Folau, Skelton, Peyper, Garces and law enforcement

Week 2 of the Rugby Championship saw Australia head to Argentina and South Africa host the All Blacks. The weekend’s games also gave us the chance to see how the recent World Rugby law enforcement directives would be applied to in-game incidents.

There are 3 incidents we will look at in some detail.

Will Skelton and the neck choke (Argentina v Australia)

Australia’s enforcer took a fancy to Argentina’s scrum half Martin Landajo in the melee following a ruck and brought him closer….by grabbing him around the neck! The video shows the incident:

The referee for the day Jaco Peyper blows his whistle for an offence but after the whistle Skelton puts his arm around Landajo’s neck and pulls him back with enough force that the Argentinian’s back and neck are arched backwards.

From the pictures we are shown it seems as if Peyper decides not to refer the incident to the TMO. This may have been because the officials had a clear view of the incident and we should applaud their decisiveness but in this case Peyper’s final decision was wrong.

World Rugby’s recent enforcement updates specifically dealt with high tackles and neck contact:

“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. Cleanouts around the neck must be penalised.”

In the Skelton incident the neck was deliberately grabbed and then choked. There are fewer more clear cut cases of a neck choke and yet Peyper only deemed this to be a penalty offence, seemingly ignoring the advice from World Rugby to focus on this dangerous act and protect player welfare. The more pertinent question is was this a red card offence?

Folau and the tackle in the air (Argentina v Australia)

Another area World Rugby has asked its officials to focus on is the tackle in the air; an area of huge confusion and differences in application during the 2014/15 season. Perhaps Peyper didn’t receive World Rugby’s e-mail because again it is questionable if the enhancements have been applied.

The World Rugby update gave some detailed (if confusing) directions:

“Play on – Fair challenge with both players in a realistic position to catch the ball. Even if the player(s) land(s) dangerously, play on

Penalty only – Fair challenge with wrong timing – No pulling down
Yellow card – Not a fair challenge, there is no contest and the player is pulled down landing on his back or side
Red card – Not a fair challenge, there is no contest and the player lands on his head, neck or shoulder”

As a reminder here is some footage of the incident as Folau challenges Nicolas Sanchez for a cross field kick.

Bafflingly, Peyper once again doesn’t seem to review the incident to the TMO. If he had reviewed the incident to the TMO he would have seen that at no point did Folau actually look at the ball as he ran towards Sanchez and attempt to win it in the air.

For this reason the challenge cannot be deemed to be “fair” so according to the World Rugby updates we should be looking at a sanction of at least a yellow card.

To compound Peyper’s poor decision making he then makes the statement – “No yellow card, he came down safely”! There are 3 things to note about this statement:

  • He didn’t come down safely, he landed on his side across the legs of Folau
  • Offences should not be judged on the resulting outcomes (ie how “injured” the player is) but on the offence itself. When Folau made the challenge he had no idea what the resulting physical damage would be which is why it is the act that has to be penalised
  • World Rugby’s updates do not guide referees to make the decision based on how safely the player came down

Peyper is usually one of the world’s top referees but in this case he got two key incidents very wrong, even before we factor in World Rugby’s recent law enhancement directions. Only 6 weeks out from the Rugby World Cup it is worrying that we still have huge differences in application of laws across the referee pool which has the potential to distract from the rugby itself.

Scrum advantage (South Africa v New Zealand)

A little known fact is that the word laissez faire was created to describe French referees approach to the laws of rugby. In this example though Jerome Garces takes one of the latest enhancements and applies it, resulting in a faster, more fluid game.

The enhancement allowed referees to force a team to use the ball if the scrum became stationary, which has also been applied where the scrum collapses and the ball is available at the number 8’s feet.

In this clip we see South Africa win the ball cleanly and even though the scrum goes down Garces asks South Africa to play the ball.

This is a positive change to the application of the laws and as long as player safety isn’t compromised it should be encouraged to speed the game up and ensure the scrum is a means of re-starting the game and not a source of continual penalties.

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