A point of law: Was McCabe's Yellow a Penalty

A point of law: was McCabe’s yellow even a penalty?

A point of law: was McCabe’s yellow even a penalty?

When you find yourself arguing with G&GR’s own Scott Allen, you should probably back down before you make a fool of yourself. But I’m not going to let that stop me!

Cast your mind back to 11 minutes into the Test last weekend. Pat McCabe chases the Puma winger down from a breakout, saving a try. Have a gander at the clip below. (No, there’s no audio — whaddya want for free?)

[youtube id=”LDemBnlLLFA” width=”600″ height=”350″]

When I saw it at live speed I thought  ‘What the?’ Then a saw a replay and thought ‘I guess’. But now I’m really not so sure.

Here is the Twitter discussion at the time of the incident:

Scott got it right: Wayne Barnes’s explanation was that McCabe had ‘played the 9 without the ball’.

But have a look at the video again — or even better, look at these stills (click to enlarge):













As you can see, the Argentinian number 9 clearly has his hands on the ball when McCabe hits him; as the halfback pulls the ball with him as he is pushed back by McCabe. There’s no wrestle, just a straight tackle-push, so the 9’s hands must have been on the ball the whole time. You can see in the first picture that Pat is clearly watching and waiting for the Puma’s hands to go on the ball, before hitting him.

So in my opinion, that’s no penalty as per Barnes’s ruling and therefore no yellow card.

The next thorny question, though, is whether the ruck is over. The definition of a ruck being over is ‘when the ball is out’. But when is that, exactly? Is it when the ball can ‘see daylight’? Or is it when the halfback gets his hands on it, as per the ruling at the scrum base?

Law 16 that governs the ruck makes absolutely no mention of this either way, so it’s certainly a grey area.

My goal here isn’t to have a go at Wayne Barnes (or Scott!) — I think this has had a lot of us in two minds.

So I ask you: was it a penalty?


  • Braveheart

    The only Argentinian players still involved in the ruck is the player on the ground covering the ball and the halfback.

    McCabe clearly came through the gate. Surely he has rights to either clean out the opposition 9 if he was part of the ruck or tackle him if he has the ball.

    What other counterrucking options did the Wallabies have at that point? There has to be something they can do legally.

    • Jay

      I’d say if he’d stepped over and gone for the ball rather than the hb, he’d have been ok.

      It is a harsh call when you look closely at it – as you say, it’s unclear what he could have done to win the ball back legally but given he’s on his feet and there’s no more Argie’s in the ruck (if it ever existed) he should have the right to play the ball.

      • Ian

        We should all know by now that the 50/50 calls will always go against the Wallabies.

        The same is true for all the 50/50 calls going in favour of the Black Scum.

        We just have to play better and get the refs on our side. Refs perception of a team is now a major variable in the result of a game.

        • Old Weary

          Starting to sound a little like the crud you read on SA rugby sites about some massive conspiracy – no need to go there.

          It was a breakaway and Barnes was not where he would ordinarily be rather coming from behind (no pun intended), and what it did look like was Mcabe killing a very good attacking opportunity. They do not have the benefit of slow-mo replays and stills

      • Mica

        The rules have always been a bit grey here. In the old days the scrum half had to take the ball to the base of the the ruck with your foot. I also remember a time when as soon as a player had their hands on the ball you could go for the player (SH or otherwise).

        Also a couple of years ago a player on the ground placing the ball between his legs was getting penalised for a “squeeze ball” as it was illegally protecting an opposition player on his feet having a chance to play the ball.

        I guess rugby fans find this inconsistency in interpretation frustrating. Especially on these key plays in a tight match. If it had been the ABs and we’d lost by 2 I might not be so magnanimous :)

        I would say somewhat harsh penalty – even more harsh yellow card (although a penalty given in such a position after a break would have been viewed as a professional foul and hence the card). Put it this way, I have seen a lot worse not penalised or penalised without a yellow card. Vendetta against the Wallabies though??? Come on – give me a break!!!!!



  • chick

    Who cares. It got McCabe fired up & very cranky. When he came back he played with more passion than has been seen for a long time.

    Not ideal having someone in the bin & not a recommended game plan, but, after the fact, I’ll take it and his try.

  • crans15

    I have always been told that when a bird can sh*t on the ball it’s out and the current laws mean that a halfback can have his hands on the ball as much as he wants but as long as it’s covered by the ruck he’s safe, but as soon as McCabe and the half back linked up it was a ruck regardless of whether or not his hands are on the ball, because the ball was not out yet.

    • Haven’t been able to find the “birdshit” clause in the IRB law book!

      • Jay

        There’s actually nothing in the laws that says a halfback is allowed to play the ball with his hands while it’s in the ruck.

    • suckerforred

      The ruck had already been formed prior to this, and according to the definition in the laws is them not over until the ball is out or is called over by the ref. Just because there is no pushing against each other does not mean that the ruck is over.

      • Chucka

        I don’t believe it was even a ruck… (IRB Definition “A ruck is a phase of play where one or more players from each team, who are on their feet, in physical contact, close around the ball on the ground”) McCabe was the only Wallaby player at the ruck and there were no Argies there. #10 was off his feet therefore out of play so McCabe was forming the ruck when he made contact with the 9!! Feel free to prove me wrong

        • Dirty Socks

          I agree there was no ruck. What McCabe could have done legally was close with the half back and formed one. By simply pushing him away as he did (a bit of his league background there) he committed a foul.

        • Dougs

          My feeling on the penalty or not is no it shouldn’t have been.

