Law discussion: Cheetahs' Complaint
The Free State RU have made an official complaint about the performance of referee Stuart Berry last weekend.
Berry, an internationally ranked referee, refereed the match between the Sharks and the Cheetahs which the Sharks won 26-10.
According to a statement on the official Cheetahs Rugby Facebook page, the matter has been taken up with SA Rugby and SANZAAR.
“Since Saturdays match we have been inundated with reaction from fans over the handling of the match by referee, Stuart Berry. We share the frustration. The necessary procedures have been followed and the coaches and management have made their grievances felt at SANZAAR and SARU. It is now in their hands to take the matter further. There are measures taken against referees if there is sufficient cause and reason for action."
On inquiry a Free State spokesperson confirmed that the complaint was in fact made.
We also asked for some reaction from SANZAAR and/or Lyndon Bray, SANZAAR's game manager who has refereeing as part of his job description. SANZAAR media & communications manger, Greg Thomas, answered the request as follows: "As usual Lyndon does not comment publicly on individual match official performances.
"I can confirm that SANZAAR Game Manager Lyndon Bray has had direct communication with Cheetahs head coach Franco Smith regarding the match between the Cheetahs and the Sharks. This follows normal protocols."
It appears that the complaint did not contain detailed incidents, though there are three which may well have been the basis for the complaint – not awarding a penalty try when a scrum was collapsed near the Sharks' line (23rd minute), advantage (63rd minute) and not allowing a player suspected of having concussion to be replaced (77th minute).
We shall deal with the concussion issue separately in a law discussion.
It may be worth noting that such a complaint does not alter the score. But it seems that the Cheetahs are looking for action to be taken against the referee, which may seem to some as vindictive.
In the early days of rugby's history, teams did have the right of appeal and if their appeal was upheld the score could be altered. Scotland complained about a try by Richard Kindersley which won the match for England in 1884. They argued for some 10 minutes on the field and then broke off relations with England for four years. The Irish eventually acted as peacemakers, the try was tried by three high court judges and found to be a try. This led to the formation of the International Rugby Board, now named World Rugby. One of the IRB's early acts was to declare the referee the sole judge of fact. Today there is Law 6.A.4 The referee is the sole judge of fact and of Law. That is why the score will remained unaltered.
So the result will not change. Then one wonders what the purpose is of the complaint. It seems to be from what appears on Facebook to appease upset fans and to have the referee sanctioned in some way, such as not having appointments or being downgraded.
That seems a bit vindictive.
The Sharks had the same referee and did not complain.
If a referee were removed every time he made a mistake, there would soon be no referees available. Secondly, referees are held accountable. At every match of this standard there is assessment by trained assessor, the referee's coach and by the referee himself. Then the teams have a chance to comment, usually through their coach. In this case the SANZAAR referees' boss and the Cheetahs' coach had been in contact about the match.
We could look at the three incidents. We should just bear in mind that the referee has one look at an incident, in real time, in the heat of battle. He has to process what he sees and make a decision.
1. The possible penalty try.
The Cheetahs put the ball into a scrum five metres from the Sharks' line. The Sharks are down to seven forwards because of a yellow card. The Cheetahs shove ahead but the scrum disintegrates. The Sharks are penalised and opt for another scrum. This time the Cheetahs go straight forward. Their loosehead's feet are a few centimetres behind the five-metre line. When the scrum goes down his feet are about two metres from the goal-line. That would suggest that the Cheetahs had pushed the scrum at a quick rate some three metres. They were all up and pushing straight. The Sharks were penalised, which suggests that they had offended, and intentionally collapsing the scrum is an element of foul play. That would all add up to a strong case for awarding a penalty try – a decision more easily taken in calm retropection than in real time.
2. Advantage. The Sharks offend – a penalty offence – and the referee allows the Cheetahs the opportunity of gaining an advantage from the infringement. The Cheetahs try to get advantage and have moved some 12 metres beyond the place where the offence occurred when the referee calls Advantage over. Barely has he done so when the Sharks intercept and score under the posts.
It would not seem that the Cheetahs had had sufficient territorial advantage to compensate for not having a penalty. They were a long way from the goal-line and nobody could run freely, which suggests that there was no tactical advantage or little tactical advantage. In this stodgy match it would seem premature to call advantage over.
All that is better than a penalty is a score.
3. We shall deal with the concussion test separately in a law discussion. Let's just say that, if there was going to be a concussion Test their substituted player, would be allowed to take the place of the groggy player. But if there was not going to be a concussion test because the player was clearly concussed and so became an injury, then the substituted player was not allowed back on.
The decision in this case was taken by the match officials who regulate the coming and going of players and in this case would have been in touch with the doctor who examined the player. The referee acted on their advice, which seemed wise.
That means that we have two possible errors of judgement on the part of an experienced referee.
Does that really warrant an attempt to have him sanctioned?
By Paul Dobson