When is a penalty not a fair penalty in rugby?

Ted Roar Rookie

By Ted, Ted is a Roar Rookie

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    The departure of Dan Carter leaves a goal kicking gap for the All Blacks. (AAP Image/Photosport, Andrew Cornaga)

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    The issue of penalties and free kick counts (and loss of game time) has reared its ugly head once again with the latest scrum-engaging rules – which we thought they would help.

    Last weekend in both the Six Nations (with Walsh and Joubert presiding), and some Super Rugby games, there were countless resets, free kicks for going early, penalties resulting from the set being more of a charge than before, or not square (intentionally or otherwise).

    We could go on – referees seemed unable to get teams to rectify these issues. Much game time was lost and unnecessary momentum changes occurred.

    The point that continues to worry me is the almost random nature of certain penalties arising.

    These are the ones that the commentators go quiet over, or fudge their commentary. Now several are frequently given against the attacking team with no intent involved at all.

    I put in this category the almost certain penalty arising from a rolling maul that has good forward momentum, for pulling down the maul when it is almost always a defender who can’t stay on his feet and no intent at all.

    The argument too and fro on these points is vast and detailed – my concern is the consequence.

    On balance of scoring reward, a hard-to-fathom scrum penalty at three points on the 22 does not compare with a five-point try.

    I would argue that various ‘killing the ball’ penalties, playing on the ground, offside, etc deserve what they get now.

    Many games are won, lost, or momentum is reversed with these scores.

    With so many occurring, and the scrum technique in transition, it is time to seriously consider the non-kickable penalty.

    That is no kick at goal and remove this randomness from the game, and I do not mean a free kick here.

    It would still provide for a line kick retaining throw in to lineout and promote more five-point try potential.

    Finally I do not include all scrum infringements here. Penalties for infringements deemed with intent would remain full penalties.

    What do Roarers think? I know I am sick of seeing games taken out of reach by a late kick, the cause of which is fairly innocuous.

    And while on this – what can justify the repeated scrum feeds at 45 degrees into second row right in front of referees?

    It’s now got to the point where commentators talk about the extra shove from the non feed pack based on the extra man shoving – ie the hooker not hooking.

    Interestingly, the Lions are not SANZAR – what will be the interpretation there? I will groan if it throws up more kick able penalties!

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    The Crowd Says (69)

    • March 15th 2013 @ 3:21am
      Hightackle said | March 15th 2013 @ 3:21am | ! Report

      Dude mauls are collapsed 90% of the time and half the penalties that seem random are not.
      Even watching the six nations on the weekend I noticed the commentators questioning certain penalties and desputing the call…the only problem is that the ref had clearly not called the penalty for what they were desputing.

      It always amazes me how many more scrums stay up and how many phases of play can go by without a player infringing in the last minutes of a 3 point game.
      If you want to blame somebody for the amount of penalties, blame the players not the ref becuz to be honest, prolly half of the offences go unpunished if not more and a hell of a lot of them are intentional.

    • Roar Guru

      March 15th 2013 @ 3:35am
      biltongbek said | March 15th 2013 @ 3:35am | ! Report

      I have three issues with law interpretations.


      At any given moment a referee has to look at roughly 15 different issues and this all in the blink of an eye.

      Did the tackler release the player?
      Is the tackle assist, really a tackle assist or was he part of the initial contact to complete the tackle?
      Did the tackled player release the ball?
      Do the arriving players from both sides come through the gate?
      Is the pilferer supporting his own bidy weight?
      Is the pilferer going for a second dig?
      Are the arriving players who counter ruck from either side staying on their feet.
      Are the jackhammers staying on their feet, or are they drving the carrier into the ground and sealing the ball?
      Are the attacking team’s players taking anyone out of the game?
      Is their any obstruction being commited?

      How the hell can the referee make the most fair decision at a ruck?

      For me any maul must be allowed to pull down, at any given maul chances are someone commited obstruction or caused a truck and trailer situation?

      How is any maul fair on the defensive team?


      Referees will blow free kicks for a scrum in one game a few times before going to a penalty, and kn the next game he will blow a penalty immediately?

      I am a loose head prop and it blows me away when I look at some decisions for penalties at scrums.


      • March 15th 2013 @ 3:54am
        Ted said | March 15th 2013 @ 3:54am | ! Report

        This scenario is entirely why I don’t believe these infractions deserve a game changing 3 points. I’m not specifically concerned here about the refs call – ill leave that to you front rowers – I’m addressing disproportionate value. Kick able Penalties should always require one ingredient in eyes of Ref clear intent .