          My take is that rugby, unlike league, is designed to be a constant contest. You don’t get 6 goes with the ball then give it back, rather the contest for territory and possession is constant around the field… line outs/ rucks/ mauls/ scrums etc. At any time, there should be a strategy a team can use to get the ball back. Now sometimes teams concede possession, for example when the other team has 6 blokes standing over the ball in a ruck, but the opposing team could still send in half a dozen players to blow over the ruck and win the ball back (such as the All Blacks do periodically and quite well) but they usually don’t as it’s unlikely to win the ball and will leave them exposed elsewhere.

          Following this logic, I think there should have been some way for McCabe to contest possession. Either (as I believe) it was not a ruck as there was no opposing Wallaby (yes I know there was once earlier), in which case a halfback has his hands on the ball in general play and McCabe is entitled to tackle him.

          Alternatively, it was a ruck. In this case, the Argie bridging over the ball is not on his feet and is obliged therefore to role away from the ball, exposing it and allowing McCabe to play it. In this case, it should be penalty Wallabies.

          I’m not having a go at the ref, I’m not usually a Wayne Barnes fan but thought he did a pretty good job. I felt for McCabe after a monster effort to be sent like that

        • Who Needs Melon

          Dirty Socks, if there’s no ruck then it’s just McCabe tackling an opposition player who has the ball, isn’t it? How is that a foul?

          However you see it this was such a bullshit call by the ref. And with the amount of doubt in there it’s definitely not a yellow card. I was up and screaming at the telly when this happened but I think the Wallabies all acted pretty reasonably. Credit to them.

  • rugbysmartarse

    the rule as it was explained to me as a junior, is that the ball is out of a ruck if a bird can shit on it. Looking at Still #2 that ball is in the ruck, and McCabe has tackled the halfback while the ball is still in the ruck. That said, I think it is more an offside penalty than a professional foul

    • Tiger

      If the ball was still in the ruck then should the Argie halfback have been pinged for hands in the ruck?

      • Jay

        As above – there is actually nothing in the laws that says a halfback is allowed to put his hands in the ruck (or allowed to stand in an offside position to clear the ball) but convention allows them to do both those things.

    • So, as long as the bird can’t shit on it, it can just stay there indefinitely?

      Let’s say the Argies were actually in their own 22 at this ‘ruck’, defending. As long as the ball couldn’t be shat on, does that mean the Puma 9 can just stand there with his hands on the ball for as long as he likes waiting for the defence to re-form and that McCabe and all other Wallabies have no option but to stand there and watch him?

      Considering this type of situation happens quite frequently I’m surprised teams haven’t started to use it more – sounds perfect.

      As for offside – Barnes doesn’t even mention it and I think you’re offtrack. McCabe comes through the gate and over the ball at a ruck. How on earth can he be offside?

      • Blinky Bill of Bellingen

        The ‘if the bird can shit on it’ is used to simplify things. And fair enough.

        However, as someone who lives on acreage, let me assure you that ducks can manage to shit at some pretty amazing angles and would nail that ball long before it was out.

        Disgusting but true ;)

  • Jez

    By the letter of the law, it definitely isn’t even a ruck. There is no-one on their feet bound to anyone from either team, let alone there being one from each team which is the definition of a ruck in the rulebook.

    • suckerforred

      See above……….

    • robbo

      McCabe came over the top of the man on the ground and lying on him when he shoved the 9 – he joined the ruck. As someone above said if he had attacked the ball rather than the man he would (should) have been OK so long as he appeared to be supporting his own weight. The only difference any of the above makes is – tackling a man without the ball in an attacking position is a yellow card offence. Is manhandling the 9 similar or just a penalty?

  • suckerforred

    We had this discussion yesterday…… I hate the law with regards to when if a ruck is over or not and believe that it needs clarification.

    I can see the arguement for it being a penality, based on how ref’s have treated the #9 in the past. i.e. don’t touch him until he clearly has the ball. I have an issue with it being a yellow card……

    A Professional foul is a deliberate illegal act. In no way can that be call deliberately illegal. McCabe could see that the 9 had the ball & therefore thought he had rights to tackle him.

    We are always going to have ref’s interpretating the laws though…..

    • Northern exposure

      Won’t the 5 second at the back of the ruck rule help clear up something like this. Under that rule McCabe just needs to wait until 5 seconds are up and then he has a right to take the ball anyway. It looks like he just got his timing wrong and from certain angles it just looks like he pushed the halfback out of the way. If a ref could watch things from different angles they might change their calls but first up it looked like he just pushed the halfback out of the way which made it appear cynical and worse than it actually was. Also after pushing him he just stands and watches which adds to the idea he just pushed him out of the way. If he had of grabbed him and pushed him it would have looked more like a clean out.
      The confusing part though is that how often do you see forwards blow over the ball taking everyone near out of the way so really why can’t he push him off the ball and step over the ruck. He did nothing illegal to get there.
      I don’t think it is the refs fault either. I think it is just the nature of the rules of rugby that leaves a lot to interpretation. I also think though that some of that is what makes rugby such a great game too.

      • Red Kev

        Not really – the 5 second rule is from when the ball is available, if the ball was available the Arg 9 wouldn’t have had his hands up the winger’s date trying to get a grip and work it loose.

  • Pedro

    My thought was that it wasn’t a penalty.

    Sometimes I feel like the ref thinks “that’s a back, he’s probably doing something illegal”. But then the whole half back at the ruck thing is a bit grey so I’m not really dirty about it.

    I think “when the ball is out” really needs clarification. I understand that if a bird can shit on it it’s out, but I also think players shouldn’t be able to handle the ball unless they’re removing it, give a second for them to do this, then call ball’s out.

  • D-Box

    There is a distinct difference though between playing the halfback and cleaning out. Macabe did not reach over the ruck and scrag/take out the half early. He has come though the ruck (and that bit looks legal) and cleaned out the last Argentinean player. It is the Argentinean’s fault there was no protection.

    If the halfback has bound rather than putting his hands on the ball we wouldn’t be having this conversation

  • stinger

    I think penalty but no yellow. It was one of those 50/50 timing ones. McCabe probably jumped the gun a fraction but I don’t think he deliberately killed the play.

    Ask yourself if the argentinian was wearing gold and McCabe was wearing black and had a #7 on his back what would you be yelling at the telly???

  • Jimbo81

    The real question is what the hell was McCabe doing in a gold jersey in the first place?

    • McKenzie

      The guy has passion but no size, step or passing game. Part of me likes a hard-nut that has a go, but my head says McCabe is just not there.

    • Barbarian

      No, no that is not the real question at all.

      The real question here is about discussion of a grey area in the current laws.

      Do you have an opinion on that Jimbo?

      • Jimmy

        Jimbo has one MO and that’s to bag anyone who doesn’t play for the Reds. He ignores all logic, popular opinion and facts while he partakes in this activity.

        What a ridiculous post to add to what was otherwise an interesting discussion around the vagueness of current laws concerning the ruck.

    • Left Field

      McCabe got there cause he sprinted like a madman, showed some genuine pace, made the tackle, came through the gate and cleaned out.

      • Jimmy

        Exactly, McCabe chased down a man who he wasn’t responsible for marking and who, in theory, should have easily had him for pace. He did this despite the fact that no other (supposedly faster) Wallabies could be bothered chasing. Then he almost pulled off a piece of play that would have given the ball to the Wallabies.

        My hats off to him. The bloke is the type of player we should be encouraging. A team full of players with that sort of commitment probably would have won us the WC last year.

        • Chiller

          Cooper was chasing as well, and was the first to the ruck.

    • Lee Enfield

      On a side note, I didn’t realise McCabe was that fast.

    • mudskipper

      Thankfully mcCabe was in teh Greena nd Gold and made the Trackle… otherwise the Puma player would have scored and Wallabies lost teh match… McCabe is an asset in the current team…

    • Saving a try and scoring another?

      One of our gutsiest players who got us to that RWC Semi. Self-administer an uppercut Jimbo81. Your one-eyed negativity has gone past its used by date

      • Jimbo81

        Harris, Tapuai or Faingaa would have made the tackle AND contributed something (anything) to the attack all game, probably not given away a penalty and gained a turnover as well! It was only bloody Argentina for FS!

        As for the try – he dived over on a crash ball where we had 3 other players that were all going to score regardless of who received the pass. Pretty pedestrian stuff! I am at a loss to understand why a player that is so average gains so much acclaim on this site.

        Deans is selecting yes men and tahs to prop up their terrible 2012 season. The selections are not based on form at all!

        • boutbloodytime

          Unfortunately Jimbo, we’ve been saying things like ‘It’s only Argentina for FS’ for too long….like ‘It’s only Scotland for FS’, ‘It’s only Ireland for FS’ & “It’s only Samoa for FS’…

          Professionalism comes from respecting the other team (no matter who they are), doing your job better than the opposition & getting the result…it’s this lack of professionalism & perhaps even arrogance that has lost us too many games that should have been in the bag.

          McCabe, despite various deficiencies in his game (every player has weaknesses) is willing to bust his gut time & again, to learn, listen & work on his deficiencies & has definitely earnt his place in this side & repaid the faith Deans has shown in him.

          You may be right…Taps, Harris, Faianga etc etc may have been able to make that tackle & score a ‘pedestrian’ try as you described it….that’s all pretty academic & irrelevant though…

          Fact is, McCabe DID do it…he may or may not be the best 12 in Australia (everyone is entitled to their varied opinions), but he’s the current 12, so maybe accept that the guy gives his all for the team & get behind the Wallabies…they got a kicking on here when they didn’t seem to give a shit at the start of the tournament (I was a huge critic), but now when they’re gutsing out a couple of tough wins, let’s give them some credit when it’s due, they’ve earned it.

        • Jimmy

          Fingers and Harris are just as limited as McCabe so your argument is pointless.

  • johnny-boy

    Despite not being a big fan of McCabe at 12 due to his limitations (despite having tons of guts and enthusiasm) I thought the chase and attempt to get the halfback by McCabe was very very good play. Ridiculous penalty.

    • BloodRed

      Similarly alittle later one of the wallabies was cleaned out in very similar circumstances whilst standing in the half back position at a ruck. He didn’t even have his hands on the ball so an even more clear cut penalty but no whistle blown at all. The difference? – it was one of our forwards filling as half and not the number 9 . Maybe the refs feel they have to protect the yappy little blokes

      • BloodRed

        PS I agree McCabe deserved a penalty but the yellow card was a bit much. There were already 5 or 6 defenders back and in position when he took out the halfback

  • Bruwheresmycar

    It is a grey area, whether or not the ball is out, comes down to the refs digression. For most though:

    The ball is out of the ruck when it clearly leaves the ruck, either once someone has clearly picked the ball off the ground, or if the ball rolls out of the ruck at is in clear daylight.

    A good guide, is that if you aren’t sure, don’t go yet.

    Remember a lot of this is about gut feeling, for players and refs. And you really had to be out there to know for sure if the decision was warranted. On TV it looks like the call could go either way, and on reflection McCabe should either drive over the ruck, or if he is going to tackle the halfback, wait for the ruck to end and don’t dive over the ruck to get the 9.To remove any uncertainty.

    • How would he have driven over the ruck without engaging the 9 in some way?

