A rugby riddle for today: What has a backbone but no spine?

Nicholas Bishop Columnist

By Nicholas Bishop, Nicholas Bishop is a Roar Expert

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    The fate of the series was in the balance until the very last play of the game. If Bernard Foley’s pass had reached its target, the Wallabies would have scored a try to win the series; but the ball didn’t go to hand, and Ireland took the Lansdowne trophy back home instead.

    The margins in international rugby are as slim as the width of Jacob Stockdale’s thumb. Even at the very end, the final phase was reviewed by the TMO for a suspected knock-on by the Ireland left wing:

    Had the case for a touch been proven beyond reasonable doubt, it would have been game, set and match to Australia. A penalty and yellow card for sure, and quite possibly a penalty try too. In the professional era, one of the main planks of the law is the penalisation of negative play.

    In a series decider between two evenly-matched teams, narrow margins mean that the spotlight inevitably tends to fall upon refereeing decisions. Rugby’s backbone is its law-book, but the laws can be so complicated that they rely heavily – sometimes too heavily – on sensible translation by match officials.

    Ultimately it is their interpretations which give the game its ‘spine’ by upholding its true values on the field.

    The sending-off of France fullback Benjamin Fall in the second Test against New Zealand highlighted an interpretive problem – how best to keep the balance between the player safety and the physical contest, especially with the ball in the air?

    Fall was sent off by match official Angus Gardner, who promptly found the carpet pulled from underneath his feet when World Rugby decided to rescind the red card, on the basis that Fall was pushed into Beauden Barrett by one of his All Black teammates.

    Barrett landed on his head and neck and missed both the remainder of the game at the Cake Tin and the whole of the third Test with concussion as a result of the challenge. World Rugby, and presumably the refs’ own high-performance manager Alain Rolland, had come down on the side of the contest. Or so it seemed:

    “The primary consideration [for the issuing of cards in an aerial competition] is whether both players were in a realistic position to regather the ball.”

    The problem recurred after three successive high ball challenges by Israel Folau on Ireland captain Peter O’Mahony from Wallaby kick-offs in the first half on Saturday evening.

    Folau received a yellow card from Pascal Gaüzère for the third incident in the 31st minute, but has subsequently been cited by the commissioner and will now face a disciplinary hearing, for a potentially more dangerous challenge in the ninth minute which was considered legal by the referee at the time.

    The kernel of the issue is a grey area which exists between the referee’s decision-making protocol and the laws regarding dangerous play. The protocol was neatly summarised as a flow chart by Kiwi broadcaster Jason Pine:

    The laws give a different slant:

    Law 9.17: A player must not tackle, charge, pull, push or grasp an opponent whose feet are off the ground.
    Law 9.11: Players must not do anything that is reckless or dangerous to others.

    Here are the two kick-offs in question:

    In both cases, there can no question that Israel Folau is in the air and contesting for the ball, because it comes back on the Australian side. So from the viewpoint of the referee’s decision-making protocol, the answer to the first question is ‘yes’, and therefore it is ‘play on’.

    But in the terminology of laws 9.17 and 9.11, Folau is clearly ‘pulling’ and ‘grasping’ an opponent ‘whose feet are off the ground’, and the outcome is dangerous – as the following two screenshots illustrate:

    His left arm is a particular and repeated problem, gripping O’Mahony under the left armpit and tipping him over in a situation where he cannot control his body. Like Barrett, O’Mahony landed on his head/neck in the ninth minute, left the field under the Head Injury Assessment, and did not return. If there was a fourth Test next Saturday, he would probably not be fit to play in it.

    So where do referees find their decision-making spine: in the intent of the contestant, or in the outcome of his action? In the ninth minute, Gauzère came down on the side of intent, in the 31st (and only after prompting by the TMO) he judged from outcome.

    In the 20th minute he judged from outcome when sending off Stockdale for leading with a forearm to Nick Phipps’ throat:

    Intent does not matter, the outcome is dangerous and Stockdale is rightly sin-binned. If he had got a touch to Foley’s pass and prevented a try in the final moments, the outcome would also have been sanctioned – and Gauzère would have been right to do that as well.

