Law discussion: What the TMO did
rugby365's law guru Paul Dobson looks at an incident in the Bulls versus the Highlanders game which provoked debate.
The Highlanders attack with enthusiasm, the Bulls defend with determination and the Bulls score a try - which again provoked debate.
The referee penalised Lionel Mapoe for being offside, ahead of the kicker. Aaron Smith of the Highlanders takes a tap kick inside his own half and the Highlanders go through 12 advancing phases. They batter at the Bulls' line but the Bulls hold them out. The phases have taken the Highlanders to their right and they then come back left.
Aaron Smith passes to big Brad Thorn. It's a poor pass, dipping as it gets nearer Thorn. The big man goes to ground to catch the ball which he then pops to Shaun Treeby of the Highlanders as Chiliboy Ralepelle of the Bulls rushes forward to tackle Treeby. The ball pops backwards out of Treeby's hands and is immediately caught by Dewald Potgieter of the Bulls.
Potgieter makes some ground and gives to JJ Engelbrecht of the Bulls who has Akona Ndungane of the Bulls outside of him. John Hardie of the Highlanders dashes in to tackle Engelbrecht as Engelbrecht is trying to pass to Ndungane. Hardie's right arm aims to rap around Engelbrecht at about chest height.
Engelbrecht passes the ball which bounces on the ground towards Ndungane. Ndungane snatches up the ball and races some 80 metres to ground the ball in the Highlanders' in-goal.
The referee consults his assistant and then refers the matter to the TMO , asking him to look at the passage of play before Ndungane go to the Highlanders' in-goal, looking especially for the possibility of a knock-on or a forward pass. Because Ndungane had grounded the ball in the Highlanders' in-goal, the referee was allowed by the IRB's TMO protocol to question possible infringements on the way there - unlike what happened in the Stormers-Rebels match when the attacking team did not ground the ball for a try.
The TMO examines the action several times. He then reports to the referee: "There was no clear forward pass and no clear knock-on either." The referee then awards the try.
Engelbrecht certainly tries to pass the ball. His main hand in passing to his right is his left hand. That certainly goes backwards. The ball seems to be touched by Hardie's right hand, not that that is relevant to the forward pass but may have affected the path of the ball.
The protocol tells the referee and the TMO what the TMO may do. The referee and the TMO are allowed to act only within protocol when the TMO is asked his advice. The first point is the right to refer such a matter to the TMO.
The protocol says: The Global TMO Trial extends the jurisdiction of the TMO in two ways;
• The adjudication of decisions when the team in possession of the ball has touched the ball down in their opponents' in-goal area and any of the match officials have a view that there was a potential infringement in the field of play with limitations.
• The review of potential acts of foul play or to assist in the determination of sanctions for foul play.
The foul play issue is not relevant in this case. What is relevant is that the referee is allowed to consult the TMO about a [potential infringement but only when the team in possession of the ball has touched the ball down in their opponents' in-goal, in other words when the attacking side has scored a try.
The protocol elaborates on the process.
2. Potential infringement by the team touching the ball down in opposition in-goal
2.1. If after a team in possession of the ball has touched the ball down in their opponents' in-goal area and any of the match officials have a view that there was a potential infringement, of any nature, before the ball was carried into in-goal by the team that touched the ball down, they may suggest that the referee refers the matter to the TMO for review.
2.2 The potential infringement must have occurred between the last restart of play (set piece, penalty/free-kick, kick-off or restart) and the touch down but not further back in play than two previous rucks and/or mauls
2.3 If the referee agrees to refer the matter to the TMO he will indicate what the potential offence was and where it took place. Potential infringements which must be CLEAR and OBVIOUS are as follows:
• Forward pass
• Player in touch
• Tackling a player without the ball
• Foul play
• Double movement in act of scoring
The forward pass and the knock-on included in the possible infringements. The protocol's instruction states that the knock-on or forward pass must be clear and obvious.
2.5 In reviewing the potential offence the TMO must use the criterion, on each occasion, that the infringement must be clear and obvious if he is to advise the referee not to award a try. If there is any doubt as to whether an offence has occurred or not the TMO must advise that an offence has not occurred.
The protocol elaborates on the forward-pass decision..
2.6 For forward passes the TMO must not adjudicate on the flight of the ball but on the action of the player who passed the ball, i.e. were the player's hands passing the ball back to that player’s own goal line.
Engelbrecht's passing hand, far from moving in a forward direction, moves in a backward motion and not in a forward motion. The TMO's conclusion is understandable and within the instructions of the IRB.
If you live in New Zealand you are more likely to be angry with the match officials, just as if you live in South Africa you are more likely to be angry with the match officials in the Stormers-Rebels match. Supporters of a team are not known for impartiality.