  • Dally M

    Even if it was a penalty, it was certainly a line ball timing thing and not a professional foul worthy of a yellow card.

    • justtacklehim

      Whilst I agree with you, it would be a brave ref who penalises in that situation and doesn’t put his hand in his pocket.

  • Jets

    Having a look at the law book I think you will find there isn’t one law for the offence but it is a combination of a few laws. I have cut and pasted the relevant laws below.

    As the ball is still in the ruck the halfback can not be touched. Even though his hands are on the ball the ruck is not over (16.6). As the ball is still in the ruck the halfback is not yet in possession of the ball. McCabe is therefore not allowed to play the halfback, hence the penalty (10.4 (f)). Barnes has then made the ruling that McCabe has intentionally offended and as such has deemed he needs to be put in the bin (10.2 (a)).

    I know some of you will argue that the law isn’t particularly clear about the ruling but as with any law there is an understanding as to how they are interpreted.

    Referees also tend to be harsher when the opposition have a perceived opportunity to score.

    A ruck ends successfully when the ball leaves the ruck, or when the ball is on or over the
    goal line.

    10.4 (f) Playing an opponent without the ball. Except in a scrum, ruck or maul, a player who is
    not in possession of the ball must not hold, push or obstruct an opponent not carrying the
    Sanction: Penalty kick

    10.2 UNFAIR PLAY
    (a) Intentionally Offending. A player must not intentionally infringe any Law of the Game, or
    play unfairly. The player who intentionally offends must be either admonished, or cautioned
    that a send off will result if the offence or a similar offence is committed, or sent off.
    Sanction: Penalty kick

    • Jimmy

      Gee 10.4 eh.

      By that law the All Blacks should have been penalised at every breakdown for the last 6 years.

      Great effort to did through these laws btw.

      I think this discussion really highlights a very big problem with the game at the moment. Even if the referee is good (and that’s a big if), for every breakdown there are a number of penalties that could go wither way. And more importantly, even with slow motion, a copy of the rule book, a few days to examine still shots, there are still arguments about whether or not it should have been awarded. What hope does the guy in the middle have of delivering a clear decision?? Not much I’d say.

      The IRB really need to sit down and clarify the rules around the breakdown because “interpretation” is making it impossible for teams to know which way to react in a given situation.

    • Jets – the 9 clearly has the ball, how else does he pull it out with him?

      • Who?

        First off, I’m a big Wayne Barnes fan. I like the way he runs a game. Secondly, I rarely disagree with anything Scott Allen has to say. But… It was wrong. The penalty was for attacking the halfback without the ball, yet the ball came out when the half was tackled. So that’s a myth clearly busted.

        In other interpretations… I’d argue the first penalty is sealing off by Argentina. The 10 went straight to ground over the tackled player. Then, rather than rolling away as required, he drove through the ruck on his knees. Another penalisable offense (it’s effectively not rolling away, the same as defenders rolling towards the ball).

        It’s debatable whether a ruck had been formed – either it had because the 10 found his feet for a split second, or it hadn’t, because he and McCabe never bound correctly. Let’s remember, holding the jersey isn’t a bind. Next, McCabe CLEARLY came through the gate. So there’s no offside or similar there.

        The last point is the contact with the 9. Either he’s making a legitimate tackle, because the 9 has his hands on the ball, or he’s driving through the breakdown. If he’s not allowed to tackle the 9 who has his hands on the ball, then there’s even more offside calls not being made every game (because players always advance the moment the 9 grabs the ball), and we should get Hooper and Pocock to wear 9. Because clearly, if hands on the ball isn’t the same as cleared the ruck, then he’s playing a ball in the ruck. And given that an Argentine body which is not contesting the ruck (not attempting to stand up, etc) is impeding access to the ball, it’s very arguable that it’s not been released. There was a penalty later in the match (or was it against the Boks?) against Samo off the back of a scrum for ‘not releasing’ when the ball was vaguely under his leg. How’s that any less ‘not released’ than when the ball’s hiding under a torso? It’s worth noting that in Juniors, ‘Squeezeball’ is a penalty for sealing off. So, either hands on the ball is ‘cleared the ruck’, or it’s ‘sealing off’.

        There’s no card, not even a penalty. Not against McCabe, anyway. It should’ve just been play on.

        And I might add that, all year, my kids’ team’s copped it when they’ve gone for the ball like the Puma 9 did rather than cleaning out! If you’re there and there’s no one else protecting the ball, you go in. You don’t try and pick up a ball when the opposition is about to monster you.

    • Dave

      Jets, there have been plenty of occasions when refs rule that hands on the ball means the ruck is over despite what the law book simplistically states. There definitly needs to be some clarification by the IRB in this area.

      To me it’s fairly simple, Barnes got it wrong. It shouldn’t have been the penalty he deemed it to be, playing the 9 without the ball. He clearly (ok maybe not that clearly) had hands on the ball, McCabe came from an onside position and hit him legally. And it appears, like Gagger wrote, that McCabe seemed to wait for the HB to grab the ball before he advanced.

      Giving Barnes the benefit of the doubt he was more than likely mistaken about the 9 having his hands on the ball and therefore in his mind could only have deemed McCabe to have committed a professional foul, tackling a player without the ball.
      Whether it was a ruck or not is actually irrelevant.