    The contradictions are there for all to see, and the shadow hovering in the background is the class-action lawsuit brought by more than 4500 ex-NFL players and their families in the USA. It has resulted in a settlement which is likely to pay out more than $1bn in compensation for the long-term consequences of head trauma in retirement.

    On the field, the Wallabies fought Ireland tooth and nail throughout the series, all the way to a very bitter end. They have certainly discovered plenty of backbone, and there is no shortage either of character or of new talent coming through into the playing ranks.

    If there is a caveat, it is in the spine of the team. That spine runs from the hooker in the centre of the scrum, through the number 8 at the base to the two halves who forge the tactical metal of the side, and the fullback who makes the decisions from his privileged ‘crow’s nest’ in the backfield.

    The excellence of that spine is crucial to sustained success, as South Africa have recently proved in their series with England. The selection of experienced European-based players like Duane Vermeulen at 8, Faf de Klerk at scrumhalf and Willie le Roux at fullback has kick-started a change of fortunes, and the return of Malcolm Marx or Bismarck du Plessis at hooker will only bolster further improvement in The Rugby Championship.

    The situation for Michael Cheika’s Australia is less clear. At hooker, the choice could be any one of four – Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Tolu Latu and returnees Jordan Uelese and Tatafu Polota-Nau. Number 8 still raises the ghost of where David Pocock should or should not be playing, while at 10 Foley seems to defer to the man outside him, Kurtley Beale, as a tactical organiser.

    Only two of the spinal positions are completely unimpeachable, when they are occupied by Will Genia at scrum-half and Israel Folau at fullback.

    Genia was injured for the game in Sydney, and his place was taken by Waratah veteran Nick Phipps. Despite his penchant for experimentation in virtually every other position on the field, the halves are one area where Cheika has stubbornly refused to move beyond the known alternatives – Genia and Phipps at 9, Foley at 10. As a result, depth in these positions is desperately thin.

    Phipps has clearly made efforts to improve the weaknesses in his game, and he plays with a heart and energy level which Cheika obviously admires. He has a great engine, which meant that he was absent at only one of the 79 rucks where his presence could have been expected.

    That engine is of particular value in the defensive backfield pattern the Wallabies employ. As I pointed out in this article after the tour game against England at the end of last year, Australia give him a lot of responsibility in this area – he frequently has one half of the field to himself and is trusted to judge whether to play near the line or drop deeper into the backfield.

    Against Ireland, his energy in cover defence was outstanding. From lineout, he starts at sweeper behind the ruck as Johnny Sexton makes the kick-pass:

    By the time Keith Earls receives it on the far side of the field, Phipps is already up and running, completing the tackle on Earls as David Pocock draws a penalty with a neat sidestep at the breakdown:

    An even better example occurred at the beginning of the second half, with Phipps again transitioning from the sweeper role behind the ruck to cover the far corner of the field off another kick by Sexton:

    If Phipps doesn’t make this play, Ireland must score a try with Dane Haylett-Petty guarding the other side of the field.

    Phipps contributed a jackal turnover penalty at the breakdown a few minutes later:

    Phipps is tough, and his work-rate to the ruck and as a cover defender is exemplary. The issues lie on the other side of the ball.

    The two Folau kick-offs both illustrate what can happen when he is forced to pass under duress. When passing under pressure, he passes the pressure on to the man outside him!

    It was noticeable throughout the game how close the Wallaby first receiver had to stand to receive the pass from Phipps – typically less than ten metres. As soon as the distance widened, the margin for error was far greater, with Phipps taking steps towards the target, requiring more preparation and the delivery describing a looped rather than flat trajectory.

    When he came on as replacement, Joe Powell was able to both increase the tempo of attack between breakdowns and offer first receiver more width in his alignment:

    Compare this with a similar example from the start of the game:

    Powell’s pass reaches Israel Folau fast and flat over approximately 15 metres, and that gives both Folau and Samu Kerevi the time to attack the outside shoulders of the defenders confronting them.

    The difference can be pinpointed as Israel Folau goes to make the second pass:

    These are narrow margins, but they are nonetheless significant. The Ireland defensive line in the second instance enjoys less time to present as a unified front, and Kerevi has more space in which to work up a head of steam. In a side which attacks mainly off 10 or 12, that extra length and speed off the base is invaluable.

