The video that has emerged of Rassie Erasmus analysing / ranting about (delete as applicable depending on your viewpoint) a raft of refereeing decisions that seemingly went against the Springboks in the First Test against the Lions has caused a bit of a stooshy on social media. The hour-long(!) recording defies detailed analysis of every point (certainly for anyone with a full-time job and only one day left before the Second Test…) but here are 10 issues that jumped out that seemed worthy of discussion.
Clip 1 Curry late hit / shoulder charge
Rassie’s issue: That the penalty awarded was maybe not sufficient sanction for Tom Curry’s late shoulder charge on Faf de Klerk (he is slightly vague / hedging on this one).
A shoulder charge is not automatically a yellow card. Refereeing of the head contact process has made it clear that officials are considering the degree of danger when deciding what sanction to apply in cases of foul play. In this case, it’s a low degree of danger with de Klerk knocked to the ground. Silly and unnecessary by Curry and a blatant penalty – as picked up by the officiating team – but no more than that.
Clip 4 High / seatbelt tackles
Rassie’s issue: Inconsistencies in penalising over the shoulder tackles – specifically a comparison between a penalised tackle by Bongi Mbonambi on Alun Wyn Jones against a non-penalised tackle by Conor Murray on Damian de Allende.
The offence is making contact with the head, neck or throat, not tackling on the shoulder.
World Rugby’s Head Contact Process states:
Head contact includes neck and throat area.
There are a number of differences between the two tackles highlighted.
Jones is side on and there is no place but his neck for Mbonambi’s arm to go. The hooker is in that position all the way to ground, pushing up the pitch and against Jones’ neck from the start to the finish of the tackle.
Murray is side on to Allende whose head is pointing directly up the pitch. The scrum half’s tackle is passive, falling backwards and his hand is on the ball with his arm wrapping over the shoulder. Murray’s arm moves down as the tackle progresses, further away from the neck of de Allende.
Clip 6 Mapimpi lifted
Rassie’s issue: Makazole Mapimpi is the subject of a dangerous clear out by Duhan van der Merwe.
Law 9.18 states:
A player must not lift an opponent off the ground and drop or drive that player so that their head and/or upper body makes contact with the ground.
There is no dropping or driving motion in this case. Mapimpi does not land on his head and/or upper body.
Clip 7 Advantage over
Rassie’s issue: Inconsistencies in the length of advantage played – specifically a passage of play for South Africa that saw the referee call advantage over called after 8 seconds compared to a sequence that saw the Lions’ allowed to play advantage for 20 seconds before coming back for a penalty.
Time is not a factor in assessing advantage. Law 7.1 states that:
a. May be tactical. The non-offending team is free to play the ball as they wish.
b. May be territorial. Play has moved towards the offending team’s dead-ball line.
South Africa had made a clean break (a rare enough event given there were only 8 in the entire game) when the referee called advantage over. Unfortunately for the Springboks they then immediately lost possession, almost the instant after the advantage over call.
Clip 8 Tackler not rolling away
Rassie’s issue: Inconsistencies in penalising tacklers for not rolling away – specifically comparing a penalty assessed against Kwagga Smith with an incident where Dan Biggar was not penalised.
The principle of Law 14 includes:
The actions of players involved in the tackle must ensure a fair contest and allow the ball to be available for play immediately.
In the latter incident, Damian de Allende opts not to place the ball directly backwards onto a clear bit of grass from where his scrum half can play the ball but instead goes at an angle so that he can push it against Dan Biggar. In this situation it is not Biggar’s actions that are preventing the ball being available for play immediately. That option is available to South Africa but instead they choose to try and milk a penalty.
Clip 11 Curry from the side
Rassie’s issue: Tom Curry comes in from an offside position after Stuart Hogg catches a kick and goes to ground. The Springboks’ DoR specifically mentions the law change that introduced an offside line as soon as one player is on their feet over the ball at a tackle.
There is no tackle as Hogg was not held therefore there is no offside line for Curry.
Law 14.1 states:
For a tackle to occur, the ball-carrier is held and brought to ground by one or more opponents.
Law 14.3 states:
Being held means that a tackler must continue holding the ball-carrier until the ball-carrier is on the ground.
Clip 12 Ox Nche clears out Alun Wyn Jones
Rassie’s issue: That Ox Nche is entitled to take down the Lions’ assist tackler (Alun Wyn Jones) as the South African joining the contact situation makes it a maul.
Law 16.2 defines a maul:
It consists of a ball-carrier and at least one player from each team, bound together and on their feet.
With Nche, plus the ball carrier added to the two Lions’ tacklers, this certainly meets the definition of a maul.
If this is judged to be a maul though, Nche would need to join from his own side, stay on his feet and not drag his opponent out of it.
Players joining a maul must do so (a) from an onside position; (b) bind on to the hindmost player in the maul.
All other players in the maul must endeavour to stay on their feet.
Law 16.11 (c)
Players must not attempt to drag an opponent out of a maul.
The prop doesn’t manage to achieve any of these three things. The sanction in each case is a penalty.
Clip 18 Damian de Allende offside
Rassie’s issue: That Damian de Allende was incorrectly penalised for offside.
From what Erasmus says in voice-over, Nic Berry has accepted this was an incorrect call. However, if we’re using this as an educational tool it is worth noting that the on-screen graphic used to illustrate the offside line, and which prompts Rassie to query how such an obvious decision could be wrong, is nowhere near the actual offside line.
Law 15.4 states:
Each team has an offside line that runs parallel to the goal line through the hindmost point of any ruck participant.
Clip 24 Knock-on Henshaw
Rassie’s issue: That a penalty and not a scrum should have been awarded to South Africa following Robbie Henshaw spilling a high ball forward into the hands of Duhan van der Merwe.
This is not a penalty on every occasion – a player can be accidentally offside, for which the sanction is a scrum.
Law 10.5 states:
A player is accidentally offside if the player cannot avoid being touched by the ball.
Given the proximity of van der Merwe’s hands to Henshaw’s and the fact it took a slow motion replay to be sure who touched the ball and when, a scrum rather than a penalty seems reasonable.
Clip 26 Scrum penalty
Rassie’s issue: Despite the Lions scrummaging illegally – with Tom Curry driving into the loosehead prop – it was the Springboks who conceded the scrum penalty. He also complains that it was this illegal play that caused Ox Nche’s neck injury.
The penalty surely comes for Nche not driving straight which is what initially destabilises the scrum?
Law 19.19 states:
Players may push provided they do so straight and parallel to the ground. Sanction : Penalty.
It is this angle that brings the flankers in and into contact with the front rows. Siya Kolisi and the South African second row are also driving up which leaves nowhere for Nche to go.
If Nche’s neck was injured at this point was it wise to keep him on for another 7 minutes of game time during which he carried ball, made tackles and packed down in two further scrums?
(Hopefully, the clips are numbered correctly for anyone wanting to follow on Rassie’s original video. If not, the descriptions should differentiate which incident it is that was being discussed.)