      It’s a shame because had the penalty not been given it would have been one for McCabe’s highlight reel. He would have chased down the winger and more than likely caused a turnover. Kinda brilliant. Thanks for ruining that Wayne. (Not really his fault, I’ve watched it 20 times and am still unsure)

  • pants

    i watched a replay of the game last night and i though Wayne actually did a pretty good job. I agree he got this one wrong though but there were moments at the end of the game where he awarded penalties to us in our half of the field that had they gone the other way, we could be sacking Robbie now. Hang on…

  • Alan H

    The point is, there was no ruck. ( IRB “A ruck is a phase of play where one or more players from each team, who are on their feet, in physical contact, close around the ball on the ground”) There were no Argentinian players on their feet in contact with an Australian player over the ball. The tackled player was off his feet and should have rolled away. As there is no ruck there is obviously no halfback to a ruck. The Argie with his hands on the ball is simply a player in contact with the ball. He can be tackled. Barnes was simply wrong, as he often is.

  • Red Kev

    Argentinian 10 and Australian 12 are in contact over the ball while on their feet (secs 5 & 6 of video) therefore a ruck has formed. (sorry Alan H but the tackled player does NOT have to roll away, the tackler does).
    The ruck is not over until the ball is cleared.
    The halfback is attempting to do this and is interferred with by McCabe.
    I think it was a penalty, I think a yellow was harsh but I can understand why Barnes ruled it that way – you can hear him say they had a genuine overlap try scoring opportunity.

    Now there are several grey areas with the ruling.
    Number one is that for the Australians to counter-ruck in that situation they have to play at the halfback.
    Number two is that when rucking was outlawed the interpretation of playing the ball in the ruck was loosened so that halfbacks could dig for the ball with their hands, in other words the fact the halfback has his hands on the ball does not put him “in play” unless the ball is also clear.
    Number three is that it is illegal to play at the halfback (even when he has cleared the ball) by diving over the ruck and leaving your feet. McCabe clearly leaves his feet (knee on the ground is off your feet) as he plays at the halfback in the clip (sec 8 of the clip), so for mine he’s still in the wrong.

    Penalty, absolutely.
    Card, harsh but understandable.

  • Lance Taylor

    No time to read all the responses but two points as an old ref
    1) You cannot see if his hands are on the ball, you can see him reaching for the ball
    2) The ball is out when the ref thinks / says so – not before so McCabe should have either waited until the ball was clearly out or asked.

    • I agree that the ref definitely didn’t have the view McCabe did, but when the Argentinian cam backwards with the ball, surely that answered the question?

  • MattyP

    Clearly a ruck formed, and has been correctly pointed out by some, in this situation, the phase of play remains under the Ruck section of the laws until either the ball is out of the ruck or becomes unplayable. The “it’s out if a bird can sh!t on it” is like an unflushable turd for referees. I don’t know who laid it, but it stinks, and is just plain wrong in law. The ball is out when it is out. We all want to see the ball being played by the team in possession. Taking out the halfback just negates teams’ ability to play rugby. Pat McCabe had nobody to push against because instead of driving into the Argie 10 when they came into contact, he essentially played matador, and pulled him through. If he had rucked in the text book manner – binding on, driving the opposition player back – this wouldn’t have happened, and he would have had the right to contest possession. As it was, pulling the white player through gave him a clean shot at the halfback. He took that shot early, killing a promising Argie attack, and fully deserved 10 minutes cooling off time.

    Referees have for many years (basically since the end of proper rucking) allowed someone not bound in the ruck (in the halfback position) to pick the ball out with their hands, provided that it is “won” (as in, you can’t go ripping the ball out of a ruck while both teams are contesting for it). It’s not a specific law, just a sensible application of the laws of the game. The ball needs to come out of rucks for us to actually see some rugby.

    • Scotty

      Actually MattyP it seems to me that the first Argie in support actually just dove onto his own player, then got up to try and clean out McCabe, who didn’t really do much other than get out of his way.

      First penalty should have gone to the Wallabies for the Pumas sealing off the ball at the ruck?!

  • Scotty

    I just want to know that lazy arrogant Quade Cooper is doing all the way back there in cover defense when clearly he should have been standing at the Argie 22 having a go at other players for losing the pill.

    Damn him.

    • BloodRed

      Good point. Also worth noting that while McCabe puts the Argie to ground he fails to hold on which permits the Puma to get back to his feet. It is then actually Quade who effects the tackle after chasing just as hard as Pat. How dare he! Thankfully nobody has noticed so there has been no need to give him any credit for playing like he gives a damn.

      • TerribleTowel

        agree with you Blood red, would like to add further to that by pointing out that Quade Cooper is clearly not chasing at 100% because he has worked out that McCabe’s got his man, and is deliberately clogging the Argie’s inside support channel. It’s excellent team defence by both of them.

  • Nutta


    We are over-complicating the bejeezus out of it.

    1. McC was the tackler. As such, provided he released the tacklee and is back on his feet then he is allowed to contest the ball from any angle until cleaned out – no penalty there

    2. There was no ruck. There was not two opposing players contesting a ball on the ground. The Argies had no one on their feet. Therefore there is no ruck to be offside at or for there to be a “gate”to come through – no penalty there

    3. IF there was a ruck formed btwn McC tackle and regaining his feet, he would have to enter that ruck through “the gate” which coincidently he did – no penalty there

    4. The Argie No9 had no protected status as a No9 as there was no ruck. As there was no ruck he was contesting an open ball on the ground. Thus he is entitled to be bumped out & attacked as such (can’t say “cleaned out” as there is no ruck to “clean out” from and in such case would be “tackling without the ball”) – no penalty there

    The call was bullshit. IF the Argie player who got there first had kept his feet then it would have been different.

