Law discussion: too many players
In the Currie Cup match between the Golden Lions and the Pumas at Ellis Park, there was confusion about player numbers.
It seemed to be sorted out, but was it?
Six minutes into the match, the Golden Lions hooker, Armand van der Merwe, was sent to the sin bin for a gross high tackle on Marcello Sampson of the Pumas. Then 10 minutes into the match, Reynier van Rooyen, the Pumas' scrumhalf, ran for the line and on the line was tackled by Jacques van Rooyen and Ross Cronje. He falls just short and Jacques van Rooyen, who is behind him, wraps himself around Reynier van Rooyen even though they are not related. It is clear that Jacques wanted to prevent the Pumas from getting a score and, far from releasing Reynier, he moves even closer. The referee penalises him and sends him to the sin bin.
This means that the Golden Lions have two players in the sin bin.
The Pumas kick the penalty into touch for a five-metre line-out. When they do so, it is clear that the Golden Lions have two replacements on the field - hooker Ramone Samuels and prop Justin Ackerman while their lock Martin Muller has made way and has gone off the field. The throw-in is skew and the Golden Lions opt for another line-out. Samuels throws in, the Golden Lions win the line-out and they move the ball downfield where the Pumas are penalised. The Golden Lions kick the ball out for the line-out.
Then the referee gets a message from a match official, who tells the referee that the Golden Lions have 14 players though with two in the sin bin they are entitled to only 13. The referee then asks Justin Ackerman to leave the field and he penalises the Golden Lions at the place where the line-out would have been.
In a confused way right prevailed. Certainly the referee's final decision, of the penalty 15 metres in from touch, was correct.
Law 3.2 Team with more than the permitted number of players
Objection: at any time before or during a match a team may make an objection to the referee about the number of players in their opponents’ team. As soon as the referee knows that a team has too many players, the referee must order the captain of that team to reduce the number appropriately. The score at the time of the objection remains unaltered.
Sanction: Penalty at the place where the match would restart.
Play would have restarted with a line-out to the Golden Lions. The referee was correct in penalising them for having one man extra and penalising him where he did. The only field action is the penalty. The organisers of the competition, in this case SARU, have been known to take further action against the team with too many players after the match.
The action to be taken in the case of a front-row player in the sin bin used to be dealt with under Law 3.5. This was changed with the introduction of a new Law 3.6.
Law 3.6 Uncontested scrums
(c) When a front row player leaves the playing area, whether through injury or temporary or permanent suspension, the referee will enquire at that time whether the team can continue with contested scrums. If the referee is informed that the team will not be able to contest the scrum then the referee will order uncontested scrums. If the player returns or another front row player comes on then contested scrums may resume.
(f) If, as a result of a front row player being temporarily suspended, another player has to be nominated by the team to leave the playing area to enable an available front row player to come on, the nominated player may not return until the period of suspension ends.
The old law was:
Law 3.5 THE FRONT ROW – REPLACEMENTS AND SUBSTITUTIONS
(n) After a front-row player leaves the field of play or is sent off, or during the time for which a front-row player is temporarily suspended, the referee, upon awarding the next scrum, will ask the player’s captain will ask the player’s captain whether or not the team has another player on the playing area who is suitably trained and experienced to play in the front row. If not, the captain chooses another player on the playing area who then must leave the playing area to be replaced by a suitably trained and experienced front-row player from the teams replacements. The captain may do this when the scrum is ordered or after another player has been tried in the front row.
Please, note that this is no longer law.
This old law was clearer in the proceedings after the sin-binning. In the old law, the referee was to ask the captain upon awarding the next scrum. Now it is to be done at that time. But in the new version this seems to mean that the change could possibly be done immediately, which suited the Golden Lions as they could get their hooker on to throw in at line-outs.
It seems that the introduction of the two front-row players, Samuels and Ackerman and Muller's retreat to the bench, happened with undue haste. How much say the 'fourth official" - he who controls the coming and goings of players during a match - is unclear. Part of the problem may have been that he did not have direct communication with the referee.
It would have been better if it had happened with greater deliberation and that the introduction and reduction had been more obvious.
It was not a good advert for rugby professionalism and the sort of organisation that the Currie Cup deserves.