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
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)