Law discussion: Wallaby farce
The Australians cried foul when the referee's ruling on replacements reduced their team to just 14 men.
The Australians cried foul when the referee refused to allow a substitute for the injured Wallaby hooker Tatafu Polota Nau and then would not allow Polota Nau to play on, reducing the Wallabies to 14 players and the scrums to sad uncontesteds.
The referee would claim he was merely applying the law, as he is required to do in all circumstances.
So we need to look at the law. The use of replacements and substitutions is of relatively recent origin. Till 1968 replacements were not allowed at any level of rugby. If you had an injury you played with 14 men.
This had the dangerous effect of players playing on when they should not have and thus exacerbating the injury. Australia and New Zealand were the proponents of replacement of injured players.
It took them 16 years to get the IRB to allow the replacement of injured players and then only in senior international matches and even then the Scots dissented. At that time two injury replacements were allowed.
The injury had to be certified by a doctor, which also led to malpractices. A doctor authorised to verify that a players was injured would hand out signed forms to the teams before the match. A signed form had to be taken to the referee before the replacement was allowed on.
This all gradually became more accommodating and in 1996 tactical substitutions were introduced, thus reducing the amount of humbug there was involved.
There are still laws governing replacement/substitution and limitations on the numbers allowed.
They are still manipulated.
Law 3 DEFINITIONS
A Team. A team consists of fifteen players who start the match plus any authorised replacements and/or substitutes.
Replacement. A player who replaces an injured team-mate.
Substitute. A player who replaces a team-mate for tactical reasons.
The law makes a distinction between a replacement (for injury) and a substitution (for tactical reasons). This is not applied consistently throughout the law. The two terms tend to be used interchangeably.
Law 3.4 PLAYERS NOMINATED AS SUBSTITUTES
For international matches a Union may nominate up to seven replacements/substitutes.
A team can substitute up to two front row players (subject to Law 3.14 when it may be three) and up to five other players. Substitutions may be made only when the ball is dead and with the permission of the referee.
This bit of law is at the heart of the matter.
The Wallabies had seven replacements/substitutes: Saia Fainga'a, James Slipper, Rob Simmons, Liam Gill, Brett Sheehan, Mike Harris, Anthony Fainga'a. Of those Saia Fainga'a (a hooker) and James Slipper (a prop) were front-row trained.
The Wallabies were allowed to substitute two front-row players, apparently. In the 31st minute of the first half James Slipper took the place of Benn Robinson. It was a tactical substitution. In the 27th minute of the second half Robinson came back to replace Ben Alexander. This was a replacement for an injury.
That meant that with 13 minutes to play the Wallabies had taken off two front row players and put others in their place. Replacement or substitution?
Then on 71 minutes Polota Nau was declared injured and unfit to carry on playing. The Wallabies then wanted to bring on Saia Faingaa. Saia Faingaa was suitably trained as a hooker to replace Polota Nau, a hooker. Faingaa was stopped because 'you've used up your subs'. The referee stopped that on the grounds that they had already made seven substitutions - Anthony Faingaa for Berrick Barnes, Slipper for Robinson, Mike Harris for Adam Ashley-Cooper, Rob Simmons for Kane Douglas, Liam Gill for Radike Samo and Brett Sheehan for Digby Ioane. That adds up to seven. Of the seven taken off, Barnes, Ashley-Cooper, Samo, Ioane and Alexander were injured. They were replaced. Robinson and Simmons were substituted.
Used up all your subs. But what about your replacements. Or are the two really one despite the distinction the laws seek to make?
Law 3.4 speaks of substitutes. It does not speak of replacements. Loose law or a point the law-makers wish to make? If it is not loose law, then the Wallabies used only two substitutes.
So Faingaa was blocked but Polota Nau wanted to come back. He, too, was stopped.
Law 3.9 THE REFEREE’S POWER TO STOP AN INJURED PLAYER FROM CONTINUING
If the referee decides – with or without the advice of a doctor or other medically qualified person – that a player is so injured that the player should stop playing, the referee may order that player to leave the playing area. The referee may also order an injured player to leave the field in order to be medically examined.
Polota Nau had been declared injured by a 'medically qualified person'. He could not then in an instant become uninjured and carry on playing. The referee was right to stop him from playing on.
That left the Wallabies on the field with only two front-row trained players - Slipper and Robinson, hence the need for uncontested scrums, of which there were two.
Somewhere there is a screw loose. In French rugby they are allowed eight substitutes/replacements, three of whom are front-row trained. They introduced this to reduce the number of uncontested scrums, and it has worked. They then are allowed three front row replacements. That means that there is nothing sacred about the number 2.
Law 3.5 (d) The replacement of a front row forward must come from suitably trained and experienced players who started the match or from the nominated replacements.
Those who started the match were Robinson, Polota Nau and Alexander. The nominated replacements were Slipper and Saia Faingaa. But Faingaa was not allowed to play.
There does not seem to be a wealth of commonsense in this.. After all the replacement of players is intended to protect players and also to protect the game from uncontested scrums. Substitution, one supposes is intended to enhance the game.
The whole problem may in fact have been coach-created as it has become common practice to manipulate the laws by rotating (possibly unfit) props, which may well have happened in this case.
It could surely be easily put right by making the law clear on replacements and substitutes and how those in each category are allowed to take part in the game.