Strong arm of the law
Rowly Williams,
September 13, 2011
England's Dan Cole is shown a yellow card against Argentina by referee Bryce Lawrence © Getty Images

Despite Rugby World Cup being only eight matches old it's fair to say that the directive of IRB elite referee manager Paddy O'Brien for referees to be stricter and manage, (penalise), the areas of concern, have been taken on board.

We'll be looking at the refereeing stats once all the teams have played at least one match but suffice to say the breakdown has been managed with a mixture of 'guidance to the players' and penalties by the officials. Those players who have responded to the efforts of the referees to keep the game flowing and the ball available will increase in number as the tournament progresses. They'll have to, otherwise the heavy penalty count and or yellow cards will damage their teams.

Scrums have seen a minimum of re-setting with free kicks or penalties being awarded quickly, allowing teams to move on from that area. The offside has generally seen a marked improvement in player compliance, as it seems defence coaches throughout the teams have encouraged their charges that ½ a metre given up is better than risking the penalty and possible points. Long may this prevail, as it really does open up the game for all.

Foul play (with the emphasis on tip or spear tackling, and high tackles), have again been at the low end. Any 'high shots' have tended to be clumsy rather than malicious (although I confess to not having seen every minute of every match), and referees have dealt with them accordingly. Players however knowing the directive will be wary, as a deliberate head high tackle seeking to stop the ball carrier in his tracks is a red card waiting to happen.

The purpose of these articles is to offer informed comment during the tournament. Not to offer opinions and/or discuss individual refereeing performances. It would therefore be appropriate to comment in the following way on the recent 'ballyhoo' about a penalty kick that several commentators and pundits felt should have been awarded, whilst others have sat in the nay camp.

Dealing in objective factual analysis is key. So....Player A takes his penalty goal kick. The ball is adjudged by both assistant referees and the referee to have narrowly missed and goes 'dead'. Decision, 22 drop out. ……Yep that's it I'm afraid, short and sharp.

However much talk has been of the penalty having been disallowed, which cannot be the case because nothing was allowed in the first instance. The reference to using the TMO is another causing much comment. Any reference to use of the TMO is where there is doubt over an issue of a try being scored, can be awarded or in relation to the success or otherwise of kicks at goal. Law 6.A.6. (b) None of the officials were in any doubt, therefore, no referral.

Moving away from the analysis of the situation, those who watched the match on TV (which is all of us bar those in the stadium) will have watched the same 2D camera angle that would have been available to the Television Match Official. Rugby has no hawk eye or hot spot, so with the ball higher than the posts and no software yet to call upon to 'draw' the posts in, the TMO would have seen what we saw.

On this and in other areas, unless the regulations/laws of the game change to allow for a team/player referral, similar to NFL, cricket and tennis, the officials will adjudicate within the existing framework. In conclusion and again offered as fact, those in the UK who watched with UK commentary would have heard the commentator say, forgiving any slight paraphrase, "It (the ball) turns, but after the posts"… And this all with the benefit of a replay and in slow motion. Not easy eh…..

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