Law discussion: What should not happen
Referees make mistakes. We all know that. We also know when the mistakes are understandable, even forgivable.
You know in the heat of battle, the referee may make – or not make – a factually correct decision. There are situations in which he has to see, absorb, process many things immediately. It is perfectly understandable that a human being makes a wrong decision or makes no decision. But….
Remember Zorba the Greek: "God is very forgiving, but there is one sin He will not forgive…."
There is one error that it is hard to forgive – if at all forgivable. That is when a referee gets a law wrong. There is no excuse for not knowing the Laws of the Game. They are available to all referees in various forms.
They can watch the laws in action (steal with their eyes) at the game's highest level to small games on back fields. They can go to meetings and they can discuss with other referees and with coaches. A lot of work is done to get referees to know and understand the laws.
We have two clips below in cases where the referee got the law wrong.
In the first case there may be some excuse in that there was no time to think, but that does not apply to the second case.
1. Penalty and yellow card
HTS Middelburg, in red, play Noord-Kaap, in white, at the Kearsney Easter Festival. HTS Middelburg kick off to start the second half and immediately Noord-Kaap run with the ball. They went left to tall centre Wium Becker who handed off an opponent and broke.
He gave to fullback Cameron Hufke who ran ahead and then tried to pass back to Hufke on his inside, but MC Kuhn was between Becker and Hufke, running back towards his own line. Kuhn reaches up and with his hand knocks the ball down. HTS Middelburg get the ball and are starting to play with it, when the referee blows his whistle, penalises Kuhn and sends him to the sin bin.
The referee was wrong. He was wrong in terms of the law.
Law 12.1 (f) Intentional knock or throw forward. A player must not intentionally knock the ball forward with hand or arm, nor throw forward.
Sanction: Penalty kick. A penalty try must be awarded if the offence prevents a try that would probably otherwise have been scored.
The operative word is forward.
Law 12 DEFINITION: KNOCK-ON
‘Forward’ means towards the opposing team’s dead ball-line.
Kuhn intentionally played the ball, but he did not knock the ball on. He knocked it back towards his own dead-ball line, not Noord-Kaap's dead-ball line.
Kuhn committed no offence. It is legal to play the ball with the hand as long as you do not knock or throw it forward.
The commentator was right: It should have been "play on", an opportunity for Noord-Kaap to go off and score a try.
2. "You must be eight."
Western Province are penalised near their line and their loose forward Luke Stringer is penalised and sent to the sin bin. They survive that and get onto the attack. Eastern Province are penalised and Western Province kick out for a five-metre line-out. They bash and then go wide. They then drive a maul forward. The maul collapses and the referee awards a scrum to Eastern Province.
Western Province prepare to pack down with seven players in their scrum. But the referee insisted that they have eight in the scrum, saying: "You must be eight." And so Scott van Breda, a centre packed on the flank.
Law 20.1 (e) Number of players: eight. A scrum must have eight players from each team. All eight players must stay bound to the scrum until it ends. Each front row must have three players in it, no more and no less. Two locks must form the second row.
Sanction: Penalty kick
Exception: When a team is reduced to fewer than fifteen for any reason, then the number of players of each team in the scrum may be similarly reduced. Where a permitted reduction is made by one team, there is no requirement for the other team to make a similar reduction. However, a team must not have fewer than five players in the scrum.
Sanction: Penalty kick
It was clear by the players' reactions that they did not agree with the referee. He may well have changed his mind because in the scrum after that Western Province packed down with seven players with impunity. But it's not good for player confidence and respect for the referee when they know that they know the laws better than he does.
i. There is a law amendment which concerns uncontested scrums that is being tested:
Law AMENDMENT TRIAL
Law 3.6 (h) Uncontested scrums as a result of a sending off, temporary suspension or injury must be played with eight players per side.
That is only for uncontested scrums. If the scrum is contested there is no requirement that a team missing a player has to have eight players in the scrum
ii. In Under-19 variations, number of players in a scrum is to be the same for both teams in case a team is short of a player or players.
Photo credit: Tracey van den Aardweg of Kearsney College