IRB says it was wrong
It's not quite the murder of a Scottish king, but it does open the Laws of the Game and commonsense to mockery.
"Confusion now hath made his masterpiece." It's not quite the murder of a Scottish king but it does open the Laws of the Game and commonsense to mockery.
The IRB who first said the referee was right have now said that he was wrong.
We are not talking about some obscure backyard game but about a match between nations ranked two and three with a top referee to make decisions.
The referee, Alain Rolland, the referee of the 2007 World Cup Final, decided that hooker Saia Faingaa of Australia could not replace injured hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau of Australia because Australia had already replaced/substituted seven players. This meant that Australia played the last part of the game with 14 men and the two scrums in that period were uncontested.
That was confusing enough - certainly to the Australian management and players.
Then James Fitzgerald, the IRB's communications manager, said: "The referee was correct. Australia had already used their seven replacements permissible.”
Then IRB Match Official Selection Committee Chairman John Jeffrey said: "The area of substitution management is a team effort. This was an unfortunate case of human error by the match official team who fully recognise and accept that they made a mistake in the application of the substitution Law."
The law they got wrong - apparently, because there is time for further change - was Law 3.12 (a) Exception 2: "A substituted player may replace a front row player when injured, temporarily suspended or sent off unless the referee has ordered uncontested scrums prior to the event which led to the front row player leaving the field of play and the team has used all the permitted replacements and substitutions."
The IRB's statement reads: "The IRB has confirmed that the match official team taking charge of Saturday's Rugby Championship between South Africa and Australia in Pretoria incorrectly prevented Australia from making a substitute during the second half of the match.
"Following a review, the five-strong match official team acknowledges that they failed to recognise Law 3.12 (Exception 2) when managing a substitution in the 66th minute, which meant that Australia finished the match with 14 players.
"Under the Law exception, Australia's Saia Faingaa (16) should have been permitted to replace Australia's Tatafu Polota-Nau (2) as Benn Robinson (1), who had already been substituted, replaced Ben Alexander (3) who was injured during the match. Therefore, Australia had one permitted technical substitution available."
Therefore Saia Faingaa should have been allowed to replace Polota-Nau
There is also a veiled threat in Jeffrey's statement: "All match official performances, including last weekend's match, are thoroughly reviewed and assessed by the IRB and are considered when appointments are made for future Test matches."
The 'five-strong match official team' was Alain Rolland (referee), Romain Poite and Greg Garner (assistant referees), and the men controlling the coming and going of players on the sidelines - Gerrie de Bruyn and Jaco van Heerden.
Loftus touchline microphones picked up Rolland - an experienced referee who refereed the 2007 World Cup Final - in discussion in French with Poite and then telling the Australians that they could not make any more substitutions as they had already used the usual maximum of seven. He also told Polota-Nau that he could not return to play as a medically trained person had said he was injured and could not play on.
The Australian Rugby Union has welcomed the admission from the International Rugby Board that match officials were at fault when they blocked a replacement by the Wallabies and left the Australians a man short for the final minutes of the Pretoria Test.
The ARU said: "It is ARU’s position that management of the issue was not best practice – and, in Rugby, accountability exists in equal measure for match officials as it does for players and coaches.
"ARU hopes the referee has learnt from this error."
ARU Managing Director and CEO, John O'Neill , said no decisions on the night affected the final result of the Test won 31-8 by the Springboks. “South Africa were absolutely the better side, we congratulate them, they dominated the match, and that is not up for debate at all.
“However, given the circumstances where the Wallabies were dealing with a massive and mounting injury toll, it was frustrating and unfair for the team to carry additional burdens.
“The challenges they faced at a ground where no Australian team has ever won were difficult enough.
“So I appreciate the IRB acknowledging the match official team failed to recognise Law 3.12 which should have seen Saia Faingaa given the green light to replace Tatafu, and allow the Wallabies to play out the match with a full complement of 15 players.”
It is astonishing that a piece of law should cause such confusion right at the highest level of the game.
Clearly and obviously it is law that should be reframed.