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Law discussion: Consistency

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Consistency is a great virtue. Often we hear coaches say things like: "All we ask is consistency."

By Paul Dobson, Moonsport

In their ordinary lives, how many people manage consistency? Do you know people who are the same today, as they were yesterday and will be the same tomorrow, people who always react in the same way when situations are closely similar? Moods can affect consistency, pressure and alcohol, too. Just driving in traffic is enough to produce erratic behaviour in a normally tranquil person.

Unwaveringly consistent people are rare in a world governed by time when there is change all around. On the rugby field change is fast, often obscured and in a time of tense activity.

The TMO has pressure, for sure, but he has facilities that referees do not have on their own. He has replays, slow and 'real time', and he is not as pressurised by time. The TMO has a better chance of producing consistency.

The modern refereeing trend of 'managing' a situation makes consistency harder to attain. When referees apply the laws as they say they should be applied he has a greater chance of achieving consistency.

Interpretation is a word usually wrongly used about refereeing. A referee's job is to apply the law, not interpret it. If the law is applied from match to match there is a chance of consistency, not only within a match but from match to match. There should be that match to match consistency, at least in top matches where the chosen few are the referees.

But enough. Let's look at two situations from last weekend's matches.

1. Scoring a try.

Law 22.3 BALL GROUNDED BY AN ATTACKING PLAYER
Try. When an attacking player who is on-side is first to ground the ball in the opponents' in-goal, the player scores a try.

Law 22.1 GROUNDING THE BALL
There are two ways a player can ground the ball:
(a) Player touches the ground with the ball. A player grounds the ball by holding the ball and touching the ground with it, in in-goal. ‘Holding’ means holding in the hand or hands, or in the arm or arms. No downward pressure is required.

i. The Cheetahs attack the Sunwolves. After a tackle, Clinton Swart of the Cheetahs picks up the ball and darts towards the line. As Derek Carpenter of the Sunwolves, tackles him, Swart reaches out in an attempt to ground the ball for a try.

The referee and his assistant discuss the incident to reach an 'on-field decision', that is a decision which they would have given if there had been no TMO. It is at present a requirement that the referee presents an onfield decision to the TMO which the TMO is allowed to disagree with if there is "compelling evidence' to do so. In this case, the TMO advises that against awarding a try.

ii. The Jaguares attack against the Lions. Tomás Lezana races down the left touchline and passes inside. The ball eventually reaches flyhalf Nicolás Sánchez who heads from the corner as Ross Cronje tries to stop him. The two go to ground in in-goal.

The referee consults his assistant and their 'onfield decision' is a try. They consult the TMO and the TMO advises that the try should be awarded.

In i. look at the ball, Swart's hand and his forearm as he attempts to ground the ball. The law requires the player to be 'holding' the ball. Swart's fingertips are on top of the ball and his forearm is on top of the ball. If the ball had been a cup and he attempted to hold it in that fashion, the cup would immediately fall and shatter.

Swart was not holding the ball.
So he did not ground the ball as the law required.
So it was no try.

So the match officials have got it right when they decide against awarding a try.

In ii. is Tuculet holding the ball? His hand has turned so that it is vertical to the ground with his palm against the ball. Could he be holding the ball in this position?

This is a much harder decision than the one in i. above. Tuculet could have been holding the ball, especially if his left thumb had been under it.

There was no compelling reason for the TMO to change the on-field decision.

2. Foul play

Law 10.3 REPEATED INFRINGEMENTS
(a) Repeatedly offending. A player must not repeatedly infringe any Law. Repeated infringement is a matter of fact. The question of whether or not the player intended to infringe is irrelevant.
Sanction: Penalty kick
A player penalised for repeated infringements must be cautioned and temporarily suspended.

(cautioned and temporarily suspended = yellow card)

i. Pablo Matera of the Jaguares has the ball. Harold Vorster of the Lions partially stops him and then lock Andries Ferreira brings Matera to ground. The referee lets play go on but then returns to deal with Ferreira because his tackle on Matera was high. The referee tells Ferreira that it was his second high tackle and third penalty offence, and so the referee sent him to the sin-bin.

Ferreira's first offence had been in the first minute when he tackled Matera high, his left arm at Matera's neck.

Certainly, in both cases, Ferreira grabbed Matera above the line of the shoulders.

Law 10.4 DANGEROUS PLAY AND MISCONDUCT
(e) A player must not tackle (or try to tackle) an opponent above the line of the shoulders even if the tackle starts below the line of the shoulders. A tackle around the opponent’s neck or head is dangerous play.
Sanction: Penalty kick

"repeated infringements" does not refer to knocking on twice; it deals with serious offences, which include high tackles which have been the focus of more stringent enforcement.

The second time Ferreira tackled high, in 20 minutes, would qualify as a repeated infringement.

The third infringement the referee refers to happened when Ferreira clumsily fell over a tackle and onto the ground beyond it. It cost his team three points but did not seem to be in any way dangerous.

The referee had now laid down a standard.

ii. Nicolás Sánchez of the Jaguares kicks ahead and chases his own kick. Anthony Volmink of the Lions catches the ball. Sánchez leaps and makes contact with Volmink's head. Volmink needs help from the medics.

The referee uses the screened replay to review the situation and makes up his own mind.

He says: "I saw the replay and it didn't look so bad."

"He just mistimed his jump."

"It was a little bit dangerous."

This happens on 38 minutes.

iii. The Lions have the ball going left and Harold Vorster passes to Jacques Nel. Nel takes one step and it brought down by Nicolás Sánchez. Nel flies through the air over Sánchez's shoulder, legs in the air and falls to ground. Nel was passing when Sánchez tackled him and the pass went forward. The referee was awarding a scrum to the Jaguares for the forward pass when there was an injury break and he examined Sánchez's tackle on Nel.

Referee's verdict: "He was a bit off balance and so it looks worse than it is."

"There were certainly no arms in the tackle and so we are going to go with a penalty."

Nel looks well balanced as he catches, takes a step and is taking a second step. His balance is disturbed by Sanchez's illegal tackle in which Sánchez drives up and effects what is in the same as a tip tackle.

This happens on 44 minutes, which is six playing minutes from Sanchez's previous penalty for foul play.

Summary

This would seem to be a case of inconsistency.

Each of Sanchez' acts of foul play appear more dangerous - worse in effect - than each of Ferreira's.

In playing time they were closer to each other than Ferreira's - six minutes as against 19 minutes.

That in each of Sánchez's infringement, the referee seems to go out of his way to find mitigating circumstances does not create an impression of fairness.

After the match, Sánchez was cited for his tackle on Nel, found guilty and suspended for a week. It means that what "looks worse than it is" was thought to be worth a red card.

There was no referral in the case of Ferreira's two fouls but in the case of Sánchez, the referee had a chance to see the action through replays with the chance for the TMO and assistant referees to intervene.

Consistency makes refereeing more credible.

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