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About Refs, Writers, Supporters and TMOs

September 3, 2013 in Rugby Laws

With the new IRB TMO protocols on trial this year one would have hoped that the decisions at try time would be more clear cut and less controversial but that hasn’t been the case as with virtually every match we see TMO decisions that are questioned by coaches, commentators, rugby scribes and rugby supporters alike.

I don’t think there has been a single game in this year’s Currie Cup (and many in Super Rugby) where the losing supporters, and even their coaches, haven’t blamed the ref/TMO for contributing to their loss and this can, in part at least, be attributed to the information conveyed by professional rugby commentators and writers.

This can only mean one of two things, either the TMOs are working to their own rules or the rugby viewing public lack the knowledge of the laws of rugby to appreciate the decisions.

The latest TMO decision to attract a flood of criticism is the decision by Willie Roos that WP’s Damian de Allende illegally prevented a probable try, which resulted in Jaco Peyper awarding a penalty try to the Golden Lions. I discussed the decision in another post, The Lions escaped, and while one can argue whether a “probable try” was prevented, in terms of the laws of rugby there is no doubt that de Allende infringed by coming in from the side and not staying on his feet.

What is disturbing about the flood of comments on web sites and the articles by professional rugby writers is the total lack of knowledge displayed regarding the tackle laws. Gavin Rich of Supersport called it “a marginal call by the TMO, who ruled that Damian de Allende had dived on Lions fullback Marnitz Boshoff” and Simon Borchardt of SA Rugby magazine saying “Roos then told Peyper that De Allende had ‘come in from the side’ and that a penalty try should therefore be awarded. This despite the fact that no ruck had been formed and that De Allende had dived for the ball, not on the player”, both displaying a serious lack of knowledge of Law 15, the law that covers the tackle. Even WP coach Allister Coetzee chirps: “He [de Allende] didn’t do anything wrong”.

We all remember the “forward by a metre” comment by Bobby Skinstadt, ex-professional rugby player turned professional commentator, after Stokkies Hanekom’s try against the Kings (debunked here) and his call for a TMO decision near the Kings tryline even though the IRB protocols don’t allow for it.

The problem with the whole issue is that commentators make statements during a match, which are picked up by rugby writers who should know better and this leads to widespread unhappiness amongst the largely uninformed rugby supporters of the team that’s been “done in” by the referee or TMO.

I can still understand that commentators at a game say things on the spur of the moment where they don’t have time to check the laws but I would expect professional rugby writers to at least check up on the laws before they write articles that erroneously question referee and TMO decisions as all this does is to make the general rugby viewing public even more distrustful of the referees and TMOs.

FFS, there’s a web site called Google that makes it quite easy to find information and, if the printed word is too difficult, there’s a web site called Youtube with easy-to-understand videos on the rugby laws so there is really no excuse for not at least getting the legality of the decisions right even if one then disagrees with specific interpretations.

It is made worse when coaches, who should know the laws better than most, have joined the fray this year and ref bashing by coaches has become the new post match interview tactic. It is disturbing that even now, after the recent TMO decision has been confirmed as correct by two respected and experienced refs, that a coach with the experience of Allister Coetzee would come out and say “And then Damian [de Allende] gets yellow-carded when it wasn’t foul play. He didn’t do anything wrong” and “we should guard against decisions becoming too technical” or Pote Human who says he doesn’t believe Australian lock Rory Arnold is guilty of biting Cheetahs hooker Ethienne Reynecke despite the clear bite mark on Reyneke’s arm after the incident.

Where a ref may let a minor transgression slide when it has no material effect on the run of play and one accept that a ref cannot possibly see every little infringement during a match, the same cannot be said of the TMO.

In fact if a ref has to blow every transgression most games will come to a virtual standstill and will consist of teams trading penalty kicks. However, by the nature of the TMO’s job and the fact that he has slow motion replays available, a TMO must be technical in his decisions and cannot let things slide. Unfortunately these decisions are often way over the heads of the average rugby writer, supporter or even the coaches it seems.

The all round lack of knowledge and resultant ref bashing is spoiling the game and the pleasure of supporters whose team had won. The winning team’s supporters spend their time defending the win, often without enough knowledge to back them up apart from “look at the scoreboard” while the losing team’s supporters question every minute detail of virtually every decision that went against their team during the match.

I’ve decided to do decision reviews on one or two specific decisions each week on my blog and no, it will not be only decisions that affected the Lions. :) I am not a ref nor a qualified fundi on rugby laws but hopefully one can get some informed discussions going.

