A couple of weeks ago, while rehydrating out at McNab Domain after a good game of Senior rugby, I was drawn into an interesting discussion.
It was between a gentleman who, as an associate referee, was one of my assistant referees during the game and some of his team mates – all of whom were similarly rehydrating
The AR was trying to convince the players that one could score a try while actually being over the touch-in-goal line. I was able to confirm that he was indeed correct.
A player who is in touch, or in touch-in-goal, can legally score a try by grounding the ball in the in-goal, providing he is not holding the ball.
In other words, all this player needs to do is press down on the ball with a hand or arm while it is in the in-goal.
The same would apply for a defender in the same position, in which case a touch-down would be awarded, resulting in either a drop-out on the 22m line or a scrum on the 5m line, depending on which team put the ball back over the tryline.
Needless to say, the players were incredulous, both at the ruling and the AR's knowledge of the rugby laws.
Associate Referees have been around in New Zealand for a few years now, but have only recently been introduced locally by the rugby union's new Referee Education Officer (REO) Jerome McCrea.
Thanks to Jerome's efforts, about twenty Associate Referees have been trained to allow them to referee schoolboy rugby and to be official AR's at Tasman Tanning Premier and Senior games locally.
In that role, they can assist the referee in any way he directs them, including reporting on foul play, as well as doing the usual duties of signalling when the ball is in touch and when the ball has gone over the crossbar at a kick at goal.
The in-goal area of the field can throw up a few curly rulings, such as the one described above.
How a try is scored is probably a good place to start.
An attacker can score a try, and a defender can make a touch-down, by being the first player to ground the ball in-goal.
Grounding the ball can be done by either holding the ball and touching the ground with it or by pressing down on the ball with a hand or hands, arm or arms, or the front of the player's body from neck to waist inclusive.
There is nothing in law that says the player grounding the ball has to have "control" of the ball, or use downward pressure, as used to be the case.
A try can also be scored by a player carrying the ball and grounding it against the goal post or the padding – providing it touches the ground while being held and is not higher up the post or padding.
Likewise, a defender can also ground the ball in a similar position and be awarded a touch-down.
Other ways a try can be scored include a player being tackled before the goal-line then reaching out and grounding the ball, providing it is done immediately.
There cannot be a double movement or a bit of a crawl to make the last few centimetres to the goal line, as is occasionally seen.
If a player is tackled short of the goal line, the momentum of this player can carry him over the goal line and a try is scored.
Again, this has to be a clear single movement and is most common when the ground is wet.
One of the more spectacular examples of a try being scored this way was Brian Williams' effort in the lake that was Eden Park in the 1975 test against the hapless Scots.
There was genuine fear that a player might drown that day, such was the amount of water lying around the ground.
These days, with the emphasis on Health and Safety, I doubt the game would ever have been allowed to start.
However, in the sole All Blacks test match of 1975, there was some incredible rugby played in the most trying of conditions.
When a player is in the act of scoring a try, a defender can attempt to pull the ball from the attacker's possession, but the defender must not kick or attempt to kick the ball out of the attacker's grasp, something that must be tempting at times.
The final tricky ruling centres around the corner post and flag.
Prior to a few years ago, if a player touched the corner post while trying to ground the ball a touch-down was awarded to the defenders, leading to a drop-out on the 22m line.
Oddly enough, the flag was not considered part of the corner post, so in theory the player could ground the ball in-goal while touching the flag (but not the post) in an aerial manoeuvre, the likes of which you often see these days.
Nowadays, if the ball-carrier touches the corner post or the flag without otherwise being in touch or touch-in-goal, a try is awarded.
There have been some pretty athletic manoeuvres carried out in the act of scoring tries while trying to avoid going into touch or touch-in-goal.
In general play, if the ball touches or comes to rest against the corner post it is deemed to be touch-in-goal.
I wonder if any of these curly ones will occur tomorrow afternoon out at McNab Domain. If so it could lead to more interesting rehydration discussions.