In 1823, William Webb Ellis first picked up the ball in his arms and ran with it. And for the next 156 years forwards have been trying to work out why. - Tasker Watkins VC, LJ.

Monday, March 14, 2011

We Need To Talk About Jonathan...

Jonathan Kaplan will not want to watch the highlights reels from last weekend's internationals. Nor will Peter Allan. Or Paddy Wallace, come to that.

Kaplan awarded a try that should not have been given, because it came from a quick lineout that should not have been allowed. Peter Allan got that call completely and utterly wrong. It was a pretty horrendous error.

But, these things happen. Players make pretty awful mistakes too.

But whenever referees make mistakes like this, someone, sooner or later, demands a replay.

Now, from a sporting perspective, that's nonsense; you roll with the punches that are thrown, that's just life, and these things even out in the long run however infuriating it is at the time.

What I want to talk about is the legal issue of whether or not someone could seek a replay. The answer is; no. A referee is a decision maker, and the basic rule of thumb for all decision makers at law is that they have the right to be wrong, so long as they're wrong according to procedure. This was a plainly wrong decision, but according to the correct rules (the TMO, for example, cannot adjudicate on matters outside the in-goal area, so they couldn't go to the TMO, however tempting it would have been).

There's an Irish case on this, Carew Park AFC v. FAI, from 1999. There, the referee awarded a goal; changed his mind after one team protested; changed his mind again when the other team protested; and the game ended 1-0. The losers challenged the decision. The judge, Barr J., sympathised with them, but pointed out that the Courts would not strike down a referee's decision, even if it was wrong, unless "something appalling" had happened - which would seem to mean that short of a demonstrable fix, the decision stands. The reason was because that if not, if the Courts had to decide challenges to every crucial incorrect decision, it would lead to "a hopeless degree of anarchy".

And, given the state of the breakdown, the scrum, and refereeing in general at the moment, the last thing the game needs is yet more of that.

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