A cautionary tale

Fri, 14 Sep 2012 10:35
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Watch the action, see the action, hear the decision and listen to some comments on what happens here, an action with a sad outcome.

Watch the action, see the action, hear the decision and listen to some comments on what happens here, an action with a sad outcome.

The Under-21 match is coming to a close as Western Province attack the Golden Lions who are leading by one point.

Slender, speedy Devon Williams is running with the ball and getting closer and closer to the Golden Lions' goal-line. Bradley Moolman (11) tackles Williams who goes to ground within reach of the goal-line. He does not reach for the goal-line as Paul Willemse (18), the Golden Lions' lock dives on him. Williams loses the ball forward as he is obviously hurt.

The referee, Archie Sehlako, refers the matter to the TMO, experienced Johann Meuwesen. Meuwesen examines what happens and gives his advice which in essence is a penalty try and a yellow card for Willemse.

The referee accepts the TMO's advice.

In giving his advice, the TMO expresses the belief that Willemse's action had prevented Williams from scoring a try.

Here is a clip of the action:


Let's take it step by step.

First - the penalty try.

Law 22.4 (h) Penalty try. A penalty try is awarded if a try would probably have been scored but for foul play by the defending team. A penalty try is awarded if a try would probably have been scored in a better position but for foul play by the defending team.

but for foul play. Is what Willemse did foul play?

(a) Falling over the player on the ground with the ball. A player must not intentionally fall on or over a player with the ball who is lying on the ground.
Sanction: Penalty kick

What Willemse did was a penalisable offence. It is a penalisable offence because it is dangerous. It falls within the definition of foul play. It is not the wrong thing to do because the law says it is wrong. The law says it is wrong because it is wrong and dangerous - and the law is right to do so, as we shall see.

Law 10 - Foul Play

Foul play is anything a person does within the playing enclosure that is against the letter and spirit of the Laws of the Game. It includes obstruction, unfair play, repeated infringements, dangerous play and misconduct which is prejudicial to the Game.

Accept that what Willemse did was foul play. Accept that it prevented the probable scoring of a try. Then the penalty try is the correct decision.

Law 22.16 A player who prevents a try being scored through foul play must either be cautioned and temporarily suspended or sent off.

To apply the law as the law requires itself to be applied the referee was obliged to show Willemse either a yellow or a red card. He did that.

While this is happening the commentator asks the question: "How else is he to stop him from that position? He's behind the guy."

Later, when the referee shows Willemse a yellow card, the commentator gives his verdict: "That's a tough call on Paul Willemse."

To say the least, this is dubious commenting.

In the first case the end does not justify the means - not in life and not in rugby football. Willemse had no right whatsoever to do what he did to prevent a try. He was also not allowed to kick Williams's or hit him with a meat axe. There is a good reason why what Willemse did is not allowed. It does not become allowable because he had no other way to prevent the try. Rugby's morality is not thrown out the window because it is at the goal-line.

The call on Willemse is not a tough call. The referee merely does what the law requires him to do. What Willemse did was tough on Williams.

The commentator gives his view on the medical condition of Williams, which was way off the mark. In fact Williams was severely injured and within a tiny distance of something far more serious.

Williams suffered a posterior sterno-clavicular dislocation. He dislocated his shoulder but in a way that had serious consequences which could have been even more serious. He was roughly 5mm from having his aorta pierced. Had that happened, he would have died on the field in a matter of minutes. That is a horror thought.

He has had an operation but doctors will not know till next year how successful the operation has been. He may never play rugby again.

Clearly this was not Willemse's intent but it does emphasise how sensible the law is. Nor does the outcome influence the way Willemse was treated in a kind of retrospect. After all serious injury can result from legal activities on the rugby field. It is a tough game but because it is a tough game and not tiddlywinks it is all the more reason that laws that promote safely should be respected.