    Meanwhile, the tactical kicking was divided between Foley and Beale, who made 14 of Australia’s 16 kicks on the day. Phipps did not make one kick, nor did he offer to threaten the inside three defenders on the fringes of the ruck:

    This is Phipps’ ‘run’. He takes a couple of steps outside but does not commit either of the first two defenders (James Ryan and CJ Stander). The outcome is that his receiver, Latu, overruns the pass and is facing his own goal-line as he receives the ball.

    The final Test between Australia and Ireland went right down to the wire. It was easily the most closely-contested June series in 2018, and it produced most of the high-quality football. The two nations consolidated rather than weakened their number two and number three rankings in the world.

    For Michael Cheika, there remains a concern about the spine of the team and the depth in those pivotal positions at 2, 8, 9, 10 and 15. Through no fault of his own, the situation at hooker is as clear as mud, and the seesawing debate about the viability of two open-side flankers – one of whom probably has to play at 8 – will no doubt continue.

    However, another series has come and gone in which development time could have been afforded to one of the younger scrum-halves, or a replacement for Bernard Foley at outside-half. Ireland chose to blood Joey Carbery in the first Test even though it could have cost them the series. It was a calculated risk which may help Ireland’s cause in the long term.

    The lawmakers and match officials must have concerns about the spine of values within the game. A clear consensus about the priority of player safety, or a physical contest has not emerged. Referees, presumably obeying the protocols they are given from on high, are caught between a rock and hard place as rugby continues to wobble from one pole to the other in the professional era.

    Steve Hansen has suggested the idea of allowing two ‘coaches’ challenges’ per game (as in the NFL) to take the pressure off the referee: “World Rugby now have to go away and have a look at it themselves. Common sense should surely prevail.” It will, but only if they’re listening, and finally show some backbone.

    Nicholas Bishop
    Nicholas Bishop

    Nick Bishop has worked as a rugby analyst and advisor to Graham Henry (1999-2003), Mike Ruddock (2004-2005) and most recently Stuart Lancaster (2011-2015). He also worked on the 2001 British & Irish Lions tour to Australia and produced his first rugby book with Graham Henry at the end of the tour. Three more rugby books have followed, all of which of have either been nominated for or won national sports book awards. Nick's latest is a biography of Phil Larder, the first top Rugby League coach to successfully transfer over to Union, entitled The Iron Curtain. He is currently writing articles for The Roar and The Rugby Site, and working as a strategy consultant to Stuart Lancaster and the Leinster coaching staff for their European matches.

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    The Crowd Says (433)

    • June 27th 2018 @ 4:12am
      Misha said | June 27th 2018 @ 4:12am | ! Report

      No way was Fall was “pushed” into Beauden Barrett by one of his All Black teammates. Fall “brushed” past Lienart-Brown and made about another 6 steps on his own – balanced and braced on the ground. That WR decision was ludicrous and not supported by video evidence.

      • Columnist

        June 27th 2018 @ 4:22am
        Nicholas Bishop said | June 27th 2018 @ 4:22am | ! Report

        Well Fall didn’t even fulfil the first part of the ref’s protocol by getting off the ground to compete for the ball. It was an obvious card, the only decision the ref had to make was between yellow and red.

        • June 27th 2018 @ 6:38am
          BBA said | June 27th 2018 @ 6:38am | ! Report

          Well in the interests of being balanced “pushed into Barrett” was perhaps phrased a bit harshly, and many nave made that call as it can suit an argument put forward that the AB’s are the only team offending in rugby that some people have (not Nick) which can rile AB fans.

          However, he was put off his stride and contact was made with an opposition player which may be considered a mitigating factor for the collision, his ability to contest for the ball etc. and if all was made aware of it at the time it may have not meant that the red card for what did happen could have been down graded to a yellow card which would perhaps have been a fairer result..

          • Columnist

            June 27th 2018 @ 3:27pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | June 27th 2018 @ 3:27pm | ! Report

            Tbf to Fall, I’ve had to look at a number of Fall’s performances and he usually times it pretty well in the air – def one of the best aerial competitors in Europe.

        • Roar Guru

          June 27th 2018 @ 8:55am
          Wal said | June 27th 2018 @ 8:55am | ! Report

          I really felt for Gardner in that situation, he handled the on-field part well communicating clearly and 100% by the book. And his bosses then hung him out to dry.

