Fri 1 Sep 2017 | 04:00

Law discussion - from the back side

Law discussion - from the back side
Fri 1 Sep 2017 | 04:00
Law discussion - from the back side

This time we are not discussing law as such but a tool to make the application of law easier and more effective.


Positioning is important in all sport – whether you're a slip on the cricket field or a goal attack on the netball court, a showjumper  or a speedway rider – or a rugby referee. The positioning is so important to a referee in a game where there are split-second decisions to be made in the hurly burly of a game involving 30 players and the most complicated laws of any sport on earth. 

Good positioning makes good refereeing possible.

Here we are discussing just one aspect of it – positioning near the goal-line when the attacking side are set on scoring a  try.

This is well worth thinking about as it is a referee position that is becoming more frequent.

We have a clip that may well make the point.

The team in red are the Springboks of South Africa. You are seeing history, for the have never played in red before.


Argentina are penalised and the red South Africans kick out for a five-metre line-out on their right.

They moved left across the field in the face of stern Argentinian defence, till flyhalf Elton Jantjies steps and darts ahead towards the goal-line. Tomás Cubelli, the Argentinian scrumhalf, tackles Jantjies by the lower legs but Jantjies falls close to the line. 

The referee consults the TMO and, in the replay, Jantjies is seen to stretch out with the ball and ground it on the goal-line.

The referee awards the try.


It takes just one replay to see that it was a try. If the referee had been in a better position he would not have had to consult the TMO at all. But watch his movement from the line-out. He gets into a position up field of the ball-carrier though the ball-carrier is going forward towards the line. The referee is not in good position to see what the ball-carrier, the ball, the defenders do, even though that is the important part of happenings and should, surely, be the focus of his attention.

It is as if the referee is deliberately avoiding the responsibility of awarding a try by passing the responsibility to the TMO.

There is no more important action on a rugby field than scoring a try, the crowning glory of a team's intent and efforts.

One wonders what the referee was actually watching. There was no danger to the players in this activity, the assistant referees could monitor any possible offside and foul play. There was nothing more important than the ball and what the ball-carrier was doing with it. From his position in this clip, the referee could not monitor the vital part of the action. A simple change of position could have enabled him to carry out his duty with ease.

There are even more obvious examples – a low maul driving at the line while a referee squats behind them, watching bums. That is all he can see, and bums are not the vital part of the activity. Then when the heap falls over the line, he runs up looking frantic, pulling bodies away in an effort to see where the ball is. Then he stands up, draws a rectangle in the air and consults the TMO, starting with "My onfield decision is ….."

There is no sign of professional competence in all that.

Positioning is so important in rugby football. It's important on attack and it's important on defence – and it's of vital importance to referees.

The ancient advice is get into in-goal and watch the ball-carrier come to you.

Has the introduction of the TMO made life too easy for referees?

PV: 39