In a nation where rugby is king, it is simply baffling how many people do not know the laws of the game but in New Zealand, ignorance seems to be no hurdle to voicing your opinion. What makes it worse, is when those in the media exhibit that same ignorance.
Nobody expects media commentators to be absolute experts in the laws of the rugby, in fact I like to think my 10 years as a referee give me a leg up on the competition, but when commentators and talk back hosts prattle on about incidents based on their faulty understanding of the laws, somebody has to set the record straight. And unlike Sunday Star Time columnist Grant Fox, I am happy to name names and cite incidents and facts, not just waffle in generalities.
On Saturday afternoon talk backradio, host, former Tongan international, Willie Lose asked why teams opt to take scrums when awarded free kicks near their opponent's try line rather than take a drop goal. One caller agreed with him but correctly pointed out that teams cannot take a drop goal attempt from a free kick, which then prompted Lose to say that teams should just tap the ball, then pass it to a team mate to take the drop goal attempt.
The law here is extremely clear, and the sheer number of callers agreeing with Lose led me to turn the radio off in digust. The applicable law here is 21.6 (b) which reads: The team awarded a free kick cannot score a dropped goal until after the ball next becomes dead, or until after an opponent has played or touched it, or has tackled the ball carrier. This restriction applies also to a scrum taken instead of a free kick.
Simply put, there must be a tackle made after the free kick has been taken before a drop goal can be attempted. And it would be a very alert and brave referee who picked up and enforced that last sentence.
During the game between the Chiefs and Reds, referee Craig Joubert referred an incident to the Television Match Official when Chiefs' winger Leila Masaga chased a kick into the in goal area and appeared to have grounded the ball just inside the touch in goal line. As the slow motion replays rolled, Sky Sports commentator Tony Johnson pointed out that Masaga's hand was on the line before he grounded the ball and that it was unlikely to be a try.
After the try was awarded, quite correctly, Johnson said that it was probably due to the "benefit of the doubt", a phrase which does not appear in the law book. In fact there is a law which covers doubt over grounding of the ball.
The applicable law here is 22.4 (g). If an attacking player is in touch or in touch-in-goal, the player can score a try by grounding the ball in the opponents in-goal provided the player is not carrying the ball. Granted this is slightly obscure and has an unnatural feel, but all referees have this particular law drilled into them so that if it does happen, they get it right.
In essence, because Masaga was not carrying the ball when he put his hand on the line, then grounded the ball, the try was awarded on the basis of law 22.4 (g).
Sitting in the press box at AMI Stadium, I frequently find myself correcting much more respected and better paid rugby scribes. Which leads to the question, if the basis of any sport is the laws, how can those who make their living documenting and commenting on it have such a poor understanding?