Six Nations law discussion: Should France’s try against Italy have stood?

Lawrence Nolan

Should Charles Ollivon's try for France against Italy have stood?

While attention naturally revolved around the last-gasp drama and technical minutiae of the Paolo Garbisi kick, it is also worth noting that France were somewhat lucky to be in contention in the first place.

Not just because they were pretty poor (by their own hitherto high standards) and not just because Italy looked galvanised, prepared and together again either, but also because the one try they scored was also a point of contention.

Charles Ollivon takes an offload a couple of metres in front of the line and is falling towards it as he juggles the ball. There’s clearly no question of a knock-on as he gains control of the ball before it hits anything else.

Twists and slides

He falls, twisting slightly as he does so, landing short of the line and with his back to the whitewash, and with the ball behind his body relative to the line. He then twists his body and slides the ball across the turf and across the line, claiming the touchdown.

Referee Christophe Ridley, who had an excellent game for the large part, goes to the TMO to check, deciding that in his view a try has been scored by France but wanting to check for the knock on. There is no knock on, so the TMO advises he can stick with his on-field decision.

Italian fans are less than happy, claiming both that Ollivon lost the ball as he slid it and that sliding the ball across the line is not legal.

Law discussion: Should Paolo Garbisi have been allowed to retake the final kick?

So is it legal? And does he have the ball? After all, we all know that a player is allowed to reach out immediately and place the ball for a try after being tackled.

Mr. Ridley gets himself into a bad position in live action, ending up with the post and the padding between himself and Ollivon. So at the crucial moment live, he really cannot see much. But when he scampers round, Ollivon’s hand is very clearly on the ball over the line.

But did he get the ball there legally?

Law 8.2.d says that a try is scored when an attacking player is tackled near to the opponents’ goal line and the player immediately reaches out and grounds the ball.

Law 21.1 a and b say that the ball can be grounded in goal a: by holding it and touching the ground with it or b: by pressing down on it with a hand or hands, arm or arms, or the front of the player’s body from waist to neck.

So Ollivon does, at some point, ground the ball.

But is what Ollivon does reaching? Not for us. Reaching would imply stretching the limb carrying the ball away from the body and placing it down – and thereby also offering the defence a contest by means of Law 21.10: If a tackled player is in the act of reaching out to ground the ball for a try or touch down, defending players may knock the ball backwards, or pull the ball from the player’s possession but must not kick or attempt to kick the ball.

But the defenders do not have the opportunity to do this in this instance. Ollivon is also immobile when he falls, so there is no momentum. And he is clearly held in the tackle, so at this point, if he cannot reach, he should release the ball.

Try should not have stood

Furthermore – and this is the clincher – Law 14.7.a says that a tackled player must immediately make the ball available so that play can continue by releasing, passing or pushing the ball in any direction except forward. They may place the ball in any direction.

Ollivon pushes the ball forward after being tackled, which is illegal. He does not reach and place the ball as the law allows. His try should not have stood – the sanction for an infringement in Law 17.7.a is a penalty against Ollivon, which should have been the outcome.

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