Officials err, and rugby suffers

2008-03-22 00:00

The Sharks’ win over the Lions at a rain-drenched Ellis Park on Saturday by 16-8 was dominated by the off-field controversy whch involved Bismarck du Plessis, Dick Muir and a timekeeper.

The Sharks would have loved to come away with a bonus point, but lost one of their more robust playmakers in hooker Du Plessis early during the first half of the match.

And, during the game, a furious Muir was seen admonishing the officials for not allowing Du Plessis to return to the game. It is worth a look at the law regarding blood and blood replacements and the impact it had in this specific encounter.


(a) When a player leaves the field to have bleeding controlled and/or have an open wound covered, that player may be temporarily replaced.

If the player who has been temporarily replaced does not return to the field-of-play within 15 minutes (actual time) of leaving the playing area, the replacement becomes permanent and the replaced player must not return to the field-of-play.

The key words to remember here are ‘actual time’. When watching the game live on Saturday, I felt that the Sharks were hard done by.

Du Plessis left the field for a bleeding wound approximately 17 minutes into the first half after a headlong collision with Keegan Daniels. The wound was a big one and needed the on-site physician to repair it.

Now, for those who do not know Ellis Park, the medical facility is situated quite a way from the field and will take at least a minute or two to walk there and back.

The official timekeeper, Gabriel Pappas (Lions), apparently claims that he gave the Sharks sufficient warning that time was expiring for Du Plessis to return to the game.

As it was, Du Plessis was standing next to the field, waiting for a break in play to go back on at minute 32 of the first half. One can argue that he must have reported to the officials well before that and with time to spare.

Now at this time Mark Lawrence, the referee, was informed that Du Plessis was off longer than the allowed 15 minutes of real time and consequently was not allowed back into the game permanently.

Saru referees claim that accurate records were kept of when and why Du Plessis left the field, but when asked when exactly he left the field of play they assume it was between minute 17 and minute 19.

On an exercise to determine the exact time I watched a recording of the game and found the actual time that Du Plessis was off the field to be 16 minutes and 10 seconds (confirmed with Super Rugby at 16min: 07sec).

According to Saru referees, an actual time when Du Plessis returned to the field could also not be given. This leads to question the authenticity of Saru referees’ version of events. I am of the opinion that there was insufficient communication between the officials and the medical team and that a mere couple of seconds has caused the entire fracas.

The long and the short of the matter is that timekeeping in South Africa was started at Ellis Park and has been perfected over the past 10 years. The only problem here was that the people that keep time have not changed.

Pappas has been doing the timekeeping ever since I can remember and has gone unnoticed and unrewarded all that time. My opinion is that when it was clear that he could make an important call that seldom, if ever, happens in the Super 14, he had his “15 minutes” of fame.

The controversy was bound to follow as Pappas was over-officious and pedantic. The only people that seemed to gain from Bismarck’s disqualification was the Lions, while rugby certainly suffered.

Controversy also broke out this week in Australia where Willie Roos, another Lions official, was again the centre of attention after another poor performance in the Brumbies - Hurricanes match.

This all transpired after Laurie Fischer, Brumbies coach, wrote an official complaint to the ARU. In response to his complaint Peter Marshall, ARU Manager of Referees, agreed that Roos failed in his effort to referee as he awarded 39 penalties and free kicks in the match, blowing his whistle every two minutes for these infringements alone.

Marshall indicated Roos, who has only been in charge of six Super 14 matches, should have yellow-carded players for repeated infringements if his penalty tally was so high.

In return André Watson, SA’s Manager of Referees, accused the Australians of being over-critical of Roos and said that his referee had done very little wrong in the game.

The fact is Roos did nothing to improve the standard of play and it got out of hand as he lost control.

Again incompetence has lead to controversy at the offices of Saru referees.

•Your views to

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

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