    • Red Kev

      I suggest you actually watch the video.
      1 – McCabe wasn’t the tackler, Cooper was.
      2 – There was a ruck, a ruck is formed when at least one player from each team comes into contact over the ball at a tackle. Gold 12 and White 10 fulfill this requirement.
      The ruck is then not over until the ball is cleared.
      The fact that Gold 12 pulls White 10 through the ruck in a ‘reverse clean out’ does not mean the ruck no longer exists.
      3 – There was a ruck and McCabe wasn’t the tackler.
      4 – There was a ruck therefore you can’t play the nine. What McCabe should have done was linked with an arriving Wallaby and driven over the tackled player and remained on their feet, then allowed a third Wallaby to be a halfback where the ball was on their side of the ruck.

      • Nutta

        I’ll give you that – I was wrong in that McC wasn’t the tackler.

        So that means my point 1 is irrelevant.

        But that doesn’t change the fundametal issue that there was no ruck at the point where McC drove forward. Yes there was a ruck until Argie lost his feet. Then there wasn’t one. Thus McC did nothing wrong.

        Further though, even if there WAS a ruck, McC still coincidently came from his own tryline and drove forward through the ficticious ruck “gate” on his feet until he contacted an opponent. What’s really interestng though was that the Argie McC ran into HAD HIS HANDS ON THE BALL. This meant that even if there WAS a ruck, it was now over anywy! And thus was actually entitled to tackle him

        But on reflection I think we have all missed the most crucial law of all – that the ref is the sole judge of time, law & score! He thought it was wrong and so it was wrong. I’m not saying he was right, only that our opinion makes no diff!

        • Red Kev

          The halfback hands on the ball is a myth. Since rucking was outlawed that has never been a solid point of law – referees interpret it only if the ball is free and clear of obstruction within the ruck, because you can’t clear the ball from a ruck without putting hands on it.

  • Gus

    And this is why Mungo ball was invented. To keep their easily confused minds away from detailed discussions like this one.

    Fantastic stuff.

  • dudebudstud

    As a referee myself I would argue that the offense wasn’t even worth of a penalty. McCabe enters through the gate, a ruck is not formed as the Arg player immediately loses his feet. In fact Argentina could have been penalized for sealing off the ball.

    Here’s an exercise to try. Replace the Arg #9 with a prop, and instead of attempting to pick up the ball, the Arg prop was going to pick and drive from that same tackle, would you penalize McCabe for his actions?

    • TSR

      In my view yes, that would be still a penalty. You can’t reach across the breakdown and impede a player, prop or otherwise, who is deemed not to be in the breakdown. Its still on offence. However, in my understanding McCabe is quite entitled to drive past the ball (if he stays on his feet) and if this means the half gets driven clear that is fine. I felt it was a tough call, but technically right (including the yellow card)

    • BloodRed

      That very thing happened a subsequent ruck when an Oz forward standing at halfback was taken out by an Argie. Didn’t have his hands on the ball so clear cut penalty to my mind but no whistle, no penalty, no card. Consistency please Mr Barnes. I guess forwards are viewed as forwards at a ruck an can be cleaned out no matter what role they are filling at that moment

  • Latts

    Ruck was formed as Blue ten joins and comes into contact with McCabe around the 6 second mark. Ball doesn’t leave the ruck visibly, therefore McCabe cant play at the halfback. Penalty.

    Yellow card is up for debate, but as a referee I would have given one in that scenario. It was a red zone offence which prevented fast ball from the breakdown. Whether he meant it or not, to a referee it looks like a deliberate attempt to slow the ball and prevent positive, attacking play. Argentina were exceptionally disadvantaged by the offence.

    Totally fair in my mind, and as a bonus he came back on and was excellent.

    • Barnes’ penalty was for the halfback not having the ball – clearly he did.

      Where’s “leaving the ruck visibly” in the laws? Surely a player on his feet with the ball in would mean the ruck was then over?

      • Train Without A Station

        McCabe is merely counter rucking is he not? He blows over the player over the ground, through the gate and legally removes the player protecting the ball. Is it even relevant what position he is? If he was a piggie would it have been ok?

  • Brumby Runner

    Interesting that different referees above see the incident differently. To my mind, the Argentina 10 made no attempt to bind with McCabe but merely dove in to seal off the ball. That would have been the first infringement.

  • Blackness

    So for arguments sake, let’s just say the defence is wearing black. So you are trying to tell me, if they were confronted with a halfback trying to dig a ball out from under another player with not one blocker in front of them, they would wait like well trained cocker spaniels, perfectly poised and ready to pounce but allow the halfback time to get the ball out and play on? I’m going to suggest they would do exactly what McCabe did AND get the turn over AND it would feature in the post match wrap as one of the best plays of the night. Tell you what if I’m wrong, I’ll move to NZ. Ok that’s a lie, not even kiwis move to NZ.

    • bill

      I seem to recall the all blacks doing just this to Genia a time or two over the last year and the discussion was why don’t our forwards provide a better platform and protection, not why aren’t the refs consistent in this area.

      I thought it was a bit harsh on McCabe but I’d be happy to see him penalised if there was consistency in the area.

      On a side note I think McCabe has improved, but lordy me what the hell is he doing when he does pass the ball, a few times that game he actually turned his body to make a pass rather than just passing the pill like a rugby player. I think he was passing to his left when he did it and they weren’t long passes either. I’m starting to understand why he’s been reluctant to pass before, he doesn’t appear confident in his ball skills.

      Maybe it’s all a cunning ploy, conceivably he could shield the ball with this motion and then step the defender he has his back to who had been thinking he was clumsily passing.

    • Red Kev

      The way to get the turnover and the way the All Blacks do it, is for two players to link and drive over the halfback.
      McCabe’s problem is that he grabbed at the halfback with his hands and he did it solo.
      It is a grey area but the perception of one guy doing it is ‘interfering with the halfback’ if you have two players driving through the ref will think ‘counter-ruck’.

