Law discussion: Lawes and the laws
@rugby365com‘s law guru Paul Dobson analyses the most contentious incident of the past weekend.
For the second week in a row, Twickenham was host to a one-point Test and a refereeing controversy late in the match which involved the use or non-use of the TMO.
This Saturday it was England vs New Zealand.
There were five minutes to play and New Zealand were leading 16-15. Over near the touchline on New Zealand’s right and near their 10-metre line, Richie Mo’unga of New Zealand was tackled and the ball came back to scrumhalf TJ Perenara, a left-footer. Perenara rather telegraphed that he was going to do a box kick. To do this, his back was to the touchline and he was open to the playing field. Perenara kicked and Courtney Lawes, the England lock, charged the kick down. The ball bobbled about and Sam Underhill (7), England’s busy flank, grabbed the ball and suddenly was running free. Only Beauden Barrett of New Zealand was in any place to stop him and Underhill, a forward, outwitted Barrett the back and was over in the corner for what England believed was the winning try.
Twickenham was delighted – till the referee and the TMO decided to discuss the matter, and then, when the verdict came, there was thunderous booing, rugby’s ugliest noise.
The TMO’s advice to the referee was that Lawes had started from an offside position to charge down Perenara’s kick. He advised the referee to cancel the try and instead penalise Lawes.
The referee did that. New Zealand won 16-15 and at the final whistle Twickenham booed again.
There were several replays before the TMO advised the referee. In the replays it seems that only New Zealanders formed up over Mo’unga on the ground with Ofa Tu’ungafasi (17) the front man; no Englishman on his feet made contact with Tu’ungafasi or other New Zealanders on their feet over Mo’unga and the ball; the English players were fanned out, Lawes amongst them;
Lawes came to be ahead of the line of English players; while ball was still in that tackle environment, Lawes’s feet were ahead of Tu’ungafasi’s feet, in the sense that they were nearer New Zealand’s goal-line than Tu’ungafasi’s feet;
from this position Lawes came forward and charged down Perenara’s kick.
From this, it is clear that there was no ruck.
Law 15 FORMING A RUCK
2. A ruck is formed when at least one player from each team are in contact, on their feet and over the ball which is on the ground.
The only players on their feet over the ball are New Zealanders.
Then why would Lawes be considered offside?
There is a law amendment which is subject to trial but applicable at the moment and was applicable at Twickenham.
The Law Amendment
A ruck commences when at least one player is on their feet and over the ball which is on the ground (tackled player, tackler). At this point the offside line is created.
That came into effect on 1 January 2018.
Australia asked for a clarification of this and World Rugby produced one, distinguishing between offside lines and the formation of a ruck.
The clarification was made known on 16 April 2018 in an addendum, agreeing “on the following simplified and more logical wording of the law:”
Offside lines are created when at least one player is on their feet and over the ball, which is on the ground. A ruck is formed when at least one player from each team are in contact, on their feet and over the ball which is on the ground.
[The substance and attention is clear even if the grammar is not.]
So those New Zealanders over Mo’unga cause offside lines.
For Lawes, the offside line is presumably the nearest foot: Tu’ungafasi’s foot. If it is not there, then where else could it be in order to fulfil the intention of establishing an offside line for a tackle?
Because he is ahead of Tu’ungafasi’s foot, Lawes would be offside in accordance with amendment and the TMO’s advice would be acceptable for being right.
It is a matter in which the TMO could be informed as the possible infringement was within two phases of a try’s being scored.
But what about the recent expressed view of World Rugby that the referee be encouraged to take the decision?
From the new TMO Protocol
• The TMO is a tool to help referees and assistant referees. The referee should not be subservient to the system. The referee is responsible for managing the TMO process
• The referee is the decision-maker and must remain in charge of the game
• Any relevant information taken into consideration must be CLEAR and OBVIOUS and in the context of materiality
• The application of the TMO system must be credible and consistent, protecting the image of the game.
In the case of the Owen Farrell contact with André Esterhuizen last week, the referee looked at the big screen and seemed not to take advice from the TMO at all.
In the case of the Lawes offside this week, it seems that the TMO did all the advising and the referee simply put the TMO’s advice into action.
The difference may be a practical one. In the first case there was no rain and a clear view of the big screen. In the second case the rain was teeming down and there was not a clear view of the big screen for the referee down in the rain.
It is not an easy decision but fortunately the camera seems to be directly focussed on the action, avoiding the error of parallax.
Acceptance of the decision will probably be determined by which side each one of the 82 000 at Twickenham wanted to win. Bias plays a part. It is hard for supporters, especially avid ones, to believe that referees are not biased. As Tom Canterbury, an American basketball player once said: “The trouble with referees is that they just don’t care who wins.”
By Paul Dobson