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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 February 2006, 09:52 GMT
Quiz the ref
England winger Ben Cohen in action at Twickenham
Ben Cohen was the subject of many e-mails to our referees

As part of our Six Nations coverage, we are giving you the chance to quiz two top Welsh referees about the laws of the game.

This week Hugh Watkins answers your questions.

He has been a professional referee for five years, serving as a touch judge and video referee in previous Six Nations tournaments.

If you would like to contribute a question, fill in the form on the right-hand side.

Answers will be posted on the website every Tuesday after every Six Nations weekend.

Q: When Shane Williams' chip into the England in-goal area was tapped out of play by Ben Cohen's hand to prevent a try-scoring chance, should that not have been a penalty (or even a penalty try) offence for deliberately throwing/batting the ball out of play?
Jim Davies

A: Jim, under the laws you are correct to say that you cannot deliberately throw the ball out of play.

However, in this instance the referee felt that Ben Cohen was legitimately trying to go for the ball and was not deemed to be throwing the ball into touch in goal.

Q: What are the laws governing how much advantage is given to an attacking side once an infringement has occurred?

Is the advantage governed by time or distance made by the attacking side?
Chris Day

A: Chris, there are two types of advantage. The first is a penalty advantage where we allow the attacking team more time to gain territory or tactical advantage.

And then there is a knock-on advantage which we usually call after two phases of play.

We also take "undue pressure" into consideration. This means if a side is under pressure to take advantage we will always come back for the infringement.

Q: Law 19.9 relates to lifting and supporting in the line-out.

England's Steve Borthwick catches a line-out throw against Wales
The line-out is governed by a plethora of laws

Watch any televised game these days and lifting seems blatant, as does jumping before the ball, and neither seems to be penalised.

There appears to be no consistent application of these laws. Do you agree?

A: Harry, lifting or supporting a player is allowed and is perfectly legal, as long as it is not below the knees.

Jumping before the ball is thrown is down to the referee's interpretation.

He needs to talk to the players first rather than giving a free-kick, but if it continues then the referee should give a free-kick if a team are persistently doing this.

Q: When does it become illegal for a player on the defending team to put his hands on the ball during a ruck?

Referees penalise a lot of players for hands in the ruck but there are also a lot of turnovers in rucks due to the defending team stealing the ball from the tackled player.
Dom Macklin

A: A ruck is formed when players from either side are on their feet and are in close contact with each other over the ball.

In this instance a referee should call "ruck, hands away". In a tackle situation, a player may get to his feet and play the ball from any direction, provided a ruck has not been formed.

So really nobody is allowed to handle the ball once a referee has called "ruck".

Q: I was recently playing a match when a referee said lateral or straight passes were "forward".

Is this a correct interpretation of the law and what does the rule book specifically state?

A: Not really correct Jon. A throw forward occurs when a player passes or throws the ball forward. "Forward" means towards the opposing team's dead ball line.

Q: Is it correct that for the purposes of grounding the ball to score a try your arm carrying the ball is considered to be the ball? If that arm touches the ground over the line is it a try?
Rod Mathisen

Sean Lamont scores Scotland's opening try against France at Murrayfield
Players must ground the ball properly for a try

A: No Rod. There are two ways in which you can ground a ball.

  • Player touches the ground with the ball. A player grounds the ball by holding the ball and touching the ground with it, holding in the hand or arms. No downward pressure is required.

  • Player presses down on the ball. A player grounds the ball when it is on the ground in the in-goal area with his hand, arms or from the waist to the neck inclusive.

Q: How many sin-binned players on any one team does it take for a game to be forfeited?
Danny Stephens

A: As long as there are five in the scrum and there is a scrum-half to put ball in, that is all that is legally required.

But you have to make safety a priority so it is about using common sense.

Q: If a player fumbles the ball but kicks it before it hits the ground, does it count as a knock-on?
Patrick Magroyne

A: Yes it is a knock-on, and the referee will award a scrum to the non-offending team.

Q: What do you deem acceptable when a player is holding the ball on the ground?

It appears that some players get more time on the floor than others before a penalty is given.
Craig Duffin

A: Craig, the game is played on your feet and once a player has gone to ground, he must release the ball to a player who is on his feet.

In a tackle situation, the tackler must release the ball carrier and get to his feet before he can contest for the ball.

As long as a referee is consistent in his application throughout the match then that is acceptable.

Q: In a scrum situation, how do you decide which side has fouled? And also how do you choose between a free-kick and a penalty?
Chris Begg

England's forwards push in the scrum
The scrum is always a headache for referees

A: Chris, scrums are probably the hardest part of the game to referee. You have to ensure the front rows are square when they engage and that they are pushing forward once the ball has been fed.

They must also have their heads no lower than their hips. Back rows must remain bound until the scrum is over and this means binding with one full arm around a team-mate.

I suggest you try and get a hold of the laws of the game booklet or click on the IRB's laws pages as this will help you understand what are free-kick and penalty offences.

Q: I've seen some referees ask the attacking team how many players will be in the line-out. Is this now compulsory and does this include all levels of rugby?

A: It is easier for the referee to establish how many participants there are in the line-out.

He then has to give the opposition time to have the same amount of participants (or less) in their line.

Some sides may try to use it as a way to get a free-kick if they don't tell the referee how many players they have, especially if they arrive late to the line-out.

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