One of the intriguing things that you often come across is the syndrome where commentators on TV use phrases to explain referee decisions which are not actually in the laws. I’m not saying the commentator is wrong, just that they invent phrases as a shorthand. This becomes more of a problem when players also start to use the phrase, and the link to the actual laws has been lost. A great example is “Playing the 9”. You will often hear this phrase when a scrum-half is tackled before or as she is reaching into a ruck to get the ball. But if you look at the laws you will see nothing specific about this infraction. As is often the case, it is actually a combination of laws which make it illegal to tackle the scrum-half at a ruck when she doesn’t have possession of the ball.
I’m not sure why, but I have never been completely comfortable with the drop out both in terms of finding it in the Laws and also applying the Laws.
I guess I struggle to find it because I always go looking in the In Goal section of the Laws (Section 22 – in 2017) and the relevant Laws are actually in Section 13 which is on Kick-Off and Restart Kicks. Struggling to apply the Law is really just down to practice – this isn’t something that happens much in a game and so you don’t realy get into a routine.
When to Award a Drop-Out
In-Goal is a tricky area for any referee, especially a new one like me. The Laws are complex and you are in the “Red Zone” where the pressure is higher, the action is more frantic and the “volume level” is always going to be on 11.
The decision process is really quite simple. Did the ball end up in the In-Goal through an action of an attacker? That is, did the attacking side legally take the ball in to in-goal or did they kick it there (including a penalty kick at the posts)? If so, did the ball go out of play or was it made dead by a defender? If either of those are true then a Drop-Out is awarded.
Note: There is one exception here which is if the ball is kicked through touch in goal or through the dead-ball line by the attacking team, then there is a second option to the drop-out which is to have a scrum where the ball was kicked. I have never been asked for this, but there you go.
Taking the Drop-Out
Players get confused at this point because this restart just feels different. The main reason players are a little disoriented is because there is no Law about giving the kicker space. Unlike a penalty or free-kick, there is no Law about a distance to stand away from the kicker. Instead the defending team must withdraw immediately behind the 22m line. Once they are there they can stand smack on the line, and they can jump to try to block the kick. Feels different, right? The one thing they cannot do is cross the 22-metre line (free kick).
It is more straight forward for the kickers team. Like most other kicks they need to be behind the kicker, or making a real effort to get there. The sanction if they are not is slightly unusual in that it is a scrum to the opposition at the middle of the 22-metre line.
If the kick goes wrong…
Most incorrect kicks result in a scrum at the centre of the 22-metre line. These include the kick not being a drop kick, the ball not crossing the 22-metre line (remember to play advantage) and the ball being kicked directly in to touch. In the last case, the kick can be accepted and a line-out taken on the 22-metre line.
Be prepared for confusion
So there you have it – different, but not too complex. Keep these simple guides in place and all will be well, but be prepared for confusion amongst the players. I have seen all kinds of things happen. Players have tried to tap-and-go (illegal – ball did not cross the 22). Place the ball on the ground and tap it forwards and then pick it up (illegal – probably didn’t cross 22 line and wasn’t a drop kick). Both of these are confusing a drop-out with a free-kick. So focus, be prepared for a quick kick, and do not be distracted by the actions and complaints of confused players.