The incident in question is the Jimmy Cowan try which was not awarded during Saturdayâs Tri-Nations test match in Port Elisabeth based on the fact that the final pass on the try-line from Israel Dagg to Cowan was forward.
The Protocol for TMOâs
When it comes to tries, or possible tries being awarded with the assistance of the TMO, there are clear policies and protocols involved.
Let me copy the these protocols for you straight from the law book before we deal with the incident.
The areas of adjudication are limited to Law 6. 8 (b), 6.8 (d) and 6.8 (e) and therefore relate to:
Grounding of the ball for try and touch down
Touch, touch-in-goal, ball being made dead during the act of grounding the ball.
This includes situations where a player may or may not have stepped in touch in the act of grounding the ball on or over the goal line.
The TMO could therefore be requested to assist the referee in making the following decisions:
Try No try and scrum awarded 5 metres
Touch down by a defenderÂ In touch â line-out
Touch-in-goal Ball dead on or over the dead ball line Penalty tries after acts of foul play in in-goal All kicks at goal including dropped goals.
The TMO must not be requested to provide information on players prior to the ball going into in-goal (except touch in the act of grounding the ball).Â The TMO must not be asked to assist in any other decision other than those listed. The referee must make an effort to make an adjudication. If he is unsighted or has doubt, he will then use the following process (4).
In plain English this means that the TMO can only judge whether a player, in the act of scoring the try, stepped in touch or touch-and-goal, or knocked the ball on in the process of grounding it or did not ground it legally altogether.
The incident on Saturday saw Dagg break away where he was tackled inches short of the Springbok goal line, he popped a pass to Cowan who was in support and Cowan dived over the line and seemingly scored the try.
Neither Dagg nor Cowan stepped in touch, and there was nothing wrong with the grounding of the ball.
It was however as clear as daylight that the pass from Dagg to Cowan was at least a meter forward.
Now according to protocol the TMO cannot base his decision (try or no try) on a forward pass prior to grounding or advise the referee of such an incident.
The referee asked the TMO: “Johan, is this a try – yes or no?”
The TMO, after reviewing the evidence replied: “There is no problem with the grounding.â
At this point he should have said; âYou may award the tryâ, because based on evidence he was allowed to adjudicate on this was the only answer he should have given.
However, he continued to say or ask the referee; âDo you require any information before the goal-line?” To which the referee responded; âYesâ.
The TMO said: “It was a forward pass.”
The referee signalled that a try had not been scored and awarded a five-metre scrum to South Africa.
What they said
Afterwards, Graham Henry did not seem to perturbed at the decision.
“If it was a forward pass, it shouldn’t have been a try. If the officials can make good decisions on the evidence they have got, why not? I know it’s outside the laws of the game – they should only adjudicate over the goal line. But I haven’t got a problem with it.â
South African referees boss Andre Watson had a similar view of the incident.Â “What we want is the right decision. It was clear that the pass was forward and if the try had been allowed we [referees] would have looked a bunch of fools.
“Protocols are important and we should try to stick to them but they are essentially guidelines and I’d rather apologise for what happened than get the wrong answer.”
It is when it comes to the IRB referees boss, New Zealander Paddy OâBrien that the picture changes.
“They were wrong,” O’Brien said of his match officials.
As for why Meuswesen had gone outside of his jurisdiction, to inform Clancy that Dagg’s final pass to Cowan was forward, O’Brien didn’t know. Or why a referee as experienced as Clancy was swayed by advice that wasn’t Meuswesen’s to give.
“I’ve asked for a reply from both of them and I haven’t received one, as yet,” said O’Brien. “They are expected to stick to our protocols and the message will be loud and clear come the World Cup, or come this week’s test matches, that there will be consequences for officials that go outside the protocols. That’s why they’re in place.”
“He’s a very competent TMO, just like George is a very good referee. But they got it wrong and they will be told that they got it wrong.”
To many South African the reaction of OâBrien will come as no surprise.Â He has been accused of bias towards New Zealand in the past and this will further fuel this perception.
The fact that the TMO and referee went outside the scope of protocols in place should not overshadow that the correct decision was made in the end â this is of course the whole point of a referee, his assistants and TMOâs (to make the right decisions) or is it not?
Another important point to note is one Paul Dobson made on Rugby365: âThe protocol is not a part of the Laws of the Game, just a regulation of a process of applying the laws.â
I am absolutely stupefied that OâBrien cannot see this where number 1 the right decision was made, and number 2, even the opposing coach does not have a problem with this.
I hope both George Clancy and TMO Johan Meuswesen ignores OâBrienâs request for an âanswerâ as to the reasons for their actions, because if he cannot see this, he should not even referee primary school matches.