          • June 27th 2018 @ 10:41am
            paleocortex said | June 27th 2018 @ 10:41am | ! Report

            Agree Wal.
            Angus G applied the letter of the law (for what it is worth) correctly and got hung out to dry by WR. Refs have to cope with abuse from mug punters on the side line, (increasingly) from players (looking at you TJ P), and now from WR as well…no wonder we have trouble finding intelligent referees.
            PS: Thank you Nick. Thoughtful, insightful and delightful as always!

            • Roar Guru

              June 27th 2018 @ 10:57am
              Wal said | June 27th 2018 @ 10:57am | ! Report

              I also thought it was great to see A Smith marched for backchat.
              I would hate to see Rugby go down the League/Football path where Referees are often harassed by players during matches.

              • Roar Rookie

                June 27th 2018 @ 12:25pm
                Dave_S said | June 27th 2018 @ 12:25pm | ! Report

                Yep I’d be happy to hear more “thank you go away” retorts from refs. Do players really need on-the-run explanations of everything? Of course not. It’s tactical in most cases as far as I can see.

                A teacher at my school, a stern Scotsman, reffed rugby and his games were played in absolute silence – no-one chatted to Mr McCallum, the opposition or even their teammates unless they were very brave.

              • June 27th 2018 @ 3:09pm
                cuw said | June 27th 2018 @ 3:09pm | ! Report

                REFS need to lay down the markers early in the game.

                like giving a free kick when the line out is not properly aligned or the scrum is not set quickly or even chat.

                when it is done early in the game players try to adapt and be more careful – especially they dont want to get blasted at half time.

                also being stern like Nigel helps. not many try arguing with him.

                i think one problem is some refs engage in chats with players – im sure they are trying to help – but then it has a cascading effect , where all join in for a political debate.

              • Columnist

                June 27th 2018 @ 3:31pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | June 27th 2018 @ 3:31pm | ! Report

                I quite enjoyed M.Poite’s response to one of younger Faz’s ‘suggestions’ -“thank you for your support Owen” 🙂

              • June 27th 2018 @ 5:04pm
                cuw said | June 27th 2018 @ 5:04pm | ! Report

                @ Nicholas Bishop

                was it when he complained that ‘ non- captains are asking for cards – they shud not be talking to you “.

                OF looked really silly in that match – not very captain-like.

                Joe L shud be given captaincy – he may be a little silent but does not alienate refs

              • Columnist

                June 27th 2018 @ 6:41pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | June 27th 2018 @ 6:41pm | ! Report

                It might also help Itoje’s discipline to make him captain – he did the job for the u 20’s after all…

            • Columnist

              June 27th 2018 @ 3:28pm
              Nicholas Bishop said | June 27th 2018 @ 3:28pm | ! Report

              Cheers mate – and liking your ‘handle’!

      • June 27th 2018 @ 8:48am
        Andrewt said | June 27th 2018 @ 8:48am | ! Report

        I struggled to see anything in it at first, however if you watch his feet he was checked by the contact, which probably stopped him from jumping (if he planned to do so).

        And when running at speed 6 steps is not much when you try to regain your balance. I guess I sort of understand where they are coming from. His eyes were always on the ball as well. So I think red was overkill.

        With regards to Folau he had hands-on which doesn’t bode well for him. However, generally speaking, if you have a single lifter and there is any sort of competition or contact in the air, the guy being lifted will pivot on the axis. Maybe remove lifting (or single lifting) from general play … and this may reduce the grey area.

        • Columnist

          June 27th 2018 @ 3:37pm
          Nicholas Bishop said | June 27th 2018 @ 3:37pm | ! Report

          Maybe remove lifting (or single lifting) from general play … and this may reduce the grey area.

          Two man pods are now the norm on KO receipts, so this one is interesting. Technically a lifter should provide support, but there are occasions when he fixes too early and it takes away the catcher’s ability to adjust as teh ball comes down…

        • June 28th 2018 @ 1:06pm
          AlBo said | June 28th 2018 @ 1:06pm | ! Report

          I have been guilty of thinking the Folau yellow was dubious but I must admit that the photo evidence doesn’t look in his favour.

