Rough and smooth of rugby refereeing by Jake White

Posted by SCRRS Website Committee on October 19th, 2010

Jake White

Jake White looks at how refereeing decisions impact matches, but says that teams shouldn’t complain as that’s the nature of the game.

Much was said and written about the effect the officials had during this year’s Tri-Nations. From the interpretations at the breakdown to the number of yellow cards, the standard of refereeing was a constant theme throughout the two-month long competition.

We’ve cited four examples here where the referee has made a mistake in the build-up to a try or in the movement before the score, and show that although referees do make mistakes; those errors cancel each other out over the 80 minutes and six games the countries play in a competition such as this. It’s the nature of rugby – mistakes are made by players and officials, but eventually the players and teams would be best served by not complaining about decisions that go against them, but rather look where they went wrong.

For the Springboks’ only win of the tournament against the Wallabies at Loftus, on another day their crucial first and last tries that resulted in 14 points may not have been awarded. The Boks ended up winning by 13 points (44-31), but tries to Juan Smith and JP Pietersen shouldn’t have been allowed.

In the movement before Smith’s try, Benn Robinson is adjudged to have thrown a forward pass when the ball went backwards. Alain Rolland – who was constantly castigated by the Boks – ruled in their favour and awarded a scrum when it shouldn’t have been. From the ensuing set piece, Jean de Villiers sets up second phase for the Bok flank to score.

In the same match with Australia pressing for a win and in possession with two and a half minutes remaining, Rolland calls for advantage for a Wallaby penalty because the Boks killed the ball at the breakdown. But by the third phase, Rolland forgot about the penalty and didn’t call ‘Advantage over’, but the Boks turned over possession, and the Bok winger ends up scoring 65m down field to seal the result. The outcome could have been very different if Rolland had gone back for the penalty and the Wallabies had put the ball out for a lineout.

That’s the way the game goes, and two other examples show how Australia and New Zealand also got some help from the refs.

In the All Blacks’ final win of campaign in Sydney, the main talking point was Richie McCaw’s try, which for the Kiwis’ second match in a row brought his side back into the contest (just like he did at Soccer City in the previous contest). Many complained that the All Blacks captain had broken from the scrum early, but the main reason for the try was James O’Connor’s defensive error where he came off his wing. Those who blamed the Wallabies’ loss on McCaw getting away with the infringement also failed to note that Rocky Elsom had also broken early from the same scrum.

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Earlier in the first half, the Wallabies also benefited from a mistake where Cory Jane was ruled to have thrown a forward pass, which wasn’t the case. The only difference to Loftus was that this time Australia profited as O’Connor scored his team’s opening try from the scrum.

Over the course of the match, these two examples show that the refs’ mistakes cancelled each other out for either side, and while in Pretoria the Wallabies were on the receiving end, two weeks later a similar decision went for them.

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Refereeing mistakes are part of the game’s human element, and supporters and players have to deal with that. It’s about taking the rough with the smooth in rugby.

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One Comment »

  • Sean O said:

    Referees make mistakes? I don’t think so….

    However, I’m thinking Richie McCaw was off way too early as I watch that over and over. Even though the defensive flank was off, McCaw forced him to break off; kinda like when an offensive lineman moves for a false start.

    The ball was at the back off the scrum, and the 8 man, who was over the ball had come unbound, thus ending the scrum. McCaw was off way before the All Black 8 man.

    Too bad, so sad for Autralia.

    Last point, at our level, and if the ref is in good position to see, I hope that would be called back. At the International level, play on I suppose.

    I’m sure any number of teams in our league who saw that will do the same and of course, try to mimic it.

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