  • T

    It’s a hard one, and we often hear criticism of rugby because there are these grey areas in the laws, but I reckon that’s just a necessary by product of having a constant contest for possession. I always think a measure of a good movie is if it makes you think/talk about it later, it’s half the fun.

    Does seem that halfbacks get preferential treatment at the back of a ruck, would it be a card or penalty if he had 3 on his back?

    • Dirty Socks

      They only get preferential treatment if they are not touching the ball. As soon as it is touched they are fair game.

      • T

        Obviously that’s the way it’s meant to be, I’m just saying that as a spectator and player it has always felt like referees are more sensitive to people touching halfbacks.

        I’m not even saying it’s a bad thing, it keeps the game flowing.

  • T

    Footnote: it’s half the fun if it’s sensible debate, not Jimbo style stupidity.

  • Schadenfreude

    1) There is no law about protecting the “9”, it could never be applied to a reserve halfback, and how are you supposed tell what number a guy has on his back.

    2) The “halfback” rule is applied in mauls and rucks to stop players being pulled into the ruck. It’s often commented that when a player “comes through the middle” of a ruck he has rights to play the ball with his feet in the ruck, or hands if its out.

    3) If this ruling were evenly applied, counter rucks would never happen.

    4) if McCabe was wearing 9 would he then have rights?

    5) Argentinians could have been penalized for lying on the ball, or going off their feet before McCabe “infringed”.

    6) is there anything stopping the entire team wearing 9 on their back?

    • T

      I don’t know if you’re replying to my comment, but I wasn’t saying there is or should be a rule based literally on the number on someone’s back!

      Just saying I reckon it’s the way things seem to happen.

  • BigAl

    If the law was applied that way against the AB’s they would be a lesser quality side.

  • Hawko

    I watched it in real time twice and then wondered exactly how much time McCabe had to decide whether the player was acting as halfback or actually acting as a supporting member of the ruck. Because the 9 has his hands buried between the runners legs it looks, especially from McCabes viewpoint that the 9 is actually acting as a member of the ruck and therefore available for clean-out. He must have had tenths of a second to make this decision at best.
    Under those circumstances, yellow is way too harsh. Overall, the problem is not him making a wrong decision but that the ruck rules are so complex. When the halfback was not allowed to dig out the ball, but the members of the ruck had to propel it back, such decisions were clearcut. But then we all got worried about rucking and stopped requiring ruck participants to get it back to the halfback then decisions within micro seconds became really important.
    As LG often says, changing the rules usually has unintended consequences.

  • D.

    Plain and simple, wrong call by Wayne Barnes

  • Trys NOT Kicks

    Not a penalty.
    1. The scrum half had his hands on the ball making him fair game
    2. The Argentinian player in the ruck flopped off his feet and as such is out of play and can not be seen as part of the ruck. As such McCabe is perfectly in titled to go through the gate and mince the opposing player on the ball.

    Shocking call

  • JT

    To the letter of the law, maybe it wasn’t a penalty, but if you want running rugby, you have to err on the side of the attacking team’s ability to clear the ruck. It probably was harsh on McCabe, but it’s good for the game to give the team on the charge the chance to spin it in the 50/50 moments – even if the laws are murky. I hope the ref calls the same way if Ioane made a break and then Nonu gets Genia before the ball is in daylight.

  • Schadenfreude

    Ok so lets take this to its conclusion.

    There seems to be a fair number of people saying the ruck wasn’t over and that you can’t tackle the halfback ever.

    So McCabe is supposed to wait. The next Australian players turn up and wait around as well, because they are bound by the same non-existent rule.

    The Argentinian player lying on the ground is supposed to roll out of the ruck, so he does, and the ball just lies there on the ground with the Argentinian’s hands on it.

    Should the players then just stand around all day until the “9” decides to pass?

    Where is the “last feet” to keep players on side?

    • Red Kev

      Try reading the IRB law clarifications. Once a ruck has formed it doesn’t end until the criteria for ending a ruck are met. The defending team can all get up off their feet and step back into the defensive line and wait and it is still a ruck. The players from the team in possession off their feet can all stand up and move back onside and it is still a ruck.

      • Schadenfreude

        OK, I’ll read them:


        4. Can the referee allow a player coming from his side to hit the arm of the
        opponent as this opponent has the ball in his hands, by staying on his feet but being in contact with players on the ground in front of him?

        4. Yes. If the player was on his feet and came from an onside position.

        Also – the law clarifications state that when the ball leaves the ruck then the ruck is over – if the ruck moves away, then the ball has left the ruck hasn’t it?

  • dudebudstud

    I think the fact that McCabe pushed the Arg 9 made it look a lot more suspicious than it actually was. Imagine the ruck (if there even is one in this case) was much more defined and Arg 10 was still on his feet. If McCabe reaches over and pushes or pulls the 9 it would seem like he’s playing the man outside the ruck/without the ball.
    However in this case there are no Arg players on their feet. If McCabe had stepped over them and took up a position to counter ruck, he would have come into contact with the Arg 9, but it could not be argued that he was interfering or playing the man without the ball, he was simply counter rucking.

    Also it can be argued that the Arg 9 is still digging for the ball and not in the ruck, but if McCabe had waited a half second for the Arg 9 to have the ball fully in hand and about to pass, he could have smashed him with no issues.

  • Schadenfreude

    Also the first supporting Argentinian player is clearly not supporting his own weight, crawling on his hands.

  • Robson

    After reading all these (mostly well informed) responses to the question posed I’m convinced of only two things.

