime attacking scrum.

IN THE MIDST of the kick-fest at Murrayfield on Saturday, there was an intriguing incident for the rugby law nerds.

In the 27th minute, England’s Owen Farrell missed with a penalty shot at goal, the wind carrying his effort wide to the left of the posts.

Scotland captain Stuart Hogg fielded the ball in his team’s in-goal area and grounded it, ensuring the Scots were given a 22-metre drop-out.

Hogg then hammered a drop-kick deep into England’s half, where it skidded off the slippery surface and all the way into England’s in-goal area.


[Click here if you cannot view the clip above]

As we can see above, England out-half George Ford allows the ball to roll into the in-goal area and then promptly picks it up and grounds it. 

Over the ref mic, we can hear referee Pascal Gaüzère immediately blow his whistle and say, “22,” indicating a 22-metre drop-out to England. Ford and England calmly set up for their drop-out.

What England didn’t realise in this instance is that they could actually have had an attacking scrum all the way back on Scotland’s 22 and should have reminded Gaüzère of that fact after the referee had overlooked it.

Law 12.17 in World Rugby’s law book tells us that “if a 22-metre drop-out reaches the opponents’ in-goal without touching any player and an opponent grounds the ball without delay or it goes into touch-in-goal or on or over the dead-ball line, the non-kicking team has the option of having the kick retaken or a scrum.”

So, in the case above, England should have been presented with the choice of a scrum on Scotland’s 22-metre line or to have the Scots retake the 22-metre drop-out.

It’s obvious what England would have decided – an attacking scrum in Scotland’s territory would have been a prime opportunity in a game as tightly-contested as this one. Indeed, it could have been genuinely decisive in the outcome of the game.

England’s players clearly didn’t realise what had just happened or the opportunity the laws of the game had presented them with, as they instead took their 22-metre drop-out.

The term “without delay” in Law 12.17 is a fascinating one. What qualifies as a delay?

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The42 has clarified with World Rugby that there was no delay from Ford in this case and that England should have been presented with the choice of an attacking scrum or Scotland retaking the drop-out.

A ‘delay’ would involve a player picking the ball up and assessing their options, then grounding it. A ‘delay’ might also indicate that the ball has been left lying static on the ground untouched for a noticeable period of time.

Incredibly, something very similar happened at Murrayfield when these two teams played each other in the 2016 Six Nations, but the other way around. Thanks to Alan Patterson for bringing this to our attention.

England’s Ford takes the 22-metre drop-out in this instance, with Finn Russell the man to ground it after it rolls into Scotland’s in-goal. The Scots are awarded a 22-metre drop-out of their own.


[Click here if you cannot view the clip above]

There is a difference here in that Russell gathers the ball in-goal and then looks up to assess his options before he grounds it.

It’s very, very slight but there is perhaps enough there to argue that this involves a ‘delay’ on Russell’s part.

Two sources in World Rugby say they view this as a delay and, therefore, the 22-metre drop-out for Scotland was the correct call.

Others in the game feel there was no delay from Russell and that it should have been a Scotland scrum back on England’s 22. 

The differing opinions point to much of rugby’s law book being open to interpretation.

But all of this sums up the importance of players having an intimate knowledge of the laws of the game in order to be able to challenge referees if they overlook them.

If the opposition’s 22-metre drop-out rolls all the way into your own team’s in-goal area, ground it without delay and enjoy your attacking scrum all the way back down on their 22-metre line.

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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