Blowing the whistle: Oh no, it’s ‘Piglet’

2008-06-13 00:00

Well, as many might feel, we deserved our victory on Saturday last week, but it felt all too easy and incomplete. Much like the stadium itself, which is being upgraded for the 2010 World Cup.

How Saru can have a full international in Bloemfontein with its current capacity is dumbfounding.

But surely not as bad as the referee the IRB dished up for us to take charge of this Test match.

Here is a man that, I must say, does not resemble a referee, and is lovingly nicknamed “Piglet” by his fellow referees, I am referring to Dave Pearson of England, who has now made it on to the IRB elite panel of referees and in my opinion should not be there.

There are plenty of referees around who present themselves better and can do a better job with the whistle. But you must give the English Referees Union credit for giving their members every opportunity to prove themselves, and believing in their abilities. We have just been spared another year of Tony Spreadbury with his recent retirement from international refereeing — only to have Pearson take over where Spreadbury left off.

As for the Test match, it was great to have the old laws back, as I believe the game is much better for it. I love the fact that a deliberate infringement in the opponent’s 22-metre area is still a penalty and not a barrage of free-kicks that we have seen in the recent Super 14 and Vodacom Cup.

In the Test against Wales there was not much to say about it, except for a couple of decisions worth a mention and a TMO call that seemed to go against the Springboks.

The IRB recently sent out a memo to all its referees stressing that the tackle must be policed much more strictly than before, and in Saturday’s game Wales were often in on the side of the tackle and blown accordingly.

Another interesting call was that of hands in a ruck, which also happened early in the game. The IRB has insisted that hands not be used in rucks and that picking the ball up in a ruck (ball on ground) to make a maul (ball in air) was not allowed. The Springboks got nailed during the Test for this and it is an aspect that can be improved upon.

Important to remember is that if an infringement happens on the field of play and the ball ends up in the goal area or occurs in goal the offence takes preference. Simply put, a knock-on or forward pass in the field or in the goal by either side results in a scrum five metres from the goal-line in line with where the offence occurred. Although a 22-metre dropout would be more of a relief for the defending side that is not the law.

The TMO was called on in the 65th minute, when a lot of us at home were thinking Bryan Habana had scored a legitimate try. Habana broke through the Welsh defence to crash over the goal-line, only to land on his back and the ball stuck between two Welshmen. After a couple of seconds, Habana managed to force the ball on the ground, only to see that the referee was unsighted and called for the TMO.

Here the referee got it all wrong by asking if a try was scored or not. Patrick Robin from France was the TMO and had the difficult task of deciding whether Habana grounded the ball before or after the referee blew his whistle. He opted not to award the try, but what would have happened if this was a match-winning score? Luckily for the officials, they will get away with this one.

As you may well know by now, I have been quite critical of Saru and the way they have run their ship of referees. But I have been recently informed that the union has decided to broaden its scope of use for the TMO when the new Currie Cup season starts. This is a bold move, but one sorely needed to help give credibility back to the officials.

I have often criticised Saru referees and specifically Andre Watson, manager of referees, for his lack of transparency and absurd application of the experimental laws, but I must give him credit for initiating the new protocol on the TMO. We will see that the TMO may now rule on foul play if an incident was recorded, but not seen by the match officials. He may now inform the referee while the game is on and give instruction as to what punishment needs to go with the foul play.

This part of the new protocol will go a long way towards eradicating a real problem of the modern game.

Second, the referee may now ask the TMO to rule on the whole movement before a try has been scored, not only the act of scoring as in the past. The restriction here is that the TMO may only look at the last phase of play before a try. How often have we seen an error by the match officials in the build-up to a try — we only have to think back to the final of the Super 14 last year when Habana broke our Sharks’ hearts.

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

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