SuperRugby completes the first month of its 2015 season this weekend and it’s not surprising, given the generally low standard of officiating, that the referees and their assistants have been in the spotlight this week.
There has been furious debate about whether the laws of the game were correctly applied at Loftus Versfeld last weekend when the Bulls beat the Sharks; and there is uproar steadily building as well over referee Nick Briant’s performance yesterday in Hamilton, especially towards the end of the Highlanders’ shock win over the Chiefs.
The Loftus Versfeld furore was mostly about Law 12 – the knock-on or throw forward, but perhaps the way to avoid these controversies that do serious damage to the game (nobody wants to watch a sport where the officials decide the outcome rather than the athletes) is to go to Law 6.
This law is about the Match Officials, but nowhere does it say they have to be competent!
In the white-hot arena of top-class rugby, mistakes will inevitably happen and nobody should crucify referees over those. But when a person sitting in a box in the stands gets several replays of an incident and still can’t make the correct decision, then questions need to be asked. The problem is that officials are way above the law and there is no accountability; their decisions never have to be explained. It’s a prime breeding ground for matchfixing, but WorldRugby is in denial of that as well.
The forward pass incident at Loftus has been dressed up as a technical issue involving the direction of the hands being obscured at the time of Jesse Kriel’s pass. TMO Johan Greeff believed the evidence was inconclusive, never mind the ball clearly travelling metres forward on its way to Francois Hougaard. It was such an obvious forward pass that most people picked it up while watching the game live.
If TMOs are going to be seen to have made the correct decision, which is the whole point of having them, then they are going to have to ditch this whole obsession with which direction the hands were going at the time of the pass. None of that technical mumbo jumbo, nothing about gravity or momentum, is even mentioned in the laws of rugby.
Obviously momentum is going to cause a ball to drift forward if the player who passes it is running, but this cannot result in the sort of forward pass Kriel threw to Hougaard.
“A throw forward occurs when a player throws or passes the ball forward. ‘Forward’ means towards the opposing team’s dead ball line,” is all Law 12 states. It’s simple but for several years now officials have conspired to complicate the whole issue with all this talk of “the direction of the hands”.
While they are at it, the lawmakers should also make the ruck laws simpler because, as things stand in this era of “interpretation”, the World Cup final is probably going to be decided by who the referee is.
It cannot be good for the game that the Bulls can have a referee one week (Andrew Lees) who barely blew anything at the ruck and the next week be officiated by somebody who blows to the letter of the law.
Nobody wants to have a game dominated by the officials, but they currently have way too much influence on the result and spectators have started to desert rugby as a result.