Tri-Nations, Week 1 law from incidents

If the Tri-Nations continues in the thrilling fashion of its opening match at Newlands, it is going to be a thrilling competition this year, and if we have as much to talk about in matter of laws, it is going to be interesting.

Our law discussions have been going for some seven years and it is astonishing how, week after week, there is so much to discuss from the laws in action. Perhaps it is a comment about the complex nature of the game. Perhaps it will be less so after the law changes which will follow the World Cup. But would it not be boring if the laws became so simple that there was nothing to discuss?

1. Scrum check

The following is the record of scrum resets and collapses in the match between South Africa and Australia and the match between New Zealand and Canada:

South Africa vs Australia

Scrums: 13
Resets: 7 (53,8%)
collapses: 5 (38,5%)

New Zealand vs Canada

Scrums: 15
Resets: 3 (20%)
collapses: 4 (26,6%)

There have been worse. But at the first scrum that collapsed John Smit, the Springbok hooker, was injured and left the field. The injury was to a thigh.

2. Boiling emotions

There were two incidents in the match when emotions threatened to get out of hand. They did not get out of hand but expressed themselves in some clumsy wrestling of the kind found in nursery school playgrounds.

The two on Saturday were not serious, but the second one went a step further than the first and the referee responded accordingly. The result was that there was not a third incident.

How detached should a referee be in dealing with such things?

Firstly he needs to be calm so as not to chuck petrol on what are only embers, thus causing a greater conflagration. Secondly he should keep his hands off the players. His only weapon is a whistle. He should use that. Players are used to reacting to the whistle. It goes and they stop playing. It goes and they may well stop wrestling. Then, fourthly, when things calm down he should be decisive. He may well consults his tough judges but ultimately he is the man closest and in charge.

3. A harsh shade of yellow?

From the back of a tackle/ruck, George Gregan chips ahead towards the Springbok line. As Gregan chips Pierre Spies jumps to charge the kick down. Julian Huxley chases and gathers the ball. JP Pietersen and Percy Montgomery grab him. This produces another tackle/ruck. The ball comes back to George Gregan who passes to his left. The pass hits Spies who partly turns his body to avoid the ball, but Gregan’s pass is too accurate for avoidance.

The referee calls Victor Matfield and Pierre Spies and shows Spies a yellow card as this is his third infringement.

Spies had been penalised twice as the tackler, both of which happened when the Wallabies were on the attack and close to the Springbok line. After the second occasion, which followed hot on the heels of a high tackle by Juan Smith, the referee warned of serious consequences, saying: “The next penalty in this area may give me a little decision. Do you understand?”

That is fine. But should there not be some intent in the action that leads to the yellow card? Spies clearly had no intention of infringing. After trying to charge down the kick he was falling back to get on-side, which the law required him to do. He was not dawdling, as only three forwards had managed to get to the tackle/ruck that had made an off-side line, because of the speed of the play. His action of turning away from the ball suggested that he had no intention of interfering with play.

There was certainly less intent on infringing than there was in either of the collapsed maul near the Wallaby line later in the game.

This situation is open to forcing a penalty – spot the retiring player and throw the ball against him.

It’s not the law but should this not be treated as accid

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