Steve Hansen and his Wallabies rival Michael Cheika will probably be pleased at a New Zealand referees‘ directive to consider “context” – read intent – when ruling on foul play at Mitre 10 cup level and below.
They‘ll hope it proves a success and continues into Super Rugby and the international game after a June series riven by controversy for both nations.
Hansen was unhappy with several rulings by the match officials during his team‘s three tests against France and the same went for Cheika after his side lost the series against Ireland.
New Zealand Rugby head of referees Bryce Lawrence said today that player safety remained paramount and deliberately dangerous acts would be dealt with accordingly, but that the national union had accepted some decisions during the June series had angered teams and their supporters, and that a better way was possible.
“There has been much debate internationally about the application of the laws regarding foul play,” said Lawrence.
“At a time when rugby around the world is continually seeking to improve the game without compromising player safety, we support the laws to ensure clear messaging and consistency by match officials.
“Clearly in the June test window some decision making has irked some fans and teams who feel that more rugby context should be considered in this decision-making.
“We are taking advantage of our own national provincial competitions to introduce an interpretation that maintains player safety as a priority, but allows the intent of the ‘action‘ and the ‘context of the game‘ to determine the sanctions for any foul play.
“We want referees to bring some more rugby feel to how they rule foul play,” Lawrence said.
There would be no change in rulings on lifting tackles – something Waisake Naholo was guilty of against Australia during the All Blacks‘ recent 38-13 victory over the Wallabies in Sydney, but which he escaped a card after tipping over Israel Folau – high tackles, deliberate knock-ons, dangerous clean-outs, challenges in the air where there is not a fair contest, cynical play, or repeat individual or team offending.
The interpretations in terms of foul play guidelines for Mitre 10 Cup, Farah Palmer Cup, Mitre 10 Heartland Championship and Jock Hobbs Under 19s level would cover:
• If the action was deliberate and dangerous and with force (red card).
• If the action was reckless but still dangerous but with limited/mild force (yellow card).
• If the action was unintentional and low level (penalty only).
“By asking referees to understand the game context, the player‘s action and the intent, not solely on ‘process‘ we hope we can achieve better results for players, coaches and fans in 2018,” Lawrence said.
Another change will come in terms of awarding a try or ruling on foul play, where the referee will “own” the decision, rather than the television match official. All of which fierce rivals Hansen and Cheika would probably agree on.