38 responses to About Refs, Writers, Supporters and TMOs

  1. I agree WP should still have edged this one with their usual solid defence. But one thing you can’t deny is that when this current Lions team gets a sniff, they go for the kill. And like the Bulls also showed, they then become hard to stop.

    I am convinced that if that penalty try didn’t happen and it was just a penalty. We would have been able to stop them from scoring and break their spirits for the remainder of the game. But Willie had other plans.

  2. This is how I see it.

    1. De Allende dived in from the side to prevent a try. BUT
    2. He went for the ball and did not intentionally try to dive onto the player, he only slid into him after gathering the ball. BUT HE WAS OFFSIDE
    3. His one foot went over the try line before making contact with either the ball or the player. OH, BUT THAT MEANS HE HAS PUT HIMSELF ONSIDE AND CAN’T BE OFFSIDE. MAYBE THERE IS STILL AN IMAGINARY GATE TO GO THROUGH WHEN YOU CAN’T BE OFFSIDE
    4. Go look at any driving maul try that has been stopped in the history of rugby and show me from where those 2-5 tacklers dive onto the ball carrier to prevent him from scoring once he breaks loose. WOW, BUT THAT WOULD MEAN HUNDREDS OF PENALTY TRIES AND YELLOW CARDS
    5. Exactly
    6. The Lions player knocked the ball before De Allende touched him. When the first contact had been made the ball was around the elbow region of the Lions player, therefor a penalty try is out of the question. Mr Roos only saw what he wanted to see and didn’t look nearly close enough as a TMO is supposed to do to award one. If you are going to award a penalty try you need to be 100% sure, no mistakes.
    7. I remember Conrad Smith doing exactly the same thing against O’Conner after (I think it was Cory Jane) tackled him near the tryline and touchline. Conrad went in shoulder first into the rib section of O’Conner and prevented from scoring the try. There was no penalty try in sight and no yellow card, not even a penalty. O’Conner went off the field looking very uncomfortable and Conrad was nominated man of the match in the end. UNFAIR
    8. The article writer claims that we don’t know the rules of rugby, but think about this for a second. There were 30 players on the field, a referee about 10 meters away, an assistent referee less than 2 meters away, 2 coaching boxes with televised feeds who saw exactly what the TMO saw, commentators who knows more about rugby than any of us will ever know. And guess what, they were all just as surprised as I were when Roos awarded the penalty try. I will bet on it that the Lions players who saw what happened thought by themselves: “Wow, great cover tackle”
    9. So why moan about it? The Stormers were cheated (The ref club referred to it as a couple of TMO mistakes that all happen to go against one team) during this years S15. JUST STOP MOANING, IT’S ONLY A GAME
    10. When there are millions of Rands involved in every single game and the influence of one mistake by a ref in one game can mean the withdraw of sponsors and in result influence budget cuts and salary cuts, then it is not a game for everyone. For some it is life and therefor cannot just be brushed aside to forget about it.

    Look, I understand that human error can’t be avoided. But FFS. If one team has to bare the bulk of it one cannot help but think that there are some really dodgy people that has too much say in rugby matches. Steve Welsh being culprit no.1

    • I discussed the decisions in a previous post but a few points you raised:

      1. There is no offsides at a tackle until it becomes a ruck but the arriving players have to come through the “gate” behind the tackler or tackled player and stay on their feet.

      2. As to knowing the rules I would expect commentators and especially professional sports writers to know the rules better than us plebs but they don’t seem to, and the rugby writers don’t bother to research the decisions before sending their reports into cyberspace.

      3. As to WP being cheated – sorry but WP threw away this win on their own, even considering the two TMO decisions:
      After 30 minutes WP lead 22-3
      Halftime WP lead 25-10 (after Helberg’s try)
      After 50 minutes WP lead 25-17 (after the penalty try)

      Leading by 8 points with 30 to play WP should have pulled through but they let in a further two tries while only scoring two penalties

      And it’s not as if they’re the only team ever who has had decisions go against them “unfairly”.

  3. Consider this TMO decision before the current trial protocols came in play

    The TMO overstepped but the right decision was made in the end. We now have the TMO going back two phases, which in some instances are still not enough and it will be interesting to see whether and how the protocols will be adjusted.

