Law discussion: If the TMO disagreed
rugby365 law guru Paul Dobson looks at what he feels must be the most bizarre incident since the use of the TMO was introduced.
The incident we have must be the most bizarre in the whole of the time the TMO has been inspanned to help referees get to the right decision.
It is obvious that you can never say: "I have seen it all", for rugby will come back to catch you out. To parody what Pliny the Elder almost said: ex Rugby semper aliquid novi. There is always something strange happening in rugby.
The Blues are leading 32-17 at Eden Park in an exciting match, but for some 11 minutes or so they are uender a hectic siege by the Crusaders. The Blues had been attacking but a kick-off and two penalties put the Crusaders on the attack and the men from South Island did not want penalties. They were so far behind that they wanted tries. They had five chances to kick at goal but instead opted for line-outs and scrums, meeting fierce resistance from the Blues' defence. In fact the 11-minute siege ended when the Crusaders were penalised at a scrum and the siege of the Blues' goal-line was lifted.
From a tackle/ruck near the Blues' line, the ball comes back to scrumhalf Willi Heinz who sells a dummy to beat one defender but is pulled down just short of the line by Tony Woodcock,. A ruck forms involving more Crusaders than Blues. Matt Todd of the Crusaders gets the ball and passes it to his right.
Tevita Li, the Blues right wing, intercepts and races off downfield. He is about 35 metres from his line the referee blows the whistle to indicate the Li was offside. Li does not hear it in the excited noise of the crowd. He is inside the Crusaders' 22 when the whistle goes again, and then Li is over the line and happy with his doomed achievement.
The referee does not immediately signal a penalty to the Crusaders on the grounds that Li was offside. Instated he consults his assistant to ask if Li was 'clearly' offside. The assistant suggests that he should consult the TMO.
The referee asks the TMO if Li had been offside.
It is an astonishing question. What if the TMO had said he was not offside. The referee had twice blown his whistle and those who heard it would have stopped playing. Would he give the Blues their try?
That would not be sane or fair.
Law 10.4 (s) All players must respect the authority of the referee. They must not dispute the referee’s decisions. They must stop playing at once when the referee blows the whistle except at a kick-off or at a penalty kick following admonishment, temporary suspension, or send-off.
Sanction: Penalty kick
The referee stops play. For the next 65 metres there was no play for Li. There was no play in that time. The TMO is in his box with his little box and could not turn no-play into play. Nor could the referee do so.
The best he could do was award a scrum to the Blues, five metres from their line, which would have brought displeasure raining down on his head.
Law 20.4 THE TEAM THROWING THE BALL INTO THE SCRUM
(d) Scrum after any other stoppage. After any other stoppage or irregularity not covered by law, the team that was moving forward before the stoppage throws in the ball. If neither team was moving forward, the attacking team throws in the ball.
This would certainly have been an irregularity not covered by the law.
Clearly, a top referee gets this wrong only when he himself is confused and having difficulty processing the information. There had been this long attack, demanding his concentration. He may well have had an assistant and possibly also the TMO yelling about offside. Then his assistant is not sure about the offside and recommends referring the matter to the TMO in the hope of making the best of a mess.
The TMO's advice was that Li had been offside. That certainly saved the situation.
The commentators speak of hands-on to give Li permission to advance. That is no longer the case.
This yea,r after meetings in Sydney and Dubai, the IRB has clearly stated: At rucks, mauls and scrum, the ball is not out till the scrumhalf clears it. It is not over when the scrumhalf puts hands on the ball.
This has been widely publicised. That means that Li did not have the right to advance over the goal-line, which was his offside line, until Todd had the ball clear of the ruck. (There is now a tendency for scrumhalves to put their hands on the ball and wait in the hope of luring an opponent offside.)
In this case Todd clears the ball immediately.
There are lessons in all this.
Don't guess but stick to clear and obvious. Don't even be tempted to guess.
Li should have been allowed to run and 'score". Then the TMO should have been consulted.
Communication amongst the team of four (referee, assistant referees and TMO) must be brief, essential and not confusing.
There is another point. This instruction from the IRB is clearly only an interpretation. It is not law, for the law is quite clear.
Law 16.4 (b) Players must not handle the ball in a ruck except after a tackle if they are on their feet and have their hands on the ball before the ruck is formed.
Sanction: Penalty kick
In practice this law seems not to apply to the team winning the ball.
By Paul Dobson