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Duty Ref 519 - Jaco van Heerden

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Jaco van Heerden, this year a Super Rugby referee, was on his way to referee the match between South Africa A and the England Saxons in George on the Friday before the match but found time to answer readers' questions.

1. Name: Cesar Alcacer

Hello. I am a big rugby fan from Spain, a happy follower and eager learner of this amazing sport.
Mr Dobson’s article on “intentionally” actions has brought to my mind a couple of plays/ref decisions that have been bugging my head since then.

Let me first say that (a) I am ok with potential refs misjudgments as they are human and in any case they do not misjudge “intentionally”, (b) I do not support any of the teams I will mention below and (c) I am posing this question because I want to know how to interpret these laws. Let me go back to a couple of plays of the famous Australia-Scotland match at Rugby World Cup 2015 (no, not that play).

#1. Maitland’s (#14-SCO) Intentional knock on at 42th minute. Mr Dobson’s article clearly defines what and intentional knock on is. Moreover, it says “a player (…) his hand was out parallel to the ground, palm down. It is impossible to catch the ball in such a case”. In several of your articles you mention that it is not is required for the ref to get into the player’s mind and assess if he/she had a fair intention of playing the ball despite the bad execution of the action or if there was an intention of unfair play. Hence, I understand the officials have to rely on some external signs, such as the aforementioned “hand out parallel to the ground”. As I see (and I could be wrong and I am here for the advice) Maitland has the arm extended before the ball is released from the Australian player and his hand is opened not parallel to the ground but facing the ball. It was a poor execution, so the knock on. If Joubert had called the intentional knock on without the TMO, I would’ve completely understood the decision. It may look as intentional if you do not pay attention to the position of the hand. But as this was a decision that was directly reviewed by the TMO (Joubert just call the knock on – scrum), it has been hard to me to understand the decision, as for me, after the review, Maitland’s action is an anticipation of the play (e.g. arm extended before the release of the ball). Also, everything in slow motion seems premeditated as it looks as if the player had plenty of time to react. So, am I missing something in this call? If so, what should have been the proper Scotland player gestures (arm and hand position) to avoid such call? Thanks.

#2. Scottish player (#13-Bennett) interferes (apparently unintentionally) with a pass from the Australian scrumhalf Will Genia (51:40). Law 11 (offside) says that offside players are not automatically penalised. They are penalised only if they interfere with the play. In this case, while Bennett has no intention to block the pass, he does. Again, as Mr. Dobson says, intentional/deliberate has a bad flavor, but in rugby you do not need to do something on purpose to infringe the law. And obviously, it is not the ref's job to assess the intention, just the action (or the result of the action). So far so good. However… If I had seen this for the first time. But I have seen Genia (and other players as well) provoking this type of penalty before, and I was wondering if this is not a case of unfair play (e.g. bending the rules, as your goal should be playing, not looking for penalties). I do not blame Joubert or the TMO in this call. I see this as the right “live” call. But when you watch the replay, it really looks more than Genia is looking to hit Bennett rather than passing the ball (basically, height and direction of the pass do not concord with receiving player). So the question is, at what point this is unfair or should be somehow regulated. Provoking this type of penalty is more a soccer thing rather that a rugby one.

#3 (bonus question). Previous to Maitland’s yellow card, there are a couple of advantages given by Joubert after a knock-on (first for Scotland, then Australia, right at the beginning of the second half). In both cases he (obviously) takes the same decision: calling the advantage over right after the ball is passed from the scrumhalf to the three-quarters. Isn’t it too soon to call the advantage is over? I mean, in both cases they lose some territory. Law 8 mentions that advantage can be territorial (not the case) or tactical (freedom to play the ball as they wish). So I understand that Joubert’s understanding in both cases is that the team has a tactical advantage, which would mean calling the scrum would be worse than letting them play. Is this the correct assessment? I mean, if I was a ref in a similar situation, should I think what would be more beneficial for the team, the scrum or the tactical advantage? If instead of a scrum it was a penalty, it would had been wiser to wait a little bit more before calling the advantage was over, to see if the tactical advantage was worthy? Or not?

Many thanks in advance.

Jaco van Heerden: Hi Cesar,

Your no 1: Law 12.1 (f) Intentional knock or throw forward. A player must not intentionally knock the ball forward with hand or arm, nor throw forward. In my opinion this will be a discretionary call from referee to referee.

Your no2: We cannot allow players to milk penalties, and so it must be managed and addressed. However, if there is an offside player, taking away some options to the attackers by way of his position, it should be a penalty regardless of how much "milking" the attackers put on it.

Your 3.: Good reasoning from you here. Advantage is the one law where you will always see a difference in application from referee to referee. Remember that the Law of advantage takes precedence over most other Laws and its purpose is to make play more continuous with fewer stoppages for infringements.

The the referee is the sole judge of whether or not a team has gained an advantage. The referee has a wide discretion when making this decisions.


2. Name: Gabriele Conti

Hi, I have some doubts about the offside rule (rugby union) when you are not in possession of the ball and it's an open play (no ruck, maul, scrum, line-out). The question is, is there an offside line in open play? In my team (amateurs) we are told that in open play the offside line is the line of the ball, so if you are behind the back of the carrier of the opposite team you can not tackle or intercept. Maybe a case is more simple to explain myself: Team A has the ball, Team B tackle and a ruck forms. A player from team B, onside when ruck ended intercepts the ball but he is over the line of the ball when the pass occurs. Is he allowed or he is offside? Is there a situation (besides lazy runner case) where an intercepter is not allowed to take the ball, if he was onside in the beginning of the open play?

Jaco van Heerden: Hi Gabriele

Always a contentious issue for most spectators. No, there is no offside in open/general play. To answer your scenario: if the player from team B was onside when the ruck ended, he can continue playing. There is no such thing as "an offside over the line of the ball".


3. Name: Nick J

Hi guys, I'd appreciate it if you could keep this anonymous, but with your recent videos on the laws around touch I had a few questions on some stranger scenarios & I felt like it might make an interesting article!

For each of these, is the ball in or out with Blue kicking a penalty for touch and a Red wing attempting to keep the ball in play.

i. The Red player, standing in the field of play, reaches over the plane of touch and hits the ball back into the field. In or Out?

ii. A Red player standing in the field of play jumps up, hits the ball back into the field (inside the plane of touch) and lands out. In or Out?

iii. Same as 2, but he hits the ball back in from outside the plane of touch.

iv. A Red player standing outside the field of play jumps and catches the ball outside the plane of touch before landing inside the field.

v. Same as iv, but he catches the ball inside the plane of touch.

vi & vii. Same as 1v and v, but hitting the ball back in instead of catching it. I realise these are quite specific, but with finals time approaching and more assistant referee opportunities, I would really appreciate the clarifications

Jaco van Heerden: Hi Nick.

Lets see how well we can answer your questions by looking at law 19:

Kicked directly into touch’ means that the ball was kicked into touch without landing on the playing area, and without touching a player or the referee.
The line of touch is an imaginary line in the field of play at right angles to the touchline through the place where the ball is thrown in.
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.
The ball is in touch when a player is carrying it and the ball-carrier (or the ball) touches the touchline or the ground beyond the touchline. The place where the ball-carrier (or the ball) touched or crossed the touchline is where it went into touch.
The ball is in touch if a player catches the ball and that player has a foot on the touchline or the ground beyond the touchline. If a player has one foot in the field of play and one foot in touch and holds the ball, the ball is in touch.
If the ball crosses the touchline or touch-in-goal line, and is caught by a player who has both feet in the playing area, the ball is not in touch or touch-in-goal. Such a player may knock the ball into the playing area.
If a player jumps and catches the ball, both feet must land in the playing area otherwise the ball is in touch or touch-in-goal.
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.

So therefore, your

i. In
ii. In
iii. Out
iv. Out
v. In
vi. Out
vii. In

Good luck with those assistant referee appointments!


4. Name: Mario Iglesias

Hello, It is said in the laws that: 3.4 (d) A team can substitute up to two front row players (subject to Law 3.5 when it may be three) and up to five other players. If numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 8 and 16 are marked as possible front row players, and that team wants to make a substitution in which: number 19 goes in, he will play 8, and so No.8 starts playing in the front row and number 1 goes out. The substitution would be: 19 in/1 out. Would this be a front row substitution? I think it would be a front row substitution, as I am substituting a front row player (3.4 (d)), and so if this was the first substitution I would still be able to substitute another front row player and up to five other players. Am I correct? Thanks.

Jaco van Heerden: Hi Mario

This always make for some headaches!

Sounds logical. However, very impractical / highly unlikely that 4 & 8 will be nominated as frontrowers. But your scenario and reasoning is in terms of law correct.


5. Name: Bunny Bolton

Sorry, it's not about laws but on Saturday after the Test we were told that players need to have more say in assessing referees.

Is there any mechanism that enables teams to have a say in assessing a referee's performance after the match?
In fact what reporting is done on a. a top referee's performance, and b. any club referee's performance?

Jaco van Heerden: Hi Bunny

In my view players should never have, and possibly will never have, a say in the assessing of referees. The flip side of the coin: no referee should have a say in the selection of teams, or on the form/performance of respective players.

To set you at ease: the coaches do have a platform to comment on or "rate" the referee's performance in a sound/ controled system.

Lastly, there is at any given first class game referee assessors appointed working in tandem with the involved referee's coach, working towards improved performances.


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