Kelvin Deaker: Straitjacketing Rugby World Cup referees brings odd rulings

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Ireland should have been awarded a penalty try against Italy on Sunday in the Rugby World Cup pool match. We had a situation in South Africa where the right decision was made in the wrong way; on Sunday we had the wrong decision made in the right way. We saw at the weekend how a black-and-white edict from the IRB to referees can come back to bite you on the backside.

Ireland should have been awarded a penalty try against Italy in the final pool match on Sunday night. That was as plain as day.

Ireland wing Tommy Bowe had toed the ball through and was clearly winning the race to the ball until an Italian cover defender impeded him.

Referee Jonathan Kaplan did not have a clear view and rather than consult his on-field assistants Chris Pollock and Bryce Lawrence - who should have flagged it if they had clearly seen it - he threw the decision upstairs.

This was when things got tricky.

If you remember the All Blacks' Tri-Nations loss in Port Elizabeth, Jimmy Cowan was denied a try by video referee Johan Meeuswesen, who advised referee George Clancy that Israel Dagg's final pass had been forward. Although no one disputed that the pass was forward, Meeuswesen and Clancy were criticised for going beyond their remit.

The IRB made it clear there were protocols surrounding TMO try decisions and they were to be enforced during the World Cup.

So on Sunday we had Shaun Veldsman, who was originally scheduled to be TMO in that Port Elizabeth test, sitting in the booth acutely aware of what he was and was not allowed to rule on. As the actual offence took place in the field of play, not the in-goal area, he had no choice but to rule as he did.

In defiance of common sense, we had a situation in South Africa where the right decision was made in the wrong way; on Sunday we had the wrong decision made in the right way.

Luckily that game was already in the bag for Ireland, so it didn't create much of a stir, unlike Nigel Owens' decision to award a red card against Paul Williams in Samoa's match against South Africa. I realise his assistant recommended a red card, but referees still need to stay on top of situations as they develop.

Stuart Terheege painted him into a corner by using the word "striking", an ambiguous term. Unfortunately the assistants are appointed by the IRB with instruction to get stuck into any foul play, so it's almost like they're waiting for that sort of opportunity.

Ironically, the person who might have suffered most from the decision was John Smit, who was yellow carded shortly afterwards.

Owens would not have been thinking "square-up" but he would have sensed from the crowd and Samoans' reaction that the red might not have been warranted, and subconsciously it would have made his decision to card Smit a bit easier.

So the blowtorch went on a bit in the final weekend of pool play and the scrutiny will only get more intense.

Paddy O'Brien, I believe, will now turn to his best "game managers", rather than the officials who give the most technical penalties.

Every decision, big or small, will be put under the microscope.

During most of the pool games the scores were one-sided enough for little mistakes not to carry much weight. With eight fairly evenly matched teams left, there will no longer be that luxury.

Kelvin Deaker is a former international referee.

- NZ Herald

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