    And a penalty try decision that upset the Stormers fans earlier this year:

    Try allowed before current protocols so the TMO couldn’t rule on what happened before the line:

    Strange try:

    Iffy decision, I think:

    TMO try, before current protocols:

    • I’m telling you… Its a vendetta against us poor WP supporters :P

    • Given some of these decisions from the past I think we are better off now with the TMO protocols but they could use some tweaking

      • We are definately better off. However, we are still nowhere near what can be. And what causes frustration is that because of technicality in the protocol, we get the wrong decision.

        When Dagg threw that forward pass in PE, Henry said that he didn’t mind it (even though they were both berated in public by SANZAR for breaching the protocol), because it was the right decision. We want the decision to be made correctly, and we want it to make sense. If that means Supersport has to have a rugby law expert picking which paragraphs are relevant and showing it to us on the left or right of the screen as we watch the action. This will welp with educating EVERYONE as to the correct call.

  4. What a hot debate topic this has become. I am referring to the WP-Lions game but I have been saying for a while now the quality of refereeing has gone down. It might be that the new guys are still finding their feet after the gap left by the more experienced referees that have retired but when it comes to TMO’s there is not excuse. I did not watch the game so would not comment on this particular incident but there have been a few shocking calls by TMO’s in the last few weeks.
    Cheetahs vs (I cant even remember, think the Sharks) the TMO decided the Cheetahs centre had pushed the opposing player while they were both running for the ball. If the TMO had snap shot and not film which he could play in slow motion I would have said it was a fair enough call but clearly the opposing player had his hand hooked into the Cheetahs player’s. There are two possible perceptions, as in all these TMO cases, one: the Cheetahs player was pushing the hand of the opposing player away or, two: he was pushing the player away. The obvious question to ask then is was the opposing player in front or behind him? In front, the second option makes sense. Behind, the question is then why would you push someone if you are already ahead of him? These are the logical questions and decisions that the TMO should take into consideration.
    Now with regards to the event that I did not see, if diving on the ball to avoid the opposition from scoring a try is worth a penalty try and a yellow card, we might see many more yellow cards and penalty tries. Or no more contact in the red zone…either way, its ridiculous!!!

    • There it is a simple question:

      Did or did he not put his hand against his chest, and did he extend that arm horizontally, thereby pushing him away? Sadie might have aimed for the hand but his point of contact was the body. The slomo is what screwed him there. The question is if that was an offense, why wasn’t CJ vd Linde pushing vd Heever?

      Consistency between TMO’s is definately a problem

  5. Confused by all the new rules – is it still rugby?

    By the time De Allende made contact with Boshoff, his (De Allende) feet was already behind the goal line. Traditionally there is no “off-side” in the goal area – does this apply to the “not coming through the gate” as well? These rules are way to complicated and confounding . . .

    • Tackle rules apply since the event took place in the field of play. If de Allende had come around and then gone for the ball he would probably have been fine. Fact is that he made contact IN the field of play, and that he did not follow the rules that are applicable to that. Also, if you look at the sideon angle you can see he still has one foot inside the field of play.

      I’ve said many a time. I have no problem with penalising him. It makes sense, and its fine within the laws. The yellow card feel harsh, but is a consequence of the penalty try. Anyone who concedes a penlaty try is considered to be guilty of foul play.

      I also dont have a problem with the penalty try itself. It is entirely probable that had de Allende not comitted the offense Jantjies would have dived on the ball and scored. Some people complain he knocked it… thats a 50/50 call for me. My problem with this whole thing is Roos saying that Boshoff was going to score the try if de Allende didnt offend. And that I dont agree with.

  6. Hell guys, I think Derick Minnie summed it up very good “it is three points we did not have so we will take it” Sorry Province were also diddled a few times by the TMO’s

  7. YEs, there may be unknowledgeable fans regarding the laws, there might be mistakes by TMOs and Ref’s, but the biggest issue which has always been the case is that the laws are too open to interpretation. With the plethora of laws at only the tackle situation, it becomes a lucky draw of who will get the penalty. The ref only blows what he sees, and that can on its own cause controversy. The point is, if the laws were more simplistic and less open to interpretation, then there would be much less confusion and bickering.

