Law discussion: Losing the ball and the TMO
Scott Barrett of the Crusaders, playing in white, charges at the Rebels' goal-line. As he gets there, Barrett is tackled by Reece Hodge of the Rebels. Barrett and Hodge go to ground, Hodge clinging to Barrett. When he goes to ground, Barrett, on his back, does not ground the ball. He rolls over, the ball still in his possession, and starts to move it towards the ground. The ball comes loose from his possession and Barrett then grounds the ball.
The referee refers the matter to the TMO, saying that his (the referee's) onfield decision is a try.
The TMO looks at the replay and then tells the referee that Barrett had knocked on. Without demur, the referee accepts the TMO's word, declares No try and orders a five-metre scrum to the Rebels.
There are infringements in rugby which are punished with a scrum or with a penalty. Apparently, Barrett infringed and the punishment for his infringement is a scrum.
A scrum as punishment is for something like a forward pass and a knock-on.
Losing the ball is not an infringement.
Losing the ball does not negate the possibility of a try, therefore.
Not having control of the ball is not an infringement.
Barrett did not pass the ball but according to the TMO knocked on.
Knock-on: When a player loses possession of the ball and it goes forward, or when a player hits the ball forward with the hand or arm, or when the ball hits the hand or arm and goes forward and the ball touches the ground or another player before the original player can catch it.
Forward: Towards the opposition’s dead-ball line.
Did Barrett knock the ball on, i.e. lose possession of the ball in the direction of the Rebels' dead-ball line?
Look as intently as possible it would seem that the ball came from Barrett's grasp in the direction of the goal-line. Because he was beyond the goal-line that meant that it had gone backwards from him, the opposite of going forward. That means that it was not a knock-on.
Further, it seems that Hodge's right hand, coming from behind Barrett, actually knocked the ball from Barrett's grasp, which would have been a knock-on but by Hodge.
It seems that the referee accepted the TMO's decision without debating it at all.
World Rugby's TMO protocol contains the following:
• 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 referee must be the one who decides, not the TMO.
The watchword is clear and obvious.
In this case, it seemed that the TMO decided and it seems that "clear and obvious" has been ignored.
At one stage the referees called for "compelling evidence". It's not been evident for a while, which may be a pity.
In olden days the referee would have decided this by himself. Sometimes he may well have made a wrong decision. A TMO is there to prevent the wrong decision.
If Barrett did not knock the ball on, this was a try – which would have been given in olden days!