        • March 15th 2013 @ 4:06am
          Hightackle said | March 15th 2013 @ 4:06am | ! Report

          Ted, devaluing the punishment increases the amount of infringing.
          If you know you wont be penalised for an offence, when the opposition is threatening a try you just infringe and the try is stopped and you pretty much get away with cheating.
          Like I said, watch how the amount of infringing drops away in the final few minutes of a tight game. Its amazing how magically the amount of “accidental” ruck and scrum offences almost stops.

          • March 15th 2013 @ 6:40am
            Allanthus said | March 15th 2013 @ 6:40am | ! Report

            Agree Hightackle, the concept of devaluing penalties will do the opposite of what supporters of this idea propose and will kill the game.

            Players shape their behaviour according to what they can get away with and the potential impact if they get caught. I’d rather a penalty was 10 points – deliberate infringing within kicking distance would disappear overnight.

          • March 15th 2013 @ 4:52pm
            soapit` said | March 15th 2013 @ 4:52pm | ! Report

            its time for me to trot out my idea of post match video review and yellow card to repeat offenders (srum offenders only) and suspensions for multiple yellows accrued. we have to create incentive for players to police themselves and take the pressure off the ref to avoid him having making a quite likely match deciding decision (pulling out the yellow during the match) when he cant be sure.

            theres too much going on too quickly at the scrums for the ref to be able to keep track and get it right.

          • March 16th 2013 @ 1:34am
            Chivas said | March 16th 2013 @ 1:34am | ! Report

            Interest about the last 3 mins HT. but you also notice no-one is committing unless sure. Then you have all this hesitancy. One of the great skills of Mc Caw is his ability to know where he is on the field. It may sound simple, but really you don’t. Picking up the ball in an offside position is as much to do with lack of awareness and making a spot decision as it is callous.

            Anyway if you don’t pick it up you are leaving it for the opposition which will hurt as much or more.

            I don’t have an answer but it’s a part of the game I never enjoyed either playing or watching.

    • March 15th 2013 @ 3:53am
      Hightackle said | March 15th 2013 @ 3:53am | ! Report

      Biltong what exactly do refs blow as penalties straight away in scrums? Ive never ever seen a free kick offence blown as a penalty straight away.

      Also mauls are used by the defensive team more often than the attacking team. How often is a player wrapped and held up until a maul is called and the turnover follows?

      They tried the law of collapsing mauls and it removed them from the game. There was no point in forming a maul that would be collapsed almost instantly.

      • Roar Guru

        March 15th 2013 @ 4:04am
        biltongbek said | March 15th 2013 @ 4:04am | ! Report

        HT, if a team is intent on using a maul, it is their responsibility to keep it up, I have seen mauls blown up for being pulled down when it is a case of one or two guys physically not being able to stay up.
        The attackiniig team has to many right in a maul, the referee spends so much time monitoring the defending team on where they are transgressing that he completely misses the truck and trailers or obstructions taking place.

        For me every maul is an unfair advantage and is nit in the spirit of the game, simply because of the fact that the defending team has no patway to the ball carrier.

        • March 16th 2013 @ 1:28am
          Chivas said | March 16th 2013 @ 1:28am | ! Report

          BT I agree 100%. I don’t even understand the rule on the truck and trailer. It’s always passed to the back of the maul, while it moves forward. I have yet to see a maul where the ball is in the contact area and when you peel off and run, only if it’s completely obvious is a truck and trailer called. I’ve been ripped out by my mate and we charge forward, me with the ball and him joined at my hip to smash it up and when we hit sometimes he is slightly in front but hardly gets called.

          I just need to go back to the rule book because it doesn’t make sense to me. I love the maul but the rules are pretty fluid. And then once the maul collapses it’s a free for all and someone is going to get penalised.

      • March 15th 2013 @ 8:50am
        Markus said | March 15th 2013 @ 8:50am | ! Report

        In the Brumbies-Reds game this year, I saw a penalty blown for early engagement (free kick offense) for the first time ever.
        Even as a Brumbies fan I questioned the call against the Reds, as the engagement looked even from both sides and the scrum stayed steady. I didn’t even think it warranted a free kick.

        I have no issue with the maul, provided referees correctly pick up on obstruction (truck and trailer).
        The second there is no defender in contact with the attacking players it stops being a maul, and every player in front of the ball carrier is in an offside position.

        The Springboks correctly got penalised for offside a couple of times against the Wallabies a while back when they shifted the ball to the back of a driving pod before any Wallaby player had made a tackle.
        They corrected their technique accordingly, and the driving maul became contestable.

        • March 15th 2013 @ 10:14am
          Bakkies said | March 15th 2013 @ 10:14am | ! Report

          Also mauls are used by the defensive team more often than the attacking team. How often is a player wrapped and held up until a maul is called and the turnover follows?”