  8. I’ve had a look at the De Allende incident a few times and I don’t profess to know all the laws that govern this game but what I saw was De Allende coming across in cover defense from behind the try line. Yes he went off his feet – penalty! Coming in from the side debatable. What was he supposed to do? Run back 5 metres, then line himself up to make sure he was dead straight. The reality is the player was tackled by the scrummie and there was no other player in the vacinity except De Allende coming across. What does this mean? Everytime a player comes across to make a cover tackle it’s a penalty. I clearly understand the coming in from the side law when there is a ruck and I also understand going off your feet but if every tackle is going to be blown for coming in from the side – like you say we will not have a game but rather a penalty shoot-out. The other issue I have is were WP on a warning (I’m not sure)? Lastly was the foul cynical? I don’t believe it was. Sorry pal I don’t care what Mark Lawrence has to say re the penalty try and sending off – WP were hard done by. Put it this way if the incident happened anywhere else on the park there would have been no TMO and the player would have got penalised for going off his feet. So yes a penalty, even a penalty try but no yellow card!

    • Unfortunately the yellow card is automatic when a penalty try is awarded unless the infringement was accidental, then the ref may decide otherwise.

    • The problem was that Boshoff knees was already touching the ground thus a tackle had been completed thus D’Allende was no longer a tackler assist but the 1st arriving player. If this happened on the 22 it would have been a penalty. Thus D’Allende’s illegal actions prevented a try from being scored thus penalty try. Or that is what Mr. Roos believed.

      Fact is D’Allende could do nothing legal to stop the and should have left Boshoff to knock the ball before the tryline.

      • An opposing player doesn’t have the “right” to stop a try at all costs and in all circumstances otherwise we’ll never have tries :)

        Also, in normal play Nic Groom would probably have been penalised for not releasing after the tackle was make (when Boshoff went to ground)

        • That one opens a different can of worms. Because then he just gets up and the ref says “wasnt held”.

          Groom rolling him had no impact on Boshoff exercising his rights in terms of 15.5 (Which no one sees willing to comment on). If it wasnt a knock (which I think is a 50/50 call) and de Allende had first come around, I think Jantjies would have dived on and scored, which makes the penalty try entirely viable. My problem is Roos attributing a probable try to Boshoff.

          Also, the Tecklenburg tackle in the leadup to the first try the TMO was instructed by Peyper that it was “only a tackle” so the Volmink knock was still within the two phases. He said it at least twice.

          • SA Referees discussion of the Helberg try – Knock on but outside TMO’s scope.


            Peyper’s “it’s only a tackle” came during the replay and we don’t know who he was talking to. Anyway, he cannot instruct the TMO at that point.

            I wonder though, having seen the replay himself whether he couldn’t have stopped the TMO decision by saying he would make the decision himself and go back to the knock? Lourens van der Merwe often does that although I’ve never seen him do it for a try, only when there was possible foul play

          • It just causes more controversy in the case of vd Merwe… although it does ensure consistency on the pitch. I thought Peyper was very surprised to be told its a penalty try. For the sake of consistency on the pitch, I feel that perhaps we should try to get the ref to make the call. I know they ran the experiment a few years ago, but that clearly failed. Perhaps have someone run on with a tablet and have him turn through all the angles quickly. He can the discuss it with the TMO and the can make a joint call. Otherwise you might get something at a ruck situation where he has let it go everywhere else but on the tryline.

            SA Refs have basically thrown Peyper under the bus there, but it was his mistake. Its also not the first time he has used the TMO incorrectly (remember the Bulls v Stormers game where sarefs also called him wrong) No comment is made on possible foul play.

          • hmmm looks my keyboard has a Y issue

  9. For me the biggest reason why this happens in inconsistency from the ref’s and TMO.
    Another TMO might have ruled that it is only a penalty to Lions with no yellow and all the other refs would have said it was the correct call because Boshoff had only a very slim chance of scoring. Or that he actually knocked the ball before that.

    On the other call where Willie again rightfully said he cannot go back more than 2 phases but in another game a ref will go back 5 or 6 phases to make a call.
    In this case I am 100% sure Peyper thought it might be a knock but let play go thinking he could go back to it. How was he to know how many phases will follow that moment of play??
    He then specifically asked Willie to go back when Willie told him he can’t. Now just a bit of commonsense would have done the trick.

    I this one instance in about 20 TMO dubious decisions the refs could actually defend the TMO but against the Bulls, Rebels, Hurricanes ect they could not.

    So yes many a rugby writer might have gotten this one call wrong but the TMO’s has gotten most of their difficult calls wrong all season.

