Law discussion: The Barrett yellow card
rugby365 law guru Paul Dobson looks at one of the most contentious incidents of the weekend, when the Hurricanes' All Black flyhalf Beauden Barrett was yellow-carded for the fourth time this season.
That incident, about 52 minutes into the second half of the Super Rugby semifinal between the Lions and Hurricanes, when the referee Jaco Peyper sent Beauden Barrett to the sin bin, has been the cause of much discussion.
Vince Aso of the Hurricanes had scored a try to restore his team's lead at 29-22 over the Lions.
The Lions kicked off, the Hurricanes kicked down towards the Lions' 22 where Andries Coetzee, the Lions' fullback, gathered the ball and raced ahead in counter attack.
He was stopped on the Hurricanes' 10-metre line. The Lions go the ball back to a pod of forwards who were stopped.
The ball came back to scrumhalf Ross Cronje who passed to flyhalf Elton Jantjies. Under threatening pressure Jantjies immediately got the ball to right wing Ruan Combrinck about a metre inside the Hurricanes' half.
About a metre over the Hurricanes' 10-metre line Combrinck chipped ahead. He raced after the ball and collected it on the bounce. He beat Thomas Perenara but Beauden Barrett, tackled him. The tackle was chest to chest. Barrett's tackle would smother the ball. Barrett and Combrinck fell to ground, their bodies roughly parallel to the goal-line, the ball between them.
Jordie Barrett of the Hurricanes and Albertus Smith of the Lions were almost immediately on the scene.
Beauden Barrett, on the ground, pulled himself out of the tackle as Combrinck tried to push the ball back to his side. In pulling himself out of the tackle, Barrett's lower legs made contact with the ball which was moved away from Combrinck's hands to the exit of the tackle and toward the Hurricanes' side where it was picked up by Ardie Savea.
The referee immediately blew his whistle in a manner that indicated that there was more to come.
On the ground Beauden Barrett protested and Jordie Barrett seemed to indicate that he had won the turnover with his hands.
The referee spoke to Dane Coles, the Hurricanes' captain, saying: "It's a clear line-break. Unfortunately the player is still there. Whatever influence he had, I still have to penalise him."
Coles said: "But it's not a yellow card."
The referee showed Barrett a yellow card and off he went to the sin bin, his fourth such journey this season.
Jantjies goaled the easy penalty and during Barrett's absence the Lions scored two tries, taking them from 25-29 to 39-29.
When he made the decision, the referee had the clearest of view of the action - a real-time view. He made a real-time decision. He did not have slow-motion replays, was not sitting down watching such replays with the remote to make them even slower, not debating the issue and not delivering a verdict an hour later. He did it there and then.
The laws do not explain what they mean by intentional/intentionally. At one stage the word voluntary was used instead of intentional. It may well mean that it was some action that the player takes rather than some action done to him, for it is clear that the referee is not expected to be a mind-reader. He has to look at the facts of what a player did. He is there to judge an action, not a player. If what he did was an infringement, then he has to take action.
He saw Barrett backing out of the tackle and at the same time moving the ball back in his side's favour, leading to a turnover.
The simple fact before the referee was that the tackler played the ball while still on the ground.
Law 15.4 (c) The tackler must get up before playing the ball.
Played: The ball is played when it is touched by a player.
This happened after a break that had taken the Lions close to the Hurricanes' try-line, where quick ball could well have produced a try.
Jordie Barrett could have a case - if he got his hands on the ball before Smith made contact with him. Because if the ball was on the ground and Smith made contact with him there was a ruck but he would have been allowed to handle it if had had had his hands on the ball before the ruck was formed.
Law 16 DEFINITIONS
A ruck is a phase of play where one or more players from each team, who are on their feet, in physical contact, close around the ball on the ground.
Law 16.4 (b) Players must not handle the ball in a ruck except after a tackle if they are on their feet and have their hands on the ball before the ruck is formed.
Sanction: Penalty kick
The suggestion that referees should be careful in awarding yellow cards is not necessary. They are aware of the gravity of a sanctionary card. Of course, a referee of Jaco Peyper's competence and experience would be well aware of the seriousness of sending a player off the field. But it is his duty to do so if he thought the infringement warranted it. And clearly he believed that Barrett's infringement warranted it.
Then there is the cry again for "neutral" referees - that his a referee who has no possible geographic attachment to either team.
Last year, in the knock-out matches, of which there were seven, six referees were appointed to matches in which a team from their country was involved.
Those who best know referees, know that referees do not cheat and that appointing unattached referees is really pandering to the perspective of people who are not referees and a vote of no-confidence in referees.
It is hard for an individual who always takes a side regardless of the match he is watching and is an ardent supporter if his own side to understand that there is a man in the middle who does not backing a side. The players all want their side to win, the coaches want their side to win and those watching all want a side to win.
Tom Canterbury, the USA basketball player and coach said once: "The trouble with referees is that they just don't care which side wins."
When Glen Jackson (New Zealand) was appointed last year to referee rthe match between the Hurricanes (New Zealand) and the Lions (South Africa) in New Zealand, it was because he was rated the best referee in the Super Rugby of 2016.