At the risk of being labelled nitpickers and spoilsports and killjoys, we shall look at the mark and getting the kick wrong. But it is not clear why the law should be applied, for in these cases there is no excuse as there is with the skew feed at the scrum and foot-up, because at the mark there are no other things to look for.
We shall look at two incidents, one from England's Premiership and one from a Heineken Cup match - top matches with top referees who have the added responsibility of setting a good example and carrying out his duty, as expressed in the Laws of the Game.
Law 6.A.4 THE DUTIES OF THE REFEREE IN THE PLAYING ENCLOSURE
(a) The referee is the sole judge of fact and of Law during a match. The referee must apply fairly all the Laws of the Game in every match.
'all the Laws of the Game'
1. London Irish kick down into the Saracens 22 where James Short claims the mark. The whistle goes to stop play, signifying that the fair catch had indeed been made. Short steps back briefly and then come straight forward to the mark to kick but Jamie Gibson charges forward. Short stops and the whistle goes.
The referee has a jumble of things to say - Just go, Just relax, Just wait now, wait now, Got to be on the mark, Not going to be to the side of the mark, Thank you.
Law 18.1 AFTER A MARK
The referee immediately blows the whistle and awards a kick to the player who made the mark.
Law 18.2 KICK AWARDED
The kick is awarded at the place of the mark. If the mark is made in the in-goal, the kick is awarded 5 metres from the goal line in line with where the mark was made.
Law 18.3 KICK - WHERE
The kick is taken at or behind the mark on a line through the mark.
When the referee blows his whistle he is some 20 metres from Short. This is fair enough as the referee cannot be expected to keep up with the flying ball.
Does he need to be on the mark to award the kick? Common practice says that this is not necessary. The law does not say that it is required. Generating speed in the came suggests that it is contraindicated.
Did Short move to the side of the mark? No.
Did Short overstep the mark? No.
It does not seem that Short does anything wrong in his approach to kicking.
Let's look at Gibson.
Law 21.8 WHAT OPTIONS THE OPPOSING TEAM HAVE AT A FREE KICK
(e) Charging the free kick. Once they have retired the necessary distance, players of the opposing team may charge and try to prevent the kick being taken. They may charge the free kick as soon as the kicker starts to approach to kick.
(f) Preventing the free kick. If the opposing team charge and prevent the free kick being taken, the kick is disallowed. Play restarts with a scrum at the mark. The opposing team throw in the ball.
Was Gibson entitled to charge when Short moved forward? Yes, provided that he started from the right place.
Did he start his kick from the right place? If he did not, he should have been punished.
Law 21.8 Any infringement by the opposing team results in a second free kick, awarded 10 metres in front of the mark for the first kick. This mark must not be within 5 metres of the goal line. Any player may take the kick. If the referee awards a second free kick, the second free kick is not taken before the referee has made the mark indicating the place of the free kick.
Gibson was not punished and so let's turn our attention back to Short. It would seem that he did nothing wrong. And Gibson did nothing wrong in preventing Short from kicking. If Gibson did that, then the decision should have been that the kick was disallowed and play restarted with the mark and London Irish to put the ball into the scrum.
Instead Short is asked to take the kick again and thanked when he does so.
Why this law was waived is not obvious.
It is not an isolated incident.
2. Leicester Tigers kick the ball downfield where the Clermont Auvergne right wing Sitiveni Sivivatu calls for a mark. The referee, who is understandably some distance from Sivivatu blows the whistle to award the mar. Sivivatu is standing on the mark. He bounces the ball on his knee and passes the ball to his left. The referee stops play and runs up to Sivivatu, explaining that bouncing the ball on a knee is not a kick.
Law 21.3 (b) Bouncing the ball on the knee is not taking a kick.
Sanction: Any infringement by the kicker’s team results in a scrum at the mark. The
opposing team throws in the ball.
Law 21.4 PENALTY AND FREE KICK OPTIONS AND REQUIREMENTS
(c) A clear kick. The kicker must kick the ball a visible distance. If the kicker is holding it, it must clearly leave the hands. If it is on the ground, it must clearly leave the mark.
Sanction: Unless otherwise stated in Law any infringement by the kicker’s team results in a scrum at the mark. The opposing team throw in the ball.
What Sivivatu did was certainly not a clear kick. The sanction for that should have been a scrum to Leicester but in this case the referee allowed Sivivatu to take the kick properly.
Why this law was waived is not clear.
It may have been only his second Heineken Cup match but Sivivatu is no ten-year-old new to rugby. He will be 30 next year and has played 45 Tests and 68 Super Rugby matches in a first class career that started in 2011. He could hardly plead ignorance.
3. If you watched the IRB's Sevens you would have seen free kicks taken quickly without regard to the mark (the place of the infringement).
Sometimes in the 15-aside game players are pulled up for this and are required to take it at the tight place. This leads watchers to express their annoyance with the referee, using words like pedantic.
Yet the referees are usually soft in these cases and allow the kicker's team to kick the ball again. It should be a scrum to the other side.
Law 21.2 WHERE PENALTY AND FREE KICKS ARE TAKEN
(a) The kicker must take the penalty or free kick at the mark or anywhere behind it on a line through the mark. If the place for a penalty or free kick is within 5 metres of the opponents’ goal line, the mark for the kick is 5 metres from the goal line, opposite the place of infringement.
Sanction: Any infringement by the kicker’s team results in a scrum 5 metres from the goal line in line with the mark. The opposing team throws in the ball.
Why the law is regularly waived in this case is not clear. But it does mean that a player can take a chance knowing that, if he does not get away with it, he will have a second chance.
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