Law discussion: Two Super incidents
rugby365 law guru Paul Dobson looks at two incidents from Super Rugby in the last two weeks, which caused debate, argument and even acrimony.
We have two incidents from Super Rugby in the last two weeks which are worth looking at, both incidents which caused debate and argument and even acrimony.
We are dealing with decisions by top referees in top matches when speed is an essential ingredient, including the speed match officials need to process the information, even when they have help from the replays provided by the TMO.
There is never a rest from debate and argument when it comes to rugby football, certainly not in the application of the most complex set of laws of any sport - a contact sport played by 30 vigorous young men in physical contact in a confined space.
That there is such debate can be fun, unless we let our emotions run away with us.,
The incidents are both taken from matches played by the Lions - against the Sharks and then against the Blues.
1. An air crash.
Franco van der Merwe, the Lions' lock, kicks downfield. He kicks it high and the Lions' centre Stefan Watermeyer chases the ball. Lwazi Mvovo of the Sharks comes forward to catch the ball. Both players have eyes fixed on the ball. Mvovo jumps. Watermeyer jumps. Mvovo catches the ball. Watermeyer collides with Mvovo who falls heavily to ground.
The referee penalises Watermeyer. The referee says to his captain in the Watermeyer's presence: "I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. He had his eyes on the ball the whole time but that player [Mvovo] was in the air first. So there's the responsibility of safety."
There is nothing in the law book about who is airborne first. There is something about tackling a player in the air. Watermeyer certainly did not tackle Mvovo and the collision was entirely accidental. It does not seem that Watermeyer even knew where Mvovo was, such was his concentration on the ball.
The penalty was wrong and perhaps a reaction to the way Mvovo fell. It would have been more prudent to have consulted the TMO in this incident to get a fair decision. But bless the referee, he was circumspect enough not to issue a sanctionary card.
2. Knock or not.
The Lions attack the Blues. It starts when Marnitz Boshoff counterattacks and they race down the field - Courtnall Skosan, Jaco Kriel and Warren Whiteley. Close to the Blues' line Whiteely passes inside to Deon van Rensburg of the Lions. He catches the pass and heads for the line but Charles Piutau of the Blues, across from the left wing, grabs Van Rensburg. The ball leaves Van Rensburg's grasp and rolls into the Blues' in-goal where Coenie van Wyk of the Lions falls on it.
The referee and the TMO examine two things. First they want to see if the pass from Whiteley to Van Rensburg was clearly and obviously forward. It was not clearly and obviously forward and then they took the next, more interesting, examination.
They wanted to examine the way Van Rensburg lost the ball.
Law 12 DEFINITION - KNOCK-ON
A knock-on occurs when a player loses possession of the ball and it goes forward, or when a player hits the ball forward with the hand or arm, or when the ball hits the hand or arm and goes forward, and the ball touches the ground or another player before the original player can catch it.
‘Forward’ means towards the opposing team's dead-ball line.
Van Rensburg lost the ball.
The ball went forward.
It seems clearly a case of a knock-on.
But heaven forbid that the laws of rugby should be only what they say.
There is an IRB clarification made in 2011 in response to an Australian query.
In it the Australian ask about the ball being ripped from a player's grasp. He loses it but not of his own volition. He is robbed of it The IRB clarification, which has the force of law, states that when is ripped from the ball-carrier and it goes forward there is no infringement and play should go on. In other words it is not a knock-on. It is an opponent's play on the ball that causes it to act the way it does and so there is no knock-on.
The ball is not ripped from Van Rensburg's hands but the decision here is analogous.
The referee and the TMO decide that it is Piutau's hand that knocks the ball from Van Rensburg's grasp and so it is not the player's loss of the ball but the direct action of Piutau on the ball that shot it out of Van Rensburg's grasp and so a try is awarded to the Lions.
It's not an easy decision, but then referrals to the TMO are, by their nature, difficult.
If it is Piutau's hand that grabs Van Rensburg's arm that causes Van Rensburg to lose the ball, then it is a knock-on.
If Piutau's hand that knocks the ball from Van Rensburg's grasp then there is the possibility of the argument that Van Rensburg did not lose it but Piutau knocked it from his grasp and the decision is then similar to the ripping of the ball.
It may just be that the Lions were unlucky in the first of these incidents and lucky in the second one.
By Paul Dobson
Lions versus Sharks:
Lions versus Blues: