Category Archives: Laws

Wales see Red as Aussie Gold have Black night…


After five intense weeks, 46 matches, 256 tries, 18 yellow cards and two controversial red cards, the Rugby World Cup is down to the very pointy end – and a re-run of the inaugural final from 1987.

Wales were heartbroken by their narrow 1 point loss to France following the 17th minute red card for Welsh skipper Sam Warburton by Irish referee Alain Rolland, which has caused some controversy.

In 2007, the IRB approved a Law clarification which essentially made it clear that tackles involving a player being lifted off the ground and tipped horizontally, and were then either forced or dropped to the ground, were illegal and constitute dangerous play.

The summary for possible sanction scenarios when a tackler horizontally lifts a player off the ground are:

1. The player is lifted and then forced or “speared” into the ground. A red card should be issued for this type of tackle.
2. The lifted player is dropped to the ground from a height with no regard to the player’s safety. A red card should be issued for this type of tackle.
3. For all other types of dangerous lifting tackles, it may be considered a penalty or yellow card is sufficient.

Referees have been instructed not to make decisions based on what they consider was the intention of the offending player, but based on an objective assessment (as per Law 10.4 (e)) of the circumstances of the tackle.

The difficulty for players, coaches, fans, and indeed referees, is that contextual judgement and materiality is ruled out.

Was it a dangerous tackle? Yes?
Was it cynical and deliberate? No.
Was it a yellow? Maybe.

It was a very cruel way to end what has been a great tournament for Wales who deserved to make the final and would undoubtedly have pushed the All Blacks further than France seem likely to do.

As for the All Blacks, they face France in a re-run of the first World Cup final (when they prevailed 29-9). A very one sided semi-final against the Tasman rivals from Australia failed to spark into life on a damp night in Auckland, and Quade Cooper struggled to ignite the Wallabies.

It wasn’t a free flowing game, despite a sparkling and powerful start by the ABs who scored a stunning try just 6 minutes in and threatened to run riot. Australia kept them at bay and they didn’t threaten the try line again – and were content with a workman-like and deserved victory to reach their third final.

That final will be managed by Craig Joubert who has had a magnificent World Cup and deserves his place behind the whistle on Sunday. By the time he blows the final whistle of the 2011 tournament, New Zealand should be crowned champions and send a nation into celebrations 24 years in the making.

Do or do not. There is no TRY!


The All Blacks were well beaten in an old fashion tussle in their Tri-Nations match against the Boks in Port Elizabeth. It was their first loss of the season, but the ABs looked over confident and somewhat arrogant in their approach, resting several key players. However, there is a lack of depth to this side on this showing, which will worry the home faithful – with New Zealand favourites to win the World Cup next month.

However, the biggest talking point of the game came when Jimmy Cowan appreared to have scored a dodgy try. Israel Dagg had been hauled down just short after a scintillating break, and popped the ball up (and three meters forward) to Cowan to dive over the line.

First thing first. Its staggering how many elite players cannot pass the ball backwards. These are internationals, they know what they are doing. Its unbelievable the poor level of skill they demonstrate at times.

Now, back to the try. Referee George Clancy was clearly unsure and Kiwi/English Assistant Ref Andrew Small – who was in perfect position, was of no help (as usual) and so Clancy went to the TMO Johan Meuwesen.

After telling Clancy that there was no problem with the grounding he then offered some further advice: “Do you need any other information before the goal line?”. “ummmm. Sure!” said Clancy. The TMO informed the Ref there was a forward pass. Clancy ruled the forward pass without hesitation.

Now this was the right thing to do. It was a forward pass. Had the try stood it would have been a travesty. The Kiwi press were mixed – but most lambasted the officials for going outside agreed protocols. Paddy O’Brien, IRB Head of Referees was furious and said the matter will be reviewed.

Paddy is himself a Kiwi, a once great referee, but he may be a little more partisan than he should – particularly when you consider he was one of the driving forces behind promoting fellow Kiwis Andrew Small and Bryce Lawrenson to International status – both still totally out of their depth.

Graham Henry was gracious in defeat, stating that if it was a forward pass then it shouldn’t have been a try. The IRB need to get to grips and help referees further. If it is clear that something has occurred in the act of scoring the try then they should be allowed to intervene.

Given that the majority of referees will never have the benefit of other officials or TMOs, we have to use our initiative, and as often as possible, we have to use the Force!

Paint by numbers…


One thing that has really begun to grind on me this season is the prescriptive and unempathetic way referees are being instructed to “manage” matches. Referees are encouraged to count penalties, issue warnings and use yellow cards as part of their management strategy – but where does that leave room for instinct or feel for the game?

There is nothing within the Laws of the Game that either instruct or could be interpreted as this “paint by numbers” approach to refereeing the game. Why should a referee give warnings after penalty number “x” and then issue a yellow card after penalty number “y”? Where is the materiality and contextuality?

Coaches and captains now often demand a card for an opposition player – knowing that referees are being given a premeditated mandate for how they will manage penalty scenarios.

I was recently told in an assessment that I had missed a “golden opportunity” to issue a yellow card in the first ten minutes of a game – to a player who had retreated 9 meters and not 10 from a quick tap. Lets forget that it wasn’t in the magical “red zone” close to the try line and there were no trends at this point in the match. There were only 15 penalties all game, none of which warranted a technical yellow card.

Referees should be encouraged to manage the game they are in charge of – facilitate a safe and fun (yup FUN!) environment for 30 players to enjoy their sport.

I use my instinct to determine advantage in a game, and when that advantage is over, so surely I should be able to determine when a yellow card or even a penalty is needed within the context of the game.

I became a referee as injuries meant I couldn’t play any more – and I was determined to give something back to the sport I love. But there is a huge amount of politics, egos and opinions that are thrown at referees every week – but not from players; but their referee coaches, assessors and other “supporting” cast members!

Its important to get some input on law, positioning and other improvements to the game – but on how and when to manage penalties should be a discussion point – not a dictate!

South African referee Louis Wessels also highlights his views on the decline in management techniques and the over indulgence of cards to solve problem players.

Players play with instinct. Referees should be allowed to referee with some too…

Advantage over…


Playing advantage is a critical element of rugby, enabling teams to capitalize on mistakes to gain an advantage, either territorially, tactically or through creating a scoring opportunity.

But just what is “advantage” and when does a referee know it over?!

Law 8.1. needs to be properly understood by both the referees and players (and spectators) to provide some clarity on playing and taking advantage of advantage!

(a) The referee is sole judge of whether or not a team has gained an advantage. The referee has wide discretion when making decisions.
(b) Advantage can be either territorial or tactical.
(c) Territorial advantage means a gain in ground.
(d) Tactical advantage means freedom for the non-offending team to play the ball as they wish.

Mmmmm…. a little vague at best.

What I am looking for at advantage? Well there are two distinct types – Scrum advantage and Penalty Advantage.

Scrum advantage is probably the least contentious issue. No one really complains about the award of a scrum as both teams remain in competition for the ball at the set piece. Advantage is over for me once the team in possession has either made a few metres in territory or managed to retain the ball through two or three phases.

Everyone has a view on playing a penalty advantage and when its over. I take much more appreciation for several key issues:
1. Location on the pitch – is it close to touch midfield or in front of the posts 5m out?
2. Context within the match – have their been any fights or tension (is someone likely to get a punch behind your back?)
3. Penalty trends – has there been two or three consecutive offences (is a yellow card a potential?)
4. Penalty reason – is it a cynical penalty and needs further sanction (is a yellow card a potential?)

Then, if you are able to continue to play the advantage I am looking for one of the following:
1. Significant territorial advantage (20-30m)
2. Significant tactical advantage (scoring opportunity)
3. A score

However, is advantage over if a player, under no pressure, attempts a drop goal or drops the ball in the act of scoring? Some referees, players and coaches will bring the penalty back following a failure to score – but isn’t this double jeopardy for the other team – two bites at the cherry?

Advantage is a great feature of rugby, but it remains highly subjective. It will continue to remain a positive aspect as long as teams take advantage of advantage!

Myth buster…


There are several urban myths that exist in rugby: got to let him up; cant take a second quick tap; No 8 can’t pick up from uncontested scrums; there is no offside in-goal or the most famous of all New Zealand always choke in World Cups!

However, a recent gem occured in a match that confused a good level referee and two semi-professional sides.  What is more no-one, other than the watching referees, even queeried the decision, and the referees had several views!

So what would you do…?

Blue have a scrum 5m from their own try line and by their posts. Red are oposition.  Blue 9 passes ball from back of scrum to Blue 10 who is under the posts, in the field of play.  Red 7 attempts to tackle Blue 10, who sidesteps out the way.  Red 7 misses the tackle and runs into the in-goal area.

Red 10 races up towards Blue 10.  Blue 10 kicks for touch, but Red 10 charges the ball down, which lands in the in-goal area by the feet of the Red 7.  Red 7 touches down for the try.  Red celebrate and Blue gather under the posts.  The referee awards the try.

But was he right…?

Was it a try?  Was it a knock-on? or was it a Penalty?

Under Law 11.3 there are three ways by which an offside player can be put onside by an action of the opposing team. However, these three ways do not apply to a player who is offside under the 10-Metre Law.

(a) Runs 5 metres with ball. When an opponent carrying the ball runs 5 metres, the offside player is put onside.
(b) Kicks or passes. When an opponent kicks or passes the ball, the offside player is put onside.
(c) Intentionally touches ball. When an opponent intentionally touches the ball but does not catch it, the offside player is put onside.

However, your own team mate cannot put you onside under law by charging it down…

So… no try.  Penalty 5m to Blue!