    Firstly Wayne Barnes – irrespective of what the facts may or may not be – THOUGHT that the No. 9 didn’t have his hands on the ball and secondly then ASSUMED that McCabe’s actions were executed with sinister intent.

    So the equation is thought + assumption = a yellow card. Can’t blame Barnes too much for that, it must happen a million times a year and in fairness the ref otherwise had a pretty good game.

    • Dave

      Couldn’t agree more.

  • boutbloodytime

    My 2 cents on this for what it’s worth…in real time it’s a pretty line ball decision and the ref only gets to see it in real time to make a split second decision, so the penalty is probably warranted on the ref’s interpretation.

    On replay, the fact the ball comes backwards with the 9 when McCabe tackles/cleans him out etc suggests 9 has control over the ball ready to play the ball, and if the Argies had the overlap as suggested by Barnes (his justification for the yellow card), then it stands to reason that 9 would be playing the ball to get it out ASAP to take advantage of the overlap…again in real time it is a lineball decision that could go either way, no problem with the penalty there.

    BUT, my contention is with the ref’s interpretation of McCabe’s intention and the resulting yellow card/professional foul…I’m not suggesting the ref do psych analysis of all players as that’d be ridiculous, but in my opinion, McCabe is one of the players less likely to be guilty of cynical play/playing the man/professional fouls etc, hence the yellow card/interpretation of a professional foul was probably harsh.

    It may be a bit off topic but the important and most encouraging thing for me was the desperate defence that prevented a try, that McCabe came back all fired up & the Wallabies showed some ticker & got the win!.

    That scrambling defence & AAC’s superman ninja tackle the week before have given me some confidence in this Wallabies side & if they can iron out some of their deficiencies in attack, the gap between 1 & 2 will be a lot narrower than Deans et al would have us believe.

  • baz

    i havn’t read all of the comments but the point being missed is the “squeeze ball” is the actual problem. It was outlawed, for good reason, several years ago but referee’s have allowed it to creep back into the game. A tackled player who is isolated, should not be able to protect the ball under his body from defending players attempting to gain possession.

    Not only does it place the player on the grounds neck in a dangerous position, it prevents opposition achieving a legal turn over. Coaches and players will continue until referees penalise isolated players from preventing turnovers by using this technique. If it is allowed to continue, we may as well play league without the tackle count!

    Also as a result of the squeeze ball technique being employed by more and more players/teams, many “rucks” are not actually rucks now. Becoz defending teams cannot access the squeeze ball, they don’t even try. Instead they all line up and defend. contemplate this: you may wish to contmplate this: No ruck, no offside line. No offside line, a shambles!

    IMHO it should be outlawed immediatley. Initialy it would result in more turnovers (from which most open running play and tries currently originate becoz defensive lines aren’t set) and eventualy as coaches and teams adjusted, would result in more players in rucks both competing for and protecting ball, opening holes in the current 14 man defensive wall which is rugby’s current achilles heel

  • bill

    Pretty dramatic tweets from Quade, sensible enough in his views, but this will not go down well with autocrats like O’Neill and Nucifora. O’Neill’s had a hard on for player power since Nuci got lame ducked.

    It’s going to need some maturity from head office or they’ll be pushing our best rugby player in a generation out the door. I’m not saying treat Cooper with kid gloves but if they lose him they’ll survive but be infinitely poorer for it. Unless they want to naturalise Benji. There’s enough recognition of the complexity of the situation in Cooper’s comments that it doesn’t have to be a bloodbath. It’ll be interesting to see if the egos involved will see it that way though.

  • Goldih

    Talking about grey areas (maybe a little off topic) but.. surely when there is a pile of players of their feet the ruck is over – meaning the balls up for grabs. Imagine if McCabe had grabbed the ball instead – would he have infringed?

  • fatprop

    I watched the incident on one replay and it showed the action from McCabes view. (behind him)

    The 9 looked to be protecting the ball, bridging over it. Not digging in to clear it.

    Looked as if it could have been deemed a valid clearout through counter ruck as well.

    • Dave

      Yup. I think McCabe was dudded in every single way. Great chase and run down. He rode out the players coming into the ruck but falling off their feet, then conceivably waited for the 9’s hands on the ball, then came from an onside position to affect the tackle/cleanout.
      He was then given a yellow card for his efforts. Great stuff!

    • housebrick

      It’s totally a fair call to say McCabe was dudded along with the Wallabies.

      however given the circumstances (argies well on the attack, ball well and truly buried in there and McCabe more playing a man not in the ruck rather than moving over the ruck himself) would we not be ok with a penalty but no card?

      Lets face it it looked dramatic and he’s not Richie. Sad, but that’s often what refs call on don’t they?

  • McCabe should have attacked the player on the ground to roll him off the ball. Or go for the ball itself as he is on his feet.

    While it may only be convention it makes perfect sense to protect the attacking team that the hb is “protected” while the ball is still inside the ruck.And it is a ruck as soon as McCabe touches the player on the ground or competes for the ball over the top of him.

  • redbull

    Isn’t this almost an exact repeat of the ruck in which the Crusaders were penalised and the Reds got a penalty to win?

  • Cantab abroad

    It appears to me that if you have a 9 on your back it gets a different interpretation. If it was the Argie 6 or 12 reaching in would it be reffed the same way?

  • Lindommer

    Reading this debate’s the most fun I’ve had on G&GR for ages, long may it continue. Inititially I suspect Gagger stepped on an ants’ nest, without realising the pandemonium he caused, but there’s a modicum of right on his side.

    Ladies, gentlemen, please don’t stop, let’s set a record for the longest blog.


Matt started G&GR just before the 2007 Rugby World Cup and has been enslaved ever since. Follow him on twitter: @MattRowley

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