Law Discussion: 'Advantage over'

Sun, 21 Apr 2013 23:26
Large jonathon white   keegan dan Large raymond rhule   willie le r Large jonathon white h s

The way a referee judges advantage often distinguishes him as a referee. It is a vital law in rugby football and not always easy to apply.

The way a referee judges advantage often distinguishes him as a referee. It is a vital law in rugby football and not always easy to apply.

Stretch it too far and you cut great chunks out of the game. Cut it too short and the game becomes stop-start. And it is essential the referee's job, his decision, and people do not always agree with his decision, as was obvious in wet Durban on Saturday evening.

The Cheetahs were leading 7-6 with just over two minutes to play. They had a scrum just inside their half and the Sharks put them under pressure.

Scrumhalf Piet van Zyl got the ball away to Willie Le Roux, a wandering right wing who was playing flyhalf at this stage. Le Roux was about eight metres inside his half. The ball rolled along the ground to Le Roux who was under pressure from Cobus Reinach. Le Roux knocked on. Quickly he fly kicked the ball down the middle of the field. There Sean Robinson picked up about 10 metres behind his side's 10-metre line. From there he ran about 20 metres to close to the half-way line. Philip van der Walt and Francois Uys grabbed him. They went to ground and a ruck formed. The ball came back to Reinach, just about on the half-way line and nearly half way across the field. The ball came back cleanly and Reinach passed it to Francois Steyn on his left. As he did so the referee called "Advantage over."

Steyn then threw a long pass to Pieter-Steph du Toit, skipping out Jean Deysel. Du Toit had Keegan Daniel on his left and aimed to pass to him, but Le Roux stepped in, caught the ball and ran 45 metres to score while Frans Steyn and others appealed to the referee.

Law 8 Advantage

The Law of advantage takes precedence over most other Laws and its purpose is to make play more continuous with fewer stoppages for infringements. Players are encouraged to play to the whistle despite infringements by their opponents. When the result of an infringement by one team is that their opposing team may gain an advantage, the referee does not whistle immediately for the infringement.

The laws want the game to go on. They want continuity. The only times advantage does not apply is if the ball or ball-carrier touches the referee and benefits from the collision and if the ball comes out of the tunnel of the scrum without being played. For the rest advantage applies. It applied in the case of Le Roux's knock-on.

The law then spells it out.

(a) The referee is sole judge of whether or not a team has gained an advantage. The referee has wide discretion when making decisions.
(b) Advantage can be either territorial or tactical.
(c) Territorial advantage means a gain in ground.
(d) Tactical advantage means freedom for the non-offending team to play the ball as they wish.

The first point is important - the referee and the referee alone decides on advantage. It is not a committee decision. Players do not decide it. The referee decides it. And in this case the referee decided that the Sharks had had advantage. And so he called "Advantage over", as referees are encouraged to do in this age of more communicative refereeing than was the case a few years ago. Once he called that, Le Roux's knock-on was no longer an issue.

What are the grounds for deciding that advantage is over?

It could be over because the team had benefited territorially of tactically.

In this case the Sharks had not had any territorial benefit. They were still about eight metres behind where the knock-on occurred. But territorial gain is not the only criterion.

That leaves tactical advantage the freedom to play the ball as they wished. The Sharks had that freedom. They were not forced to do what they did. They could have done other things.

Robinson could have done things differently. The Sharks could have passed to the right instead of the left. They could have kicked. They could have set up pick-'n-drive. They were not harried into passing where they did or the way they did. And so the referee was justified in calling advantage over. He could then not protect the Sharks against their own fallibility.

Du Toit's pass was entirely of his own volition. He was not forced into passing towards Daniel. He could have kept the ball and driven forward, as he does so well. He made a mistake or maybe it was really Le Roux's clever anticipation and his willingness to risk leaving Daniel unmarked.

That some Sharks players immediately protested on the field was not great, but then we live in a new rugby world where players give expression to their emotions, as soccer players have done for years. If somebody scores there is much hugging and so on. And now if we do not agree with the referee we appeal, as soccer players do. And yet rugby remains a game that demands self-control of its players.