          What it does suggest to me though (and this is not a reason for not giving a yellow as there has to be a line drawn somewhere), is that Folau’s grab was probably instinctual to keep himself from falling further forward. I doubt he ever intended to pull him down (however i must reinstate that I am aware the neligence need no intent, it’s just an observation about balance that high in the air).

          ON THAT NOTE… I think that single lifters should be banned. They just aren’t safe. There is no way to support the player (unless you’re the Beast) and if we require two in lineouts, we should require it even more so in general play. Two lifters is ok, but one is just opening itself up to situations like this. Not only this but every contest in the air in general play should be between potential catchers only. No third party. The lifter is not allowing for a fair contest, full stop.

          Lineouts are fair game because all parties are lifting and they are doing so from a stationary point.

          Also, for those who are lamenting the analysis paralysis and telling everyone to MOVE ON and stop whinging, I’m genuinely enjoying constructive discussions about this issue, because it is a serious issue.

    • June 27th 2018 @ 4:29am
      Galatzo said | June 27th 2018 @ 4:29am | ! Report

      Nicholas – masterly observations, a definite keeper for the archive. Re. our main backline problem – do you think we could run the following in the South Wales Echo? Wanted, talented rugby 10. Must be willing to emigrate. Should be able to pass, specially to his right, kick deftly in general play, find the line safely on penalties, be fearless in defence and forthright in attack. Successful applicant may be selected for Wallabies, get to travel and meet fascinating people. Please send CV and salary requirements to M. Cheika, Coogee Beachside Budget Accommodation, Sydney, Australia..

      • Columnist

        June 27th 2018 @ 5:17am
        Nicholas Bishop said | June 27th 2018 @ 5:17am | ! Report

        Wanted, talented rugby 10. Must be willing to emigrate.

        Maybe you should’ve picked up Gareth Anscombe G! 😀

        • June 27th 2018 @ 5:40am
          Galatzo said | June 27th 2018 @ 5:40am | ! Report

          You’re right about Anscombe, Nicholas. The Kiwis were happy enough to pick him for the 20s but didn’t feel he had the talent to be an AB. Gatland happily grabbed him. Okay, any Kiwi tens reading this come over to Sydney and line up according to height.

          • Columnist

            June 27th 2018 @ 5:54am
            Nicholas Bishop said | June 27th 2018 @ 5:54am | ! Report

            Glad that’s settled then G!

            • June 27th 2018 @ 8:35am
              Jimmy James said | June 27th 2018 @ 8:35am | ! Report

              Should look at the current NZ 20s 5/8, Falcon. Son of forme Brumby Gordon Falcon. Born in Australia.

              • June 27th 2018 @ 9:25am
                Jacko said | June 27th 2018 @ 9:25am | ! Report

                Gordon played for the Brumbies and Canes and also the Maori ABs and Penrith Panthers. Wiki says Tiann was “Born in NZ” but it does not say where which is unusual. Gordon played 70+ matches for hawkes Bay and Tiann is a 3rd generation HB player

              • Roar Guru

                June 27th 2018 @ 11:09am
                Wal said | June 27th 2018 @ 11:09am | ! Report

                His father, former Maori All Black and Hurricanes loosie Gordon Falcon, played 74 first-class games for the Bay from 1989-1995 and his grandfather, Ray Falcon, who was also a Maori All Black loosie, played 40 in the 1980s.
                Keep those convict mitts off him he’s ours.
                He could have been born in Aus as he was born whilst his old man was at Penrith.

              • June 27th 2018 @ 12:32pm
                Akari said | June 27th 2018 @ 12:32pm | ! Report

                There is also another young bloke called Josh Ioane and being given opportunities at the Landers. I like the look and play of this youngster.

                While the NZ franchises are obviously looking to the future, here we are on this side of the ditch just not into doing the needful. Instead Foley, Jack Debreczini, Hawera are locked in at 10 with Christian Leali’ifano thrown in to calm the nerves in some games.

              • June 27th 2018 @ 3:31pm
                cuw said | June 27th 2018 @ 3:31pm | ! Report

                Tiaan Falcon played under 20 last year.

                current NZ U20 is harry Plummer – Trask is his backup.

