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.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

6 Nations Round One - Davies, Ferris and Tip-Tackles Part 2

And so to the decision itself.

You can read the decision HERE.

While going through it, I'd ask you not just to remember the points from Part 2, but also look at the picture just below, originally from the Daily Telegraph the day after the game.

The first thing to note is that the Decision's statement of the facts of what happened is, frankly, bizarre. You'll note from the picture above that Evans (W5 in the Decision), has his left arm outstretched to break the fall. Yet, at paragraph 7 of the decision, it says that "There is a point where the Player's left elbow can be seen as the uppermost part of his body, but his body position is itself at 45 degrees to the ground and not perpendicular to it". It then goes on at paragraph 8 to say "The effect of the tackle is that W5 goes to ground, making contact with his left shoulder and right hand simultaneously, the latter of which he has put out to break his fall" - Evans, as you will see, has his LEFT hand out, with the ball in his right. That confusion of left and right runs all the way through the Decision. That is, at best, sloppy. There is another, catastrophic, error on the facts, which I will deal with in due course.

The second thing to notice is that, although this is just like the Bowe case, that case is never mentioned. In fact, no case is ever mentioned. Given that at least one legal representative in this case was involved in Bowe, and would have known the outcome of that case that the yellow card and penalty given in that case by Wayne Barnes for a similar offence were upheld, this is surprising.

Wayne Barnes, the referee, stood by his guns in paragraph 10 and 11 that it was a penalty. He did felt he could not be that there was no dropping of the player, but felt that it was from no great height (paragraph 10) if it was there and that there was definitely a failure to bring the player safely to ground - which as you will remember, is Category 3 from Part 2, and what happened in Bowe. On what is recorded in the decision, Barnes does not accept that there was no dropping.

Thirdly, the issue of the four points arose, especially the issue of point 3), both legs being in the air. The case was made that the video evidence confirmed that Ian Evan's right leg - that's the one up in the air - was "at all relevant points... still in contact with the ground". Well, it wasn't; and as you can see from the picture above, neither was his left leg (which suggestion was put to Wayne Barnes in paragraph 11). The Findings at paragraph 16 state that "the lifting of a leg in this situation where the other leg remains on the ground, is not sufficient of itself to make this a dangerous tackle". And on that basis, they dismissed the citing.

In other words, the entire decision is based on the idea that 3) is missing; that Evan's left leg was on the ground at all times. Now, look up at the picture; and ask yourself how that one snuck through.

Thus far, the decision is clearly fundamentally in error. The entire basis of its reasoning is, not to beat around the bush, just plain wrong. But, these things happen; it's what one would term an error within jurisdiction. It's an error, but not one that would lead to any recourse had they stopped there.

The real problem is what they said about the Law. The Decision states at paragraph 16 "[t]he angles involved (the Player's body and W5's shoulders, hips, knee and angle) are less than 45 degrees to the perpendicular at the relevant points. In our view, the dynamic is not such that the law reference is designed to address."

Now, with all due deference, that's nonsense. There is no reference whatsoever in the Law to horizontal, or perpendicular. That reference was removed to give us the current Law 10 (4) (j). Reinserting it, and claiming the amended Law requires it, is simply untenable. It also flies in the face of the cases already decided - not one of which is referred to. It is, for example, utterly inconsistent with Bowe and Tuitupou, which have been approved and followed by IRB and ERC panels as illustrating exactly what this law, especially Categories 2 and 3, refer to. It is, in essence, one panel going off on a flier and trying to redraft the law by inserting a requirement into it that for any offence under 10 (4) (j), it has to be more vertical than not, instead of the requirement that the first contact be with the upper body. It is throwing out exactly what the amended law is meant to address.

Wayne Barnes stood his ground; he was right to. The Decision is wrong at law here, no bones about it..

Worse, it then goes far, far beyond its remit. The Citing had been dismissed (on fundamentally flawed grounds). That was that; no further comment was necessary. Wayne Barnes stood his ground that it was a penalty. But the Decision goes on to say that he "did not have the luxury of sitting with the Disciplinary Committee of playing, reviewing, analysing and dissecting with unlimited time so to do, what was a rapidly moving, fluid and dynamic situation. If he had such a luxury he may well have come to a different decision, but that is not to say that he was wrong coming to the decision he did."

Now, after a game, international referees do go through the video, in detail, both on their own and with the assessors. Wayne Barnes had done so - and, unlike the Committee, didn't confuse right and left, or say a player's foot was on the ground when it wasn't. But suggesting he "may well have come to a different decision" when he had said, clearly and unequivocally, that he would not, is going way beyond the remit of the Committee, and is ignoring what they are required by Regulation 17 to do. They are going behind a ref's on-pitch decision, to at least imply that decision was wrong, when dismissing a Citing. And that they cannot do.

The IRB referee assessors - the people who went through the videos with Wayne Barnes - felt moved to come out and comment that it was still a penalty. They were right on that, but having the Six Nations and the IRB openly disagreeing with a Committee is not just worryingly close to that for which the Springboks were fined in the Justice4 Bakkies Botha case, but is a mark of just how far outside their remit this Committee went.

When one looks at the ERC decisions, and then at this deeply, deeply flawed decision, one cannot but feel that the Six Nations, the highlight of the Northern Hemisphere game, deserves better than this.

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