Jonker was wrong to rule try off­side be­cause he could not be cer­tain

Twick­en­ham TMO for­got one of the ba­sic prin­ci­ples of ref­er­ee­ing – if in doubt, play on – and should have agreed with Garces’ call

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Rugby Union - JONATHAN KA­PLAN

If Eng­land were for­tu­nate to be on the right side of a tele­vi­sion match official de­ci­sion last week­end they were des­per­ately un­lucky to have what would have been Sam Un­der­hill’s match-win­ning try chalked off. was sur­prised Mar­ius Jonker pe­nalised Court­ney Lawes for off­side ahead of his charge-down, and though I con­cede it was a close call I do not agree with his de­ci­sion.

We first need to work out whether there is an off­side line. In pre­vi­ous years, as no English player was bound, there would not have been. But that law was changed in the wake of Eng­land’s “no ruck” game with Italy, and law 14.10 states any player over the ball con­sti­tutes an off­side line.

Lawes had to get on­side and then be be­hind the hind­most body part of the tackle as there is no ruck.

He clearly re­tires be­hind and in line with the rest of his team-mates be­fore he strays marginally in front of them. How­ever, the crux of the mat­ter is whether the ball is out or not. If you watch the footage again you will see scrum-half TJ Per­e­nara had his hands on the ball for some time be­fore lift­ing it. That is cru­cial. To my mind, if the ball is no longer in the ruck and is not cov­ered at all by other play­ers – some­thing I as­sessed by ask­ing my­self whether a bird could s--- on it from above – then it is out and avail­able for all to play. Fur­ther il­lus­trat­ing the point, by touch­ing it Per­e­nara en­sured it was fair game. The off­side line is not rel­e­vant now, which to my mind makes this a fair try.

The key fact is that the ref­eree, Jerome Garces, called it as a try on the field. I can un­der­stand why he wanted to check, but once he de­clared it a try there must be clear and ob­vi­ous ev­i­dence to over­turn that rul­ing.

Nor­mally the onus would be on the ref­eree to make that call on the field, hav­ing seen a se­ries of re­plays. On this oc­ca­sion, how­ever, Garces asked Jonker to make the call. Again, I can un­der­stand why – the con­di­tions were aw­ful and star­ing up at a screen through the rain is far from ideal. Jonker did not have that is­sue.

But for Jonker to dis­al­low the try he must have seen in­dis­putable ev­i­dence that Lawes was off­side, and I am not in agree­ment. Part of the is­sue is that with the cam­era be­ing on an an­gle, it is dif­fi­cult to tell ex­actly where the off­side line is that runs di­rectly across the field. It is not a straight­for­ward de­ci­sion and you can tell as much by the num­ber of re­plays Jonker watched.

It tells you how dif­fi­cult a rul­ing he found this, and on that ba­sis I can­not see how he would have reached any other con­clu­sion than to stay with the on-field call. It is a ba­sic prin­ci­ple of ref­er­ee­ing – if you are not sure then you play on. That is what should have hap­pened and Eng­land’s try should have stood.

It is a shame the game ended like this as Garces de­liv­ered an ac­com­plished per­for­mance in dif­fi­cult con­di­tions. He showed great poise and class.

Feet and inches: Court­ney Lawes (No 20) edges for­ward to charge down TJ Per­e­nara’s kick but he was ruled off­side as he was ahead of the hind­most point of the ruck (cir­cled)

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