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How knowledge of the laws around touch can dramatically change games

Some clever examples from Super Rugby underline the importance of understanding the Law Book.

OVER THE LAST two weekends of Super Rugby Aotearoa, we’ve seen two bits of play close to the touchline that looked weird but were actually very clever.

These intelligent interventions have underlined once again just how important it is for players to have a strong knowledge of rugby’s laws.

First up is Hurricanes fullback Chase Tiatia in the example below as he manages to keep the ball in play when Richie Mo’unga attempts to kick a Crusaders penalty to touch.

Chase

[Click here if you cannot view the clip above]

It’s an odd sight but this is entirely legal from Tiatia. Referee Brendon Pickerill and his assistant James Doleman correctly call for play to continue.

A quick reference to World Rugby’s Law Book explains to us why that’s the case.

Law 18.2 (b) tells us that the ball is not in touch or touch-in-goal if “a player jumps, from within or outside the playing area, and catches the ball, and then lands in the playing area, regardless of whether the ball reached the plane of touch.”

This law is one of those that World Rugby adopted permanently back in 2018 following a trial period.

Tiatia knows his laws and was on the lookout for opportunities where a kick to touch wasn’t going to clear the touchline with much to spare.

Below, we can see Tiatia setting up outside the playing area before Mo’unga has kicked.

Tiatia

Tiatia jumps from outside the playing area, catches the ball, and then lands in the playing area – doing so rather nimbly. As per the Law Book, the plane of touch is insignificant in this instance.

It’s a classy bit of play from the fullback and frustrates the Crusaders, who appeal for a lineout but are told to be quiet by referee Pickerill.

Tiatia counter-attacks and just over a minute later, the Hurricanes win a penalty inside the Crusaders’ 22 to allow them to narrow the scoreline to 15-19. Instead of defending a Crusaders lineout, Tiatia’s actions mean the Hurricanes are making a dent on the scoreboard.

Clearly, this is something the Canes have discussed this year because it’s not the first time we’ve seen it from them.

Let’s go back to 13 March and their clash with the Chiefs – their last Super Rugby game before the Covid-19 lockdown – to see Jordie Barrett pulling off the same thing.

JB

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With the game tied at 24-24 in the 73rd minute, this is a massive moment as Barrett prevents Aaron Cruden’s kick from going into touch for a close-range Chiefs lineout.

There are screams of appeal from the Chiefs but referee Jaco Peyper says, “That’s the new law” in reference to the 2018 changes to the Law Book. 

Rather fittingly given his big intervention here, Barrett goes on to kick the winning penalty of this game in the 84th minute. The focus was understandably on that kick, but the fullback’s use of Law 18.2 (b) was pivotal in deciding the game too.

Jordie

[Click here if you cannot view the clip above]  

Clearly, Crusaders fullback Will Jordan – who was on the pitch when Tiatia pulled off his bit of smart play – was impressed because he adopted the tactic in his team’s very next game – last weekend’s win over the Chiefs in Christchurch.

With Cruden again looking to get every possible metre on his penalty kick to touch, Jordan comes up with the goods.

WJ

[Click here if you cannot view the clip above]

Jordan sets up well outside the playing area to give himself time and space to build momentum into his leap.

WJ

Referee Doleman, fresh from his view of the Tiatia incident, instantly calls “play on” and Jordan is able to kick out of his 22.

Cruden can be forgiven his wry smile at something that is so familiar but Jordan’s intervention has a major impact on the game.

Cruden

The Chiefs are forced to start their lineout attack from further out than might have been the case. With the lineout outside their 22, the Crusaders are happy to jump to compete in the air and they manage to force a turnover at the set-piece.

The Crusaders then use that turnover to manufacture a try for Jordan, who dots down less than a minute after his clever use of Law 18.2 (b).

Without Jordan’s intervention, the Crusaders might have been facing a close-range maul. Instead, they’re down the other end scoring through the fullback.

Knowledge and skill around Law 18.2 – which is made up of the four parts below – can be absolutely crucial, as we also saw in a few examples at last year’s World Cup.

Law 18.2

Ireland fans might want to look away now but Mo’unga made a vital contribution in this area in New Zealand’s quarter-final win over Joe Schmidt’s side.

Having fallen 10-0 behind early on, Ireland won a penalty at a time they needed the next score and Johnny Sexton looked to get every inch out of his kick to touch, only for Mo’unga to deny the close-range chance.

RM

[Click here if you cannot view the clip above]

This is a more common sight, of course, but it’s worth just underlining that Law 18.2 (c) tells us the ball is not in touch or touch-in-goal if “a player jumps from the playing area and knocks (or catches and releases) the ball back into the playing area, before landing in touch or touch-in-goal, regardless of whether the ball reached the plane of touch.”

Mo’unga does it intelligently in this instance, jumping from inside the playing area and knocking the ball back into the playing area before he lands in touch.

Inches

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Instead of defending a five-metre lineout, the All Blacks are able to exit into Ireland’s half  and less than 150 seconds after Mo’unga’s intervention, the Kiwis score their second try down the other end of the pitch for a 17-0 lead. Again, a hugely impactful moment.

There was, of course, a very similar moment earlier in the World Cup as Wales’ Tomos Williams pulled off the same feat in the pool clash with Australia in even more spectacular fashion.

The Welsh hold a 29-25 lead in the 77th minute when Matt Toomua looks to grab every last centimetre with a penalty kick to touch – one that would have given the Wallabies a fine attacking platform from which to conjure a possible winning try.

TW

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Williams’ actions fall under Law 18.2 (c) again as he dextrously leans himself over the touchline before jumping “from the playing area” to knock the ball back into the field of play.

TW

This is obviously a huge moment late in the game as Wales to hold on for the win that helps them to top their pool and eventually reach the World Cup semi-finals.

Coincidentally, there was another instance of Law 18. 2 (c) in this game as Wallabies wing Dane Haylett-Petty managed to keep his own wayward chip kick in play.

DHP

 [Click here if you cannot view the clip above]

As we know from the Tiatia, Barrett, and Jordan examples, both Mo’unga and Williams could have actually set up outside the playing area in their examples, leaping to catch the ball and landing inside the playing area to achieve the same goal.

It’s also worth noting the other two parts of Law 18.2.

Firstly, Law 18.2 (a) informs us that the ball is not in touch or touch-in-goal if “the ball reaches the plane of touch but is caught, knocked or kicked by a player who is in the playing area.”

That one is fairly straightforward – play on if someone standing in the field leans out and catches/bats/kicks a ball bound for touch, keeping it in play. The ‘plane of touch’ doesn’t apply here either.

Where the ‘plane of touch’ is still relevant is Law 18.2 (d).

Law 18.2 (d) says that the ball is not in touch or touch-in-goal if “a player, who is in touch, kicks or knocks the ball, but does not hold it, provided it has not reached the plane of touch.”

Now, this is a rather strange one.

Essentially it means that a player who is in touch can kick or bat/slap/knock the ball infield before it reaches the plane of touch in order to keep the ball in play, just as long as they don’t “hold” the ball [and it doesn't go forward, obviously].

Or, we can even imagine a player on the ground with part of their body in touch kicking or knocking the ball infield to prevent it from going into touch, as long as it doesn’t reach the plane of touch and they never “hold” the ball [and it doesn't go forward].

These scenarios might seem unlikely – and it’s very difficult to find an example – but they are accounted for in the laws and one can imagine some dramatic touches to keep the ball in play in these circumstances.

As our examples of Law 18.2 (b) and (c) show, knowledge of the laws and ability to take advantage of them can dramatically change games.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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