Law Discussion: Forward passes
rugby365 law guru Paul Dobson looks at two incidents in Friday's match between the Rebels and the Chiefs in Melbourne.
In Friday evening's match between the Rebels and the Chiefs in Melbourne, two passes were referred to the TMO to see if they were forward or not.
On each occasion the play resulted in a try and on each occasion the TMO recommended the award of the try.
1. Scott Higginbotham's try.
The Rebels attack down the right and right wing Tom English makes good ground. As he is tackled Same Cane of the Chiefs, he lobs the ball infield where Scott Higginbotham of the Rebels grabs it. He is tackled from being by Matt Vant Leven of the Chiefs but manages to stretch out and avoid Gareth Anscombe's right leg to place the ball on the goal-line.
The referee refers the matter to the TMO asking about English's try and the grounding of the ball.
The TMO has just two views - one from well behind English and Higginbotham and one well in front of them. He has no view from the side.
The TMO reports to the referee: "There's nothing to obviously suggest that the pass has gone forward and the grounding was good."
On this information, the referee awards the try.
2. Nick Phipps's try.
About eight metres inside his own half, James O'Connor of the Rebels starts running. Blocked by Liam Messam of the Chiefs O'Connor passes to Kurtley Beale on his left. Beale passes back to O'Connor who races ahead, passing to Nick Phipps on his left and Phipps races through for a try.
Again the referee refers the matter to the TMO, again asking for advice on a possible forward pass.
The TMO this time has a reasonable side-on view. He reports to the referee: "You may award the try."
Let us note just a few things:
(i) Law 12 DEFINITION THROW FORWARD
A throw forward occurs when a player throws or passes the ball forward.
‘Forward’ means towards the opposing team’s dead ball line.
(ii) The TMO protocol has this to say on how the TMO is to judge a forward pass.
6. Forward passes
The TMO protocol is very specific on this matter. For the ball to be judged ‘forward’ the ball must be passed forward from a player’s hands and the flight of the ball should not be taken into consideration. If there is no evidence of a forward pass it is helpful if the TMO indicates that by stating; "There is no evidence of a forward pass".
It is about the act of throwing, not the act of catching. It is about how the ball-carrier passes the ball, not where the catcher catches the ball. It is about a forward pass, not a forward catch.
As a result it does not matter what path the ball travels on or how it drifts.
(iii) As is the case with all refereeing decisions, there is an important refereeing principle: if an offence/infringement is not clear and obvious play goes on.
In 1. above, the Scott Higginbotham try, the TMO is referring to this principle when he says that nothing obviously suggests that the pass was forward. The camera position tells you that it is impossible to decide clearly and obviously that English's hands move forward in passing.
In 2 above, the Nick Phipps try, the angle is far better but it is again not clear and obvious that O'Connor's hands move in a forward direction.
(iv) There is the matter of momentum.
Drive your car and when you get opposite a marker have somebody throw a ball out backwards of the marker. Then see where the pall lands relative to the marker. And the faster you drive the further it will be in front of the marker.
Unless the passer is stationary it is extremely hard to prevent the ball from travelling forward. If we were to stop play every time the pass from a moving player travelled forward we would kill rugby. If the referee is moving, he is less likely to note the forward path of the ball but a stationary spectator may well observe it. NOT THAT The PATH OF The PASSED BALL IS RELEVANT.
In the two cases above the TMO was quite correct to make the decision he made for the reasons he gave.
Australia produced a fascinating video which makes this point clear. Please, look at the video clip below!