Kelvin Deaker: Refs too easy on ball carrying team

Italy did not deviate from their usual pattern on Sunday, but the Irish at Eden Park will bring new challenges for the Wallabies. Photo / AP
Italy did not deviate from their usual pattern on Sunday, but the Irish at Eden Park will bring new challenges for the Wallabies. Photo / AP

Wayne Barnes has been copping some flak for his decision not to go to the TMO after James Hook's shot at goal was not awarded in Wales' one-point loss to South Africa in the opening round of the Rugby World Cup.

It's a bit unfair. The assistant refs were standing under the posts and in the best position to make the call.

I've had a look at it and while it looks as if it could have sneaked just inside the line of the right upright, it was above the height of the posts so there was no way on that evidence the TMO could conclusively identify when the ball passed by the upright to overrule the on-field decision.

That said, it has been a mixed bag for the referees after the first weekend.

There's been some reasonably high penalty counts as all have been strict around the breakdown and offsides, but they have been much too lenient with the ball-carrying team.

The biggest trend we have seen develop is that the defending team are not even competing for the ball at the tackle because they have no show of winning a turnover.

The ball-carrying team are sealing it off by going off their feet. It has changed the whole structure of the game - and not for the better. We have seen some teams that don't commit any numbers except the tackler. This then allows them to fan all their forwards out in a defensive screen.

It also means the ball-carrying team can pick-and-drive - it really should be called pick-and-dive because they fall over at the first sign of contact - knowing they can recycle the ball without fear of its being stolen.

They find it so easy to do because - apart from Nigel Owens early in the Fiji-Namibia match - no referee was willing to penalise the attacking player's support for leaving their feet to seal off the ball.

Apart from that early burst, even Owens ignored it from then on.

Technically, some of the tackle areas don't become rucks because the defending team has not committed anybody to it. That essentially means there is no offside line. It will be interesting to see if some coaches try to take advantage of this and leave their defenders out among the attacking team's backs on the basis that without a ruck, it is still general play.

On Sunday night, you had two of the best ball-winners in the game in Heinrich Brussow and Sam Warburton, whose only hope of getting their hands on the ball was if a tackle was effected right at their feet.

Otherwise neither team even tried to win the ball. They just had to tackle and wait for the other team to make a mistake.

Bryce Lawrence had the toughest job of the weekend, simply because Argentina were so combative all across the field. They gained control over the breakdown and forced England to play their way.

Bryce was right with his calls but a different approach was required, where he needed to have a strong presence at the breakdown rather than positioning himself 15 metres away and then only getting closer to the action when the ball hadn't come free.

Kelvin Deaker is a former international referee who will be contributing weekly columns for the Herald during the World Cup.

- NZ Herald

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