Blowing the whistle

2008-11-28 00:00

WHAT a wonderful result this past weekend as the Springboks trounced the English on home soil and did so with a record score to boot. All this and playing with 14 men for 20 minutes of the game makes this past Saturday’s victory even more remarkable. Nigel Williams (Wales) was the referee and, although he came in for some criticism after the match, I just felt he performed admirably in what must have been the biggest game of his career.

The same cannot be said of Dave Pearson for the Scotland match the previous week, whose poor attempt must be a serious concern for Paddy O’Brien, head of refereeing at the IRB. Pearson’s inconsistent policing at the breakdown was the main reason both teams could not build up any momentum and why the Springboks were left frustrated metres short of the goal-line.

An excellent example was in the 33rd minute when the Springboks were metres away from the line as JP Petersen went to ground after a backline move. Phil Goodman made the tackle and Mike Blair tried to pick up the ball from Petersen as he went down to recycle possession. Jean De Villiers and Schalk Burger then drove on to Blair and cleaned him out, both going to ground in the process. Pearson penalised the Springboks for going off their feet and diving on to the tackle.

The Boks, obviously upset, voiced their opinion and got 10 metres to boot for descent.

If you watched both De Villiers and Burger at this breakdown you could see that they both drove Blair off the ball and didn’t dive in. Burger went to ground because De Villiers took Blair in a different direction and there was nothing to keep Burger upright. This shocking decision stripped the Boks of a clear try-scoring opportunity. Pearson is clearly not an international standard referee and is clearly overweight and unfit for this type of international. For me the most shocking news was that Tappe Henning, an IRB selector who attended the match, said on RSG that he thought Pearson refereed well.

The most talked about decision of the past fortnight was the penalty try in New Zealand’s game against Ireland. In the 41st minute the All Blacks attacked the goal-line and Ma’a Nono kicked through a grubber for Ritchie McCaw to chase. The ball crossed the line and as McCaw was about to gather Tommy Bowe of Ireland stuck his arm in front of McCaw and knocked the ball touch-in-goal. Bowe was clearly not trying to ground the ball. The Law states:

Law 10.2 (c) Throwing into touch. A player must not intentionally knock, place, push or throw the ball with his arm or hand into touch, touch-in-goal, or over the dead ball line.

Penalty: Penalty Kick on the 15-metre line if the offence is between the 15-metre line and the touchline, or, at the place of infringement if the offence occurred elsewhere in the field of play, or, 5 metres from the goal line and at least 15 metres from the touchline if the infringement occurred in in-goal.

A penalty try must be awarded if the offence prevents a try that would probably otherwise have been scored.

The referee was Mark Lawrence of South Africa and he immediately understood the importance of the decision he had to make. He asked for the TMO to confirm his perception that Bowe had deliberately knocked the ball into touch. He got the call, an easy decision: penalty try. Then came the tough part. Do you give a yellow card for a professional foul or would the penalty try suffice? Lawrence gave Bowe a yellow card and did not make many friends in Dublin that evening, but it was brave and, in my book, correct.

Law 22.16 (b) Foul play by the defending team. The referee awards a penalty try if a try would probably have been scored but for foul play by the defending team.

The referee awards a penalty try if a try would probably have been scored in a better position but for foul play by the defending team.

A penalty try is awarded between the goal posts. The defending team may charge the conversion kick after a penalty try.

A player who prevents a try being scored through foul play must either be cautioned and temporarily suspended or sent off.

What was concerning is the amount of leeway given to McCaw at the breakdown. He seems to always enter the tackle at the incorrect angle and gets away with it time and time again. It would be interesting to see if England would ask the referee today to pay special attention to McCaw as Bob Dwyer had a lot to say in the press this last week of the All Blacks’ illegal tactics at the breakdown.

Law 15.6 (c) At a tackle or near to a tackle, other players who play the ball must do so from behind the ball and from directly behind the tackled player or the tackler closest to those players’ goal line. Penalty: Penalty Kick.

One thing is clear from the past week’s matches – southern hemisphere referees are a far better prospect than those in the north. The game has evolved and the north will have to do a lot of catching up if they want to remain competitive.

•Michael Katzenellenbogen is a former Test referee who lives in Pietermaritzburg. Your views to refscorner@mweb.co.za

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