                Quite a few NZ U20 fly halves have gone away

                like Tyler Blyendaal , Simon Hickey , Ihaia West

                those remaining from the under 20 teams. include Garden Bachop , Fletcher Smith , Mitch Hunt , Otere Black , Perofeta maybe even M.Makenzie ( tho i cant recall him )

              • Columnist

                June 27th 2018 @ 3:39pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | June 27th 2018 @ 3:39pm | ! Report

                Thanks Jimmy – Australia don’t seem to 10’s coming out of their ears atm, so they may have to ‘manufacture’ one 🙂

      • Roar Pro

        June 27th 2018 @ 1:14pm
        Crazy Horse said | June 27th 2018 @ 1:14pm | ! Report

        Cheika should have a good look at Andrew Deegan. He’s been very impressive with the Force.

        • Roar Rookie

          June 27th 2018 @ 1:20pm
          piru said | June 27th 2018 @ 1:20pm | ! Report

          +1 but you know we can’t say the F word with regard to selection – maybe next year

        • Roar Pro

          June 27th 2018 @ 1:38pm
          Crazy Horse said | June 27th 2018 @ 1:38pm | ! Report

          Silly me, I forgot that only Force players stolen by East Coast teams are to be considered for Wallaby selection. However Deegan is a NSW boy so maybe exempt from this rule?

          • Roar Rookie

            June 27th 2018 @ 1:41pm
            piru said | June 27th 2018 @ 1:41pm | ! Report

            No I think he falls into the “didn’t stay and accept no opportunities at the Waratahs so not interested” category.

            Also known as the Matt Hodgson zone

      • Roar Rookie

        June 27th 2018 @ 6:50pm
        The Crow Flies Backwards said | June 27th 2018 @ 6:50pm | ! Report

        I’d even throw in a stamped, self addressed envelope

    • Roar Guru

      June 27th 2018 @ 4:45am
      Corne Van Vuuren said | June 27th 2018 @ 4:45am | ! Report

      Hi Nicholas, my issue is with that first question, “were both players in a position to play the ball?”

      That can be interpreted anyway you want.

      In my view judging a player not in position is completely subjective. From there the decisions can go horribly wrong.

      I am also of the view that placing the responsibility of the “failing” competitor is unfair.

      You cannot jump with gay abandonment or recklessness in the air and expect the other bloke to now stay out of your way because he jumped lower than you, or didn’t jump at all.

      Then there is interference from other players that play a role.

      It is almost inevitable to make contact with a jumper coming from front on, where is the appropriate spot to touch an opposition player?

      In my opinion you will never get consistency on these issues, so either you change the laws, or you outlaw the box kick, or the jump.

      But I am fedup with inconsistent interpretation of laws that influence matches.

      The same frustrations lie in the scrum, Kisthoff and Beast this past weekend demolished the English scrum, and the penalties went against them, because Glen Jackson decided they were scrumming in, yet he ignored the English tighthead’s body positioning.

      Same frustrations apply at the breakdown, South Africa were prnalised into submission this past weekend, yes England ruled the rucks, but half the penalties I didn’t understand.

      Interpretations and cards are beginning to seriously ruin rugby.

      Results are being influenced, by how much we will all disgree, but this needs to stop now.

      • Columnist

        June 27th 2018 @ 5:16am
        Nicholas Bishop said | June 27th 2018 @ 5:16am | ! Report

        I think (at least in the NH) that shoulder to shoulder in the air is seen as acceptable by refs – but not the pulling or unbalancing action… But they have to be in the air already to be viewed as a realistic chance. Anyone on the ground, whether like Fall they are looking at the ball or not, does not qualify. Perfect example here, and it shows how it was being reffed in the previous 12 months (incidentally by Gauzere again)

        Agree the pen against Kitshoff was on the far side of ridiculous, and TH’s are fast learning they can give way in the expectation will call the opposing LH for walking around 🙁

        • Roar Rookie

          June 27th 2018 @ 5:15pm
          Paulo said | June 27th 2018 @ 5:15pm | ! Report

          “shoulder to shoulder in the air is seen as acceptable by refs – but not the pulling or unbalancing action… But they have to be in the air already to be viewed as a realistic chance. Anyone on the ground, whether like Fall they are looking at the ball or not, does not qualify”

          I think this sums it up really well Nic. If people look at this, it explains where you need to be in the contest, and if you cant get there in time, pull out and get set for the tackle once the catcher lands. There are plenty of examples of the likes of Ben Smith and Folau pulling out of the contest before entering the contested space when they can see they wont be realistically in the right position.

