Rugby yet to strike perfect officiating balance

Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Wallabies winger Dane Haylett-Petty says the balance is yet to be found when it comes to guarding player safety and encouraging fair contests in the air, after some controversial decisions in the third June Test.

Israel Folau was yellow-carded and cited for separate incidents in the air in Sydney, where he made contact with Ireland skipper Peter O’Mahony.

Aerial contests and high tackles have been under the radar in June, not just in Australia but across all the respective series, and new tougher high tackle laws are set to be rolled out in the upcoming World Rugby U20s trophy, enforcing a nipple line as the acceptable tackle line, rather than the shoulders.

 Haylett-Petty said there was yet to be a clear balance reached when it came to officiating these scenarios.

“It's a tough one. I think the players want to be protected but you also don't want to be blown off the park,” he said.

“All the fans want to see rugby, not penalties the whole time.

“So, I think it's a tough balance to try and find and I think they're probably looking for it at the moment, it might not be there yet, but they're looking for that balance.”

World Rugby has made numerous law changes in recent seasons and Haylett-Petty said only time would tell whether this was just a situation to which they would need to adapt.

“I think we are used to them tinkering with the rules and interpretations all the time.

“We'll see whether they make any changes or whether we'll have to adjust to the way that it's being reffed at the moment.”

Folau was warned for an aerial contest that left Ireland skipper Peter