Law Discussion: Reinach's try
Tue, 18 Feb 2014 08:14
'clear and obvious' are the watchwords
It was one of those situations when for many people the decision was right or wrong depending on the team they were supporting. Some 34 000 people saw what the referee and the TMO saw and roared their approval of the decision. There were others who thought it wrong.
The Sharks are on the attack when Callie Visagie of the Bulls throws into a line-out. Paul Willemse of the Bulls goes up for the ball while Anton Bresler of the Sharks makes an attempt at contesting for the ball. Willemse has the lead in the matter and catches the ball. As he brings it down the ball leaves his grasp. Pierre Spies and Pieter-Steph du Toit contest the ball. Spies hits it back to Francois Hougaard who passes towards Louis Fouché on his right. It is a poor pass and Cobus Reinach intercepts the ball and is over unopposed for a possible try.
One of the assistant referees suggests that the referee examine the possibility of illegal play on Willemse in the air. The other assistant suggests examining for a possible knock-on. The referee refers both possibilities to the TMO.
There are then replays which the referee on the ground, his two assistants, the TMO, the whole of the crowd and all television watchers at home have the same chance to see. The referee and the TMO are the key decision-makers.
In the end the TMO's advice is that there is no 'clear and obvious' knock on. The referee awards the try, and 34 000 people cheer.
Let's look at law first, and let's look at the law as it relates to Bresler's actions, remembering that 'clear and obvious' are the watchwords.
Law 10.4 (I) Tackling the jumper in the air. A player must not tackle nor tap, push or pull the foot or feet of an opponent jumping for the ball in a line-out or in open play.
Sanction: Penalty kick
Which of these actions did Bresler clearly and obviously do? Bresler made contact, which is inevitable when two players a metre apart contest a ball thrown between them. Bresler's hand is on Willemse's shoulder but it does not seem that it has any effect on Willemse. At no stage does Bresler wrap an arm or arms around Willemse. At no stage is it clear and obvious that Bresler does any action intended to unbalance Willemse or pull him down. The hands are up towards the ball and at one stage he waves his left hand in the air away from Willemse to show its innocence.
That the referee and the TMO find no penalty here is understandable.
Then the knock-on. Two players could have knocked on - Bresler and Du Toit. A hand of theirs could possibly have knocked the ball towards the Bulls' dead-ball line. Is it clear and obvious that they did so?
In each case there are hands in close proximity to the ball. It is not like a knock-on in open play.
It would seem that we can rule out Du Toit as possibly guilty of a knock on as it seems to be clearly Spies's hand that knocks the ball back to Hougaard.
The more difficult one is the ball leaving Willemse's grasp.
Did the slippery ball on that wet night just slip from his grasp?
Did Bresler's right hand play the ball?
Did the ball go forward?
The last is not an idle question as the ball goes sideways and is still sufficiently in the line-out for Spies to play it and Du Toit to contest it. The angles of the replays do not give clear evidence that the ball went forward.
It's a difficult decision, but then TMOs are called in only for difficult decisions. It may have been easier if frame-by-frame replays had been available.
In the end the evidence which the referee and the TMO had does not suggest a clear and obvious infringement.
Here is a clip of the try:
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