          If in the case of someone not jumping high enough and shoulder to shoulder is not possible, think the height of Folau’s jumps, then as long as its seen as a realistic effort you should be ok. You wont get penalized for not jumping high enough, as some people have espoused is happening. In those instances you would expect the collision would not pivot the higher jumper as the point of contact would still largely be body to body. Its when it is body to waist or or body to leg contact that jumpers are pivoted to a dangerous position. This only really happens when people don’t make an effort for the ball by not jumping or get their timing way off. This is the Fall incident.

          As for Folau, contact when going for the ball is fine,. but he places a trailing hand on the other jumper. The contact is so much that it pulls Folau off balance two and his trailing hands get held back due the impact he has had in the contest. The flow chart above does not write apply to Folau’s case as it is is based around a collision in the air. Folau is more about taking tha man in the air, which overrides the flow chart as its not the contest or collision that is the issue per se, its the interference his arms make immediately after the contest. His arm action, in wrapping around the torso, is not part of his contest or actions to catch the ball, so he is not entitled to make them.

          There is always a degree of subjectiveness in almost all Ref decisions. so there will always be disagreement about the how things are ruled, largely when they go against you’re team. Tough to be a ref these days, have heaps of respect for them dealing with everything that goes with the gig.

          • Columnist

            June 27th 2018 @ 6:32pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | June 27th 2018 @ 6:32pm | ! Report

            Agreed Paulo – the worst thing you can do as a chaser is simply run straight into he receiving zone without a pause to judge your position in relation to the ball and the defender. Then you get the “Daly/Fall effect” and the ref is bound to sanction it.

          • June 27th 2018 @ 9:38pm
            Hazzmat said | June 27th 2018 @ 9:38pm | ! Report

            There were other instances of players placing their hands on the body of the other jumper after they had missed the initial contest in the air. Both Folau and HP can bear witness to that.

            In one instance Folau landed square on his back but only from about five feet up. Does that make it any less wrong or any less worthy of a yellow card.

            These are some of the grey areas that World Rugby has created along with what is considered a high tackle and tackling players without the ball even though the defender is committed.

    • Roar Guru

      June 27th 2018 @ 5:16am
      Kia Kaha said | June 27th 2018 @ 5:16am | ! Report

      Much to absorb here thanks, NB.

      My sympathies lie with the refs. I felt for Gardner who adhered to the laws and then got undermined the following week.

      We should be encouraging people to ref the game but my fear is that the people with the right temparement and feel for the game will be discouraged from becoming an elite ref because the laws are open to such liberal interpretation and, therefore, to public criticism.

      • Columnist

        June 27th 2018 @ 5:20am
        Nicholas Bishop said | June 27th 2018 @ 5:20am | ! Report

        Steve Hansen obv had a chat with Gardner and realized the corner he’d been pushed into by World Rugby. Elite refs have to have confidence in their own interpretations because that communicates itself to the players. Nigel Owens is a great example in this respect. He prob doesn’t get any more calls ‘right’ than any other ref, but the players do have a very clear understanding of what he wants in most situations, and he communicates assertively. He tries to ref in the best interests of the game as a whole 🙂

        • Roar Guru

          June 27th 2018 @ 6:01am
          Kia Kaha said | June 27th 2018 @ 6:01am | ! Report

          Agree, transparency is crucial and being assured in the calls. Owens might make some questionable calls – I recall he blew a try for NZ and then said he was playing a penalty advantage and hadn’t awarded a try after a little voice in his ear said it was probably held up – but it never appears that way.

          • Columnist

            June 27th 2018 @ 6:07am
            Nicholas Bishop said | June 27th 2018 @ 6:07am | ! Report

            …and when he denied England a breakaway try on the intercept, when they developed the line-speed off illegal breakdown activity. NO only blew up the offence after it gave unreasonable advantage to the D…

            • June 27th 2018 @ 8:35am
              Kane said | June 27th 2018 @ 8:35am | ! Report

              And that time he awarded the English a try in Dunedin even through the ball was held up because “you can’t hold your self up”…

              • Columnist

                June 27th 2018 @ 3:42pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | June 27th 2018 @ 3:42pm | ! Report

                That’s known as a Nigelism K.

