The opening match of the Super Rugby season was a great hit out between the Highlanders and Chiefs. Apart from establishing the All Blacks as World Cup contenders, we saw a great match with plenty of tries, a red card and a game decided in the last 5 minutes (by the players).
It took only 2 minutes 15 seconds before the Televised Match Official got involved and sparked controversy. The on field referee Glen Jackson asked for clarification on grounding for a potential try. He indicated that his on-field decision was try and sought conclusive evidence to the contrary. 3 minutes of actual time later, nothing conclusive was discovered, yet ‘No try’ was the call. Overruling the on-field referee, undermining his original decision, without anything close to ‘clear and obvious’.
I was under the impression from World Rugby press releases late last year that the role of the TMO was to be minimised. I must be mistaken.
However in the 68th minute, further controversy was introduced. Again Glen Jackson asked for assistance, citing ‘potential foul play’. After a number of replays the Highlander replacement was found to have made contact with the head, using his shoulder and no attempt to grasp the opponent. When you describe it in those terms, its a open and shut red card. Glen Jackson explained his decision in clear terms before issuing the red card. It should have been open and shut.
The law application guidelines on the World Rugby website state;
At a meeting in September 2018, World Rugby’s Rugby Committee determined that certain aspects of foul play law needed to be reinforced by match officials:
High Tackles and Neck contact – Law 9.13 & 9.20
In both the tackle and cleanout as per current law:
A player must not make contact with an opponent above the line of the shoulders.
Every time the head or the neck is deliberately grabbed or choked, the offending player runs the risk of receiving a yellow or red card
Head contact and cleanouts around the neck must be penalised.
Match officials should work together to ensure that foul play is strictly penalised and that player welfare is paramount
You can argue until you are black and blue in the face about the role of the TMO and that he should not have been involved. You can complain we live in a nanny state and call the tackle soft. But you cannot argue with Glen Jacksons logic and application of the law in this case.
In a similar incident last year where referee Angus Gardner was hung out to dry by World Rugby. Angus made a decision inline with guidelines, and yet there was still outrage.
Commentators should have a better understanding of the law, game management guidelines and protocols. For the entire time replays where being shown, there was a continuous monologue focused on a “nothing to see here” narrative. And when the Red Card was issued, outrage, shock, and continued undermining of the referee.
It is no wonder recruitment for referee associations is almost universally a challenge. At some point elite rugby needs to support the grass roots. Understanding how the law works would be a good place to start.