Loose Pass: Refereeing protocols and interpretations after a myriad of officiating talking points

Loose Pass Credit: Alamy
Loose Pass Credit: Alamy

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with a variety of refereeing protocols and interpretations…

It’s been written many a time in this column but it’s worth repeating ad defessum: referees do not have it easy. It’s not just the chaotic nature of the game, nor just the huge quantity of laws, nor just the gamesmanship inherent to 44 extremely competitive players, it is also the solo nature of the role they take on. And now of course, the added burden of the constant ref comms buzzing in the ears as the game progresses, as well as the recent additional responsibility of dishing out game-changing cards for entirely unavoidable collisions and making it credible…

The past weekend’s action in all corners of the world conjured up a myriad of different officiating talking points, few of which were refereeing errors, most of which should, however, create some interesting debate as we head with increasing speed towards probably the most open World Cup ever.

The fact that some laws, protocols and rules are different in different leagues and countries also doesn’t make things easy, but the miracle of modern technology means we can at least now experience it all at first-ish hand.

Praise for Super Rugby Pacific card system

The card review system in Super Rugby Pacific, for example, is, in Loose Pass’ eyes, an excellent idea. There was a brief pause in the Hurricanes-Blues clash on Saturday for a pretty clear shoulder-to-head contact. But instead of the game hiatus, the interminable big screen replays, the spectators being bored to distraction by both the wait and the perceived justices/injustices on the screen, we had 20 seconds. Then Nic Berry said: “ok so we’ve got head contact, it’s more than just a penalty, so we’ll get him off and put it on review.” And that, mercifully, was it. All significantly better than the tedious and frustrating replays which have become so commonplace up north over the past few months.

Later in the same game was a moment of commentary which also bemused. Hurricanes full-back Josh Moorby reached out for the line, but the ball slipped slightly from his grasp, enough for him to lose total control over the ball, but not enough for the ball to separate from his fingertips before said tips propelled the ball onto the ground.

Justin Marshall was quite insistent: the touchdown aspect of the try was perfectly legitimate, because as long as there’s no separation between ball and hand, complete control over the ball does not come into the equation. A notion with which Loose Pass would tend to agree, yet on at least two occasions this season we’ve had Premiership commentators waxing quite lyrical about ‘just touching the ball down not being enough these days, they’re looking for control’.

So it would see that there’s a difference in opinion between north and south (ever heard that one before?).

Law 8.2 states the following: A try is scored when an attacking player:

– Is first to ground the ball in the opponents’ in-goal.

– Is first to ground the ball when a scrum, ruck or maul reaches the goal line.

– With the ball is tackled short of the goal line and the player’s momentum carries them in a continuous movement along the ground into the opponents’ in-goal, and the player is first to ground the ball.

– Is tackled near to the opponents’ goal line and the player immediately reaches out and grounds the ball.

– Who is in touch or touch-in-goal, grounds the ball in the opponents’ in-goal provided the player is not holding the ball.

– Meanwhile, grounding the ball is defined as: … either holding it and touching it to the ground in-goal, or placing hand, arm or front of body between waist and neck (the front torso) on top of the ball which is on the ground in-goal. A player does not need to be holding the ball to ground it, and most importantly, nowhere in the laws does it talk about control when scoring.

Finally, there’s the calls referees make on the pitch when a try may, or may not, have been scored.

Leicester drove a maul over Gloucester’s line on Sunday, and the initial impression was that the defence had held the ball up. Referee Ian Tempest waited quite a while after he had blown his whistle before deciding, as the players were untangling themselves that he had seen the ball on the ground and so that on-field decision would be a try.

The criticism Loose Pass has here is that there was that pause in between whistle and his decision. Obviously any Leicester player is going to get the ball on the ground if he can, even if it means doing so once the whistle has gone and the defence stops struggling. And this was what we felt happened: the replays tended to bear out that the ball was being held up, until the whistle went and the defenders sagged, which is when the ball was touched down.

But with the on-field decision being try, the replays were – as you’d expect with a small ball being buried under a morass of bodies – inconclusive beyond showing that the ball had been initially held up. So the on-field decision was accepted.

Referees are told to be pro-active and decisive as much as possible, to take responsibility; as such there’s no criticism of Mr. Tempest making his call, but to delay doing so as long as he did, to call a ball as on the ground only after it appeared so as the players on the ground were getting up, seemed to give the attacking team a chance to hoodwink.

As often these days, it falls to the currently peerless Luke Pearce to show the way. Not one to shy away from a decision, even he felt he could not confidently call the outcome of a similar situation in the Scotland-Ireland game on Sunday and as such, directed it upwards with the information of ‘no on-field decision’, which would surely have delivered a better outcome in Gloucester too. Referees should call as much as possible, we’d agree, but need to remain aware of when it’s clearly impossible.

Other talking points from the weekend

It was touched upon two weeks ago, but on Saturday it was glaring: England do not look as fit as their Six Nations peers at all.

A very fine light show in Perth preceded Saturday’s kick-off between the Force and Moana Pasifika, but it was a bit harsh of the lighting rig guys to plunge the stadium into darkness one final time just as the kicker was kicking the game off?

The Drua win over the Crusaders may well win the award for most emotional game of the year, but ought also to strike deeper fear into Welsh hearts for the September 10 World Cup opener in Bordeaux.

Returning to the card review system, how’s Force prop Mike McKee mock-slapping his own wrist for the cameras as he started his spell on the naughty step? No wonder the card was upgraded…

One further perceived difference in game play between north and south at the moment: it’s refreshing to see, when they get line-outs, Super Rugby teams jogging up to the mark and getting the set-piece done, rather than indulging in the northern hemisphere tradition of huddle, slow walk, optional secondary huddle, hooker cleaning the ball that’s just been cleaned for him by a ball-boy, dramatic throw pose struck by said hooker as lifters and jumpers step gingerly into place, further pause, followed, finally, by the throw.

The addition of a shot clock into games everywhere has been very welcome, we’d support the addition of a set-piece clock too.

READ MORE: Six Nations: Two Cents Rugby picks his top five players of Round Four

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