          It’s a smart defensive tactic when attacking player is in a poor isolated position to hold him up so the five second use it or lose it law comes in to effect. The Lions will be using this if the Wallabies continue to run upright in to the defence.

        • Roar Guru

          March 15th 2013 @ 10:56am
          Hoy said | March 15th 2013 @ 10:56am | ! Report

          I would say the main issue I have with mauls is that the ball carrier seems more often than not to go back through the maul to the back, rather than the ball. In this common occurrence, a penalty should be blown, but often isn’t. That is frustrating to watch. The man with the ball can’t work his way back through the maul to sit at the back. The ball has to work backwards.

          • March 15th 2013 @ 11:00am
            mania said | March 15th 2013 @ 11:00am | ! Report

            agree hoy, to me thats truck and trailer cos the ball carrier isnt fully bound. def ball has to move not the player.
            since when did the refs stop policing this properly? the law hasnt changed. i remember i think in 2009 when all of a sudden the refs interpretation changed and mauling became a debacle.

            • March 16th 2013 @ 4:02am
              Chivas said | March 16th 2013 @ 4:02am | ! Report

              Don’t agree Mania. They first brought in the rule to stop the truck n trailer in the 90’s I think I recall. And then it has been policed off and on. The best maul I have seen is in a Waikato game when Buck Anderson caught an opposing Otago player (Timu I think), wrapped him up ball, turned around to face his own posts… Then the Waikato team drove it from our 22 down to theirs.

              I love a good maul. And comments about tripping up and pulling down a maul aren’t the issue. It’s when a player is swinging with their feet off the ground. It normally takes a couple of them to pull down a good maul. And that should be penalised.

              Otherwise I’m in BT’s camp that the team mauling has a responsibility to keep it up. HT does make the point that some mauls are created as a result of the opposition trying to get a turnover, but I am more talking about the attacking rolling maul.

              The problem is it’s energy sapping. You make a few good meters and then get pinged or lose it. It’s too high risk so teams tend to do it less and consequently it is not a very developed skill these days. That may be another reason it looks like such a shambles.

              Add to that BT is able to string a sentence together and he calls himself a prop. The game has well and truly gone to the dogs. Soon my mother will be my father and up will be down.

              Mauling along with good counter rucking has hurt the AB’s but killed the Bok.

          • March 15th 2013 @ 4:53pm
            soapit` said | March 15th 2013 @ 4:53pm | ! Report

            didnt they change this rule (after neil back got penalised a few times they just decided to give more leeway)

        • March 15th 2013 @ 3:33pm
          carnivean said | March 15th 2013 @ 3:33pm | ! Report

          “In the Brumbies-Reds game this year, I saw a penalty blown for early engagement (free kick offense) for the first time ever.”

          It seems from the number of times that has happened this year that a second early engagement is now a full penalty. It was definitely the case in that game. I think the referee originally went free kick, and was then reminded that it was the second early engagement, and escalated to full penalty. (I definitely saw that happen in one game, not sure if it was the same as you)

        • March 15th 2013 @ 4:49pm
          Hightackle said | March 15th 2013 @ 4:49pm | ! Report

          Free kicks for early engagements are not given as a penalty straight away. Usually if it happens 2 or 3 times a warning will be given and a penaltu is the result. Also if there is constent infringing and resets there may be a general warning to both teams to get their sh1z sorted or a penalty will be awarded for the next offence no matter what it is, although this is very rare.
          What I have noticed is if a team gets warned a couple of times for an early hit, quite often the opposition hits early on the following set and the ref just allows it. I think this is becuz teams are fully aware the last thing the ref wants is another reset and its their chance to exploit it.

      • Roar Guru

        March 15th 2013 @ 6:12pm
        biltongbek said | March 15th 2013 @ 6:12pm | ! Report

        HT, did you watch the Highlander vs Hurricanes this morning, check scrum penalty to Higlanders when they score this first 3 points in the first half.

        Not a free kick, a penalty.

        • Roar Guru

          March 15th 2013 @ 9:52pm
          biltongbek said | March 15th 2013 @ 9:52pm | ! Report

          Same happened in the Cheetahs vs Tahs, first scrum immediately a penalty.

    • March 15th 2013 @ 4:18am
      Hightackle said | March 15th 2013 @ 4:18am | ! Report

      If you cant stay on your feet you release and make an effort to show you are not bringing the maul down with you.
      Most “accidental” pulling of the maul down is becuz the player still tries to stay bound as they fall. Imo if you do this it is a penalty.
      Imo 90% of penalties for this are justified.
      Also like I said, if you want to collapse a maul you can quite easily. When the laws were trialed to allow it they found it removed the art of mauling from the game and the elv was scrapped.

      I dont see mauls as ruining the game, I see deliberate infringing by the players as doing that and like I keep saying, note how few and far between infringing becomes in a game that can be decided by a penalty. Teams clock up huge phase numbers becuz the defending team doesnt infringe and the attackers dont want to either.
      Imo the amount of penalties is quite often the players fault, infact its their fault most of the time.
      A “well reffed game” in the SH is one where infringing is tollerated largely.

      • Roar Guru

        March 15th 2013 @ 4:25am
        biltongbek said | March 15th 2013 @ 4:25am | ! Report

        Well we won’t agree on that then.

        I find the maul to be obstruction no matter how you look at it.

        • March 15th 2013 @ 7:25pm
          mitzter said | March 15th 2013 @ 7:25pm | ! Report

          How is a maul any different to a pushover try then biltongbek?The ball is at the back and the defence can’t touch it. Mauls are great as they allow a drilled forward pack to beat an undrilled team.
          They are also a dynamic moving breakdown which is very exciting.
          I didn’t like neil back’s bind with one hand either and moving about the back of the maul – that is not being bound but most refs do spot that and act accordingly

          • Roar Guru

            March 16th 2013 @ 4:31am
            biltongbek said | March 16th 2013 @ 4:31am | ! Report

            Mitzter, push over try from what?

            • March 16th 2013 @ 7:53am
              mitzter said | March 16th 2013 @ 7:53am | ! Report

              a scrum

              • Roar Guru

                March 16th 2013 @ 8:08am
                biltongbek said | March 16th 2013 @ 8:08am | ! Report

                There are significant differences to a maul and a scrum

                In the maul, a player is upright with ball in hand and is protected by his team, he can break away, hide and be covered by team mates, almost anyhtin is legal in protection of a ball carrier.

                In a scrum, everyone must remain bound to the scrum, defenders and attackets alike, the ball is not in hand, the ball must remain in the scrum and the hlaf back may come around the scrum to attack the player who plays the ball as long as he stays behind the ball.

                At a maul the offside line is restricted as the defender may nit come around the maul, whereas the defending scrumhalf may, as long as he is behind the ball.

                A scrum is a fair contest, a maul is not.

              • March 16th 2013 @ 11:27am
                mitzter said | March 16th 2013 @ 11:27am | ! Report

                I think you’re nitpicking a bit and ignoring the plain similarities. With the exemption of the halfback coming around it is almost exactly the same but then again defenders can come through the maul and attack the ball carrier.
                The maul is a great breakdown – it sucks in defenders, its moving and dynamic and is one of the great features of rugby

              • Roar Guru

                March 16th 2013 @ 5:18pm
                biltongbek said | March 16th 2013 @ 5:18pm | ! Report

                Well like I said to HT earlier, we won’t agree on it. It is a personal pet peeve of mine .It isn’t nitpicking, it is something I don’t like and believe it is obstruction.

                It is the only part of rugby union that is not a fair contest. Simples

        • March 16th 2013 @ 4:10am
          Chivas said | March 16th 2013 @ 4:10am | ! Report

          True but that and scrag are fond memories :-). The advantage of scrag is you didn’t even need a ball. Sometimes someone’s shoe would suffice.

        • March 16th 2013 @ 4:10am
          Chivas said | March 16th 2013 @ 4:10am | ! Report

    • March 15th 2013 @ 4:25am
      Shop said | March 15th 2013 @ 4:25am | ! Report

      Too many issure in this article to address everything but I completely agree about some scrum penalties ending up as 3 points.

      The refs always put on a stern face as if they know exactly why a scrum collapses or ends up a mess by blowing the whistle loudly and over doing the arm signal, but generally I doubt they have any idea what goes on in there.

    • March 15th 2013 @ 5:44am
      mania said | March 15th 2013 @ 5:44am | ! Report

      disagree. too much changing of rules just for the sake of it. a penalty is just that. whether its worth 3 points or not shouldnt come into the punishment. for the ref to decide whether its a kickable penalty or not is over complicating complicated laws.
      scrum infringements are by default a free kick. its not till repeated infringements that it becomes a straightarm penalty.
      games being lost by a late kick is all part of the game. rugbys strength is its diversity of tactics and strategies.
      if you (or your team) lost the game in the last minute to a penalty goal then maybe you should blame your team gameplan instead of the rules.

      • Roar Guru

        March 15th 2013 @ 6:48am
        biltongbek said | March 15th 2013 @ 6:48am | ! Report

        It isn’t about changing the rules mania, it is about simplifying them.

        • March 15th 2013 @ 6:59am
          mania said | March 15th 2013 @ 6:59am | ! Report

          biltongbek – the way i read it this idea is complicating the laws giving another level of penalties that the refs will screw up anyway.

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