              • June 27th 2018 @ 5:10pm
                cuw said | June 27th 2018 @ 5:10pm | ! Report

                i thought the best was when he told READ ” u will get what i will give you ” ; when Read asked if they will get a scrum near the 5m line.

                READ looked dumbstruck 😀

              • Roar Rookie

                June 27th 2018 @ 5:26pm
                Paulo said | June 27th 2018 @ 5:26pm | ! Report

                My favorite is “Dives like that again, come back here in two weeks and play, not today” to Stuart Hogg in the World Cup SA/Eng game. Referring to Soccer (Football) being played there in two weeks.

            • June 27th 2018 @ 5:08pm
              cuw said | June 27th 2018 @ 5:08pm | ! Report


              i think his worst call was to deny Ashton & TOULON a try in that not Heineken cup semi final.

              a clear slap down out of play inside the goal area with just one hand ( was it ZEBO ? )

              it was in the second minute – so Nigel said it was a knock on .

              i have never seen any TMO or touchie disagree with him – thus Toulon denied a place in the finals.

              • Columnist

                June 27th 2018 @ 6:34pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | June 27th 2018 @ 6:34pm | ! Report

                Nigel comes up with reasons (and sometimes invents new law interpretations) to justify his decisions very quickly! Only joking ofc 🙂

    • June 27th 2018 @ 5:30am
      Sherry said | June 27th 2018 @ 5:30am | ! Report

      Here’s a query, Nick. Can rugby learn from American Football? The NFL has something like 15 rules to protect a player “in a defenceless position.” If the foul is accidental, the player stays in the game but his team is penalized 15 yards. If the official deems it a blatant foul, it’s still a 15 yard penalty, the offender is tossed out, but a sub is immediately allowed to take his place. Maybe rugby should adopt a similar law. If it had, retrospectively, Folau would have been sidelined for the remainder of the game and a bench warmer taken his place. Clearly, if this kind of law was introduced, squads would have to be bigger, which I think would be a move for the better anyway.

      • Columnist

        June 27th 2018 @ 5:33am
        Nicholas Bishop said | June 27th 2018 @ 5:33am | ! Report

        Yes, American Football makes a clear differentiation for ‘flagrant’ offences. Ben Kay recently made a suggestion for an orange card, whereby the offender was sent off for 10 minutes, and could only be then replaced by a bench sub when that time expired. Sounds like an idea worth trying out!

    • June 27th 2018 @ 6:01am
      Miglia said | June 27th 2018 @ 6:01am | ! Report

      Corne has a good point which leads into Sherry’s post about a “defenceless position.” A defender going up for a high punt or box kick can also be in a defenceless position. Nicholas, what would you say is the ratio between an attacker getting dinged for a mid-air collision versus a competing defender getting dinged?

      • Columnist

        June 27th 2018 @ 6:06am
        Nicholas Bishop said | June 27th 2018 @ 6:06am | ! Report

        Attacker nearly always has the momentum into the contest M (running on to the ball on chase), which is why refs tend to protect the defender, who is often either stationary or straight up-and down…

        • June 27th 2018 @ 8:37am
          freddieeffer said | June 27th 2018 @ 8:37am | ! Report

          Nick, the other glaring issue with contesting high balls is the number of defenders loitering and obstructing the attacking jumper (eg Folau) from ‘safely’ approaching and contesting the ball. In my opinion, this escalates enormously the probability of the contact/contest for the ball to become skewed and then dangerous. I think Folau generally has no intent for foul play, but the high ball in rugby is becoming littered with potential foul play and the use of yellow and red cards through the related dynamics around defending the high ball, including the role and effectiveness of lifters.

          • Columnist

            June 27th 2018 @ 3:44pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | June 27th 2018 @ 3:44pm | ! Report

            I formed the impression (rightly or wrongly) that Folau had been told he’d given up too easily on the high ball pursuits against the Ireland blocks in Melbourne, and felt the need to ‘atone’… and so overcompensated.

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