Wallabies v Lions Refereeing Furore

Wallabies v Lions Refereeing Furore

The first test between the Wallabies and Lions refereeing performance has produced plenty of debate.

Warren Gatland was obviously very frustrated with Chris Pollock. There have been suggestions that there are differences in interpretation between the Northern and Southern hemispheres and that this caused confusion for Lions players. In a subsequent interview Gatland has said

Some of our players found it difficult to understand it when they were penalised.

Others have put the blame squarely on the referee with Stephen Jones from The Times saying

… a dreadful display, one of the worst in living memory … it was the worst refereed game in recent history, appalling … he was totally inconsistent and lack of penalty try and yellow cards criminal.

So, let’s look at some specific issues that have been raised to see if the refereeing performance was really that bad.

The area that seems to have caused most consternation is the breakdown with Gatland saying

Were we crucified at the breakdown? Yes.

Gatland referred specifically to three penalties against the Lions in the match – one against Mako Vunipola who was penalised for not coming from behind the last feet before playing the ball in a ruck and two against Brian O’Driscoll who was penalised for being off his feet when playing the ball in rucks.

Gatland said

Mako Vunipola was penalised for coming in from the side when he was part of the tackle. That could have cost us the game … He did Brian O’Driscoll early in the game when he was on his feet.

I’ve added in other incidents I’ve seen complaints about to generate some discussion between Wallabies and Lions fans. The footage of each incident is contained in this short video.

Let’s look at those in a little more detail. The first three deal with the issue Vunipola was penalised for.

  1. In the match against the Rebels Sean O’Brien was penalised for not coming from behind the last feet to play the ball on the ground. Under law 15.6(c) a player who does not go to ground is not a tackler and can only play the ball after coming from behind the last feet.
  2. Was Vunipola a tackler?

    Was Vunipola a tackler?

    Vunipola was penalised for coming in from the side because he didn’t go to ground and was therefore not a tackler – he also didn’t release the ball carrier before playing the ball.

  3. Michael Hooper did exactly the same thing but wasn’t penalised. The only difference was that Hooper wasn’t successful in winning the ball.
  4. Was O'Driscoll supporting his weight?

    Was O’Driscoll supporting his weight?

    O’Driscoll was penalised because he was off his feet when playing the ball. Law 16.4(b) says a player must be on his feet to play the ball in a ruck. Referees in both hemispheres work on the basis that this means the player must be supporting their own weight. With his forearms on the ground was O’Driscoll supporting his own weight?

  5. Similarly O’Driscoll was penalised a second time for being off his feet. Did his knee actually go to ground at any time?


    Did O’Driscoll go to ground?

  6. Which Lions player went off their feet?

    Which Lions player went off their feet?

    The penalty against the Lions that led to Israel Folau’s first try was for the Lions going off their feet at a ruck. This incident raises a lot of questions. Which Lions player went off their feet apart from O’Driscoll when he fell on the loose ball? Did Benn Robinson release O’Driscoll and roll away on the ground? Did Ben Mowen go off his feet? Was the ball simply unplayable and therefore a scrum should have been awarded?

  7. Penalty try?

    Penalty try?

    There have been suggestions that a penalty try should have been awarded to the Lions when their maul was driving towards the line and was disrupted illegally by Kane Douglas and Michael Hooper and that one of them should have received a yellow card. Was it clear the Lions were going to drive that maul over the try line?

  8. What about a yellow card for Will Genia – was this cynical play from the Wallaby halfback?
  9. It's not rugby league Israel!

    It’s not rugby league Israel!

    One of the big complaints from Lions fans has been that the Wallabies were not penalised at the breakdown for numerous offences. Is Folau entering from the side to clean out George North one of those?

  10. Does Paul O’Connell clearly release the ball carrier before trying to play the ball as required?
  11. If O’Connell didn’t release and should have been penalised, is there any difference between that incident and when Kane Douglas earned a penalty against the Lions?
  12. Who gets the feed?

    Who gets the feed?

    When the Lions recovered the ball that was out of the Wallabies ruck why did the Wallabies get the scrum feed?

No doubt fans of both teams will have different opinions on many of these, even opinions at opposite ends of the scale.

We’d love your comments on these and any other incidents but please keep it civil – we’ll delete any inappropriate comments anyway so don’t waste time posting them.


Scott is one of our regular contributors from the old days of G&GR. He has experience coaching Premier Grade with two clubs in Brisbane.

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