    • “In this case I am 100% sure Peyper thought it might be a knock but let play go thinking he could go back to it.” C’mon. Then Peyper doesn’t know his rules, relies too much on TMO and then shouldnt be left to make decisions at such a pace in the game of rugby, and Willie is then a much better ref left to educate the man in the middle. Any TMO that has the luxury of time to assess and think and then disregards that rule, even if it is in the name of “common sense”, is acting outside the rules of the game… Is that fair? And if any “dubious call” can be read, explained and defended by looking at it through every angle, straight out of the official IRB rule book, then it couldn’t be dubious anymore, now can it? I know you love WP Generaal, but let it go now. The call may have a bit of a sour after taste for WP fans, but rules are rules, plain and simple….

      • Thing is how is Mr Peyper to know how long play will go on?? If he called the knock and it wasn’t one the Lions fans would have been up in arms.
        Does it retract from the game to look one more phase back? Would anyone have cared ? As it happens weekly.
        The law really does not make sense. Sure you cannot replay the whole game. But if a ref ask the tmo to look at a specific pass because he thought it was forward then the tmo should be able to look at that pass no matter the no of phases.
        In the end we want the right calls to be made.

        As I have said from the beginning Mr Roos did nothing wrong although I do not agree with his subjective interpretation of the situation.

        WP/Stormers fans won’t let it go because there has just been to many wrong calls against them this season esp TMO (excluding this game) calls. Thus there reaction might be more of a reaction to all the calls going against them this season. And it does make a difference just ask the Stormers management who missed out on play-offs with a point or three.

        I am still mad that Chiliboy was awarded a try in the first SR game of the season and have not let that go so how can I let this go with not even a week passed. LOL

        TMO calls was extended to clear up the game but sadly this season at least it has hampered the game more than it helped the game. Maybe next

        • Remember, the current TMO protocols are on trial this year and we may very well see adjustments next year. Your suggestion that the ref be allowed to ask for a specific incident to be reviewed makes a lot of sense.

          However, there must be a limit as play cannot continue indefinitely and the TMO then going back 10-20 phases to an incident the ref was unsure of.

  10. If we didn’t have something to whinge about, when a decision goes against our favourite team, it just wouldn’t be rugby.

  11. Rugby commentators should do a refs course. And I often find I see things very different to what they see. As much as I like blaming the refs for a loss, I think that it makes the game so much better when you know a bit more. But some people don’t often understand some of the more technical things, like when is a pass forward, or when is it drift.

  12. Referees can and will make mistakes no matter how good they are. Fans need to learn to accept the bad with the good but we never will. Where would we be if we couldn’t bitch and moan about refs, coaches and players. Braai fires and blogs would be silent. To know the laws as well as any ref does, will take too much time and dampen the fun of reading and writing and hearing the expressed emotions of the fans.

  13. The situation has reached a point that even when qualified and experienced refs clarify a decision afterwards people doubt their partiality, claiming they would stick up for their own.

    Refs & TMOs are currently in a no-win position

  14. “This can only mean one of two things, either the TMOs are working to their own rules or the rugby viewing public lack the knowledge of the laws of rugby to appreciate the decisions.”

    ….i believe it is definitely the latter….

    Speaking to a province fan friend right after the game, he was so emotional his vein was popping on his forehead (we all have been there some time or another ;) ) But when everything calmed, the technical aspects explained etc, his anger went into bargaining mode (reminds me of the 5 stages of grief), and he said (just like some other WP supporters i have seen), “couldn’t the ref let it slide, everyone dives in on the potential try scorer to prevent it”. Well then, if everyone is doing it, it guess that makes it okay then…..

    • The problem for a TMO is that he can’t “let it slide”. If Roos overlooked de Allende coming from the side you would have found some knowledgable guy who would lambaste him for ignoring the law, whereas a ref can still overlook minor transgressions during play.

      • Exactly! And the professional coaches and commentators should realize that and make proper comments on those, not only ramp it up coz your team lost… It really spoils things, not only for the winners, but for rugby in general. But it goes without saying, if the ref was really piss poor and have no technical indication / vindication, he should be nailed up by his ballsack, professionally speaking…. :)

  15. Excellent article. I was about to write something similar but I’m glad I read yours first. The general disrespect being shown by coaches to the ref is becoming a real problem. Locally and internationally. The way that Ewen McKenzie has been going on is shameful.

    And you’re right, when the commentators and pundits don’t know the laws it makes things worse. Maybe commentators should be required to have a license. Pass the referee exam or something. Either way, if people are interested the sareferee website is pretty good with resident referee’s anwering questions weekly.

    • Thanks.

      I often go to the sareferees site and their video reviews are great, just a pity they don’t title them for easy reference :)

      The IRB site’s Rules section has simple videos explaining virtually every law so there’s no real excuse for not knowing the law.

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