Blowing the Whistle: Still bryce, still bad

2008-09-05 00:00

South Africa decided to turn up for the game at Ellis Park and the Australians decided to have a lie-in on Saturday. It was a remarkable comeback game for the Springboks and a much needed boost after a dismal Tri-Nations for the men in green and gold.

As for the referee on Saturday, his poor performance was overshadowed by the display of the Springboks. There was relief and much to talk about as Bryce Lawrence (New Zealand) heads back down under.

My impression is that Lawrence is not up to the mark to referee at this level. He gets away with a lot in the Super 14, but at international level there is little margin for error. On Saturday the game was one-sided and the Springboks took every opportunity to score, and the result was that there were few complaints about the referee. The fact is, he was poor and here are a few examples.

In the first minutes of the game, Pierre Spies darts for the Aussie goal-line only to be tackled by Lota Tiquiri just short of the goal-line. As he stretches to score Sterling Mortlock comes across and dislodges the ball from Spies. The referee called for the TMO and awards a scrum to the Wallabies for a knock-on by Spies. Now this is where the TMO protocol fails because Spies never crossed the goal-line at any time and was in fact caught up in the tackle with Tequiri. Mortlock entered the tackle from the incorrect side in his attempt to stop the try and should have been penalised for this transgression.

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 behind the tackled player or the tackler closest to those players’ goal-line.

Now if you then argue that Mortlock entered the tackle illegally and the Springboks should have received a penalty, why not a penalty try?

Often, in this year’s Tri-Nations involving the Springboks, there have been incidents where any referee would be shocked at the disregard for the laws of the game shown by the players and the coach. This is particuarly true of the set pieces where we should be guaranteed the ball but often concede possession.

A prime example was in the 52nd minute when the Springboks had an attacking lineout on the Australian 22 metre line. Bismark du Plessis throws the ball to the back of the line-out where Victor Matfield, Juan Smith and Schalk Burger are waiting for the throw. In the process, the three move over the 15-metre mark in an attempt to gather the ball. Smith is the one hoisted to knock the ball down to Du Preez. But in the meantime Wallaby Wycliff Palu has moved across the line of touch and intercepts the ball before Du Preez can get there. The Boks immediately scream “offside”. Has Palu infringed?

The answer is no.

Law 19.8: The lineout ends when the ball is thrown beyond the 15-metre line.

So Palu was correct in stepping over the line of touch the moment the ball was thrown beyond the 15-metre line. Do we put this down to poor knowledge of the laws by the players or poor coaching as it was a set move from a lineout?

Another example was in the 58th minute when the ball was moved along the Bok backline. Ruan Pienaar throws the ball at Jannie du Plessis who cannot gather it, and it goes behind him towards Percy Montgomery. The ball hits Percy on the lower leg and goes forward towards Du Plessis. Du Plessis catches the ball and the referee blows for accidental offside and awards a scrum to Australia. Correct? No


(a) When an offside player cannot avoid being touched by the ball or by a team-mate carrying it, the player is accidentally offside. If the player’s team gains no advantage from this, play continues. If the player’s team gains an advantage, a scrum is formed, with the opposing team throwing in the ball.

This is not what happened here.

b) When a player hands the ball to a team-mate in front of the first player, the receiver is offside. Unless the receiver is considered to be intentionally offside (in which case a penalty kick is awarded), the receiver is accidentally offside and a scrum is formed, with the opposing team throwing in the ball.

Du Plessis caught the ball (intentionally) and should have been penalised. Those who have been watching Bryce Lawrence all season would not have expected him to make the correct call.

•Your views to

•Michael Katzenellenbogen is a former Test referee and lives in Pietermaritzburg.

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