Disputed calls show why the game needs two referees
For quite some time I have thought the game of rugby union is becoming too difficult for one person to referee. The laws are too complex and it is not possible for one person to see everything that goes on. This match was an example of just how difficult it is for the officials. I thought my fellow South African,
Marius van der Westhuizen, had a decent game, but there were two key decisions which are worthy of discussion.
The first was the yellow card awarded against Joaquin Tuculet for his aerial challenge on Mike Brown that caused the England full-back to leave the field injured. Twitter lit up immediately and there were two clear opinions – some thought it was a red-card offence, and others thought a yellow was harsh and that the Argentine had done nothing wrong. The range of opinion showed just how difficult a call it was to get right.
I think Marius got it spot on. There had to be some sanction because Tuculet did not get the ball and caused Brown to fall awkwardly. A card was inevitable. Marius will have been asking himself whether Tuculet was in a realistic position to catch the ball – with a red card possible if he was not when he made the challenge. As Tuculet actually touched the ball and almost gained possession as he and Brown fell to ground, he clearly was.
Marius would then have looked at the outcome of the challenge.
Interestingly he said that Brown fell on his shoulder. But if Marius had said Brown had fallen on his head then he would have had to send Tuculet off because the law is now outcomebased, rather than intent-based.
I don’t like that because it means you can have two identical aerial challenges and two very different outcomes, depending on how the player falls.
The law about the forward pass can also lead to conjecture, as we saw in the lead-up to England’s second try. Henry Slade’s pass to Semesa Rokoduguni clearly went forward in the air, and Argentina appealed immediately. Marius awarded it, and again he was perfectly right to do so because Slade’s hands “went backwards” as he released the ball. That law is designed to recognise that, due to momentum, many passes will go forward despite the player not intending to make a forward pass. If a player’s hands “go backwards” then it is not a forward pass, even if the pass goes forward.
Confused? You’re not the only one. I would prefer an outcome-based law in this instance – if the pass is caught further forward than where it was released then play should be brought back.
As the law stands we will always get this type of conjecture which I think could be simplified within the law. Thankfully, I have heard rumours that World Rugby may look at simplifying the law book, which I welcome.
There are too many shades of grey, with too many decisions arguable. I also think having two referees would help.
Players would know they can get away with less because key decision makers would be active and closer to the action, and the officials could work as a team to help each other and discuss the big calls.
Right now we are asking too much of referees, and the two big calls Marius had to make yesterday showed how tough it is.
He had a fine game, as I thought he would, but it’s a really difficult job and I hope we do more to help the man – or woman – in the middle.
Controversial call: Joaquin Tuculet was sin-binned for this aerial challenge on Mike Brown