Disputed Wales try puts match officials on the spot in one of the toughest calls

2008-02-16 00:00

It was the second round of matches in this year’s Six Nations tournament last weekend. The referees seem to have got their acts together and they produced some fine performances.

This will add to the pressure on the SANZAR referees this weekend when they have to deal with the introduction of the Super 14 and the new law variations that accompany these games.

There were some interesting calls from the Six Nations. In the Wales-Scotland game at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff there was one of the most difficult TMO calls of the year.

The incident happened in the second half of the match — not that it should be relevant to the decision, though it may well have been relevant to the coach’s wrath when the final whistle blew. Wales were leading 20-15 when Shane Williams went for the corner as Scotland’s Nikki Walker dived at him.

Williams grounded the ball in the goal area, but the referee referred the matter to the television match official. It was a difficult decision. In the end the TMO advised that a try had been scored and the referee awarded the try.

The Scotland coach, Frank Hadden, launched a scathing attack on the match officials: “The video ref clearly got it wrong,” he said.

“Clearly” is an exaggeration. It is understandable that the coach is suffering. He was and is under enormous pressure. In two matches in the Six Nations, Scotland have failed to score a try, which suggests that Hadden faces bigger problems than a possible mistake by a television match official.

And was it a mistake? It was a tough one. Williams did ground the ball and did not seem to step out at all. What was difficult to judge was whether Williams touched the corner post before grounding. From the TV replay it would seem to be simultaneous. The TMO could have called for a five-metre scrum as he might have been uncertain as to what had happened first.

The pressure must have been great, but he had to make a decision and opted to award the try. In my opinion, it was the correct call. One of the basics of rugby is to score tries, and if you get that close to scoring, it is surely always better to award the try than to controversially disallow it.

What we must remember, though, is that in the Super 14 it would not have mattered because the corner post no longer enters the equation.

The other call worth a mention was that made in the Ireland-France match in Paris. This time it was the touch judge who stole the spotlight with a controversial call as to when the ball is in touch or not.

Brian O’Driscoll had the ball near the touchline on his left. He was tackled by Fulgence Ouedraogo and David Skrela of France. O’Driscoll placed the ball backwards but towards touch. Jamie Heaslip is first on the scene and the ball strikes his left foot and stops. It does not get to the touch-line. His foot moves into touch as he bends down and with his right hand he knocks the ball further infield.

Now here is where the law is ambiguous. First it says: The ball is in touch when it is not being carried by a player and it touches the touchline or anything or anyone on or beyond the touchline.

But in the same law it is also written that a player in touch may kick or knock the ball, but not hold it, provided it has not crossed the plane of the touchline. The plane of the touchline is the vertical space rising immediately above the touchline.

Play went on as the touch judge kept his flag down. If you were Irish you would be happy and if you were French you would be fuming. The law is outdated and contradictory.

The Super 14 started this weekend and it would be wise just to recap the most important changes that we have to keep in mind:

1. All technical infringements at the tackle, ruck or maul result in a free kick

2. Penalties are now only for offside

3. There is a five-metre offside line at the scrum

4. There is an offside line across the field at the tackle

5. A kick from the 22 metre area can gain ground only if the defenders did not take it into the 22 metre area or play restarted in the 22 metre area.

6. The corner post has no more relevance with touch or touch-in goal

•Your views to refscorner@mweb.co.za

•Michael Katzenellenbogen is a former Test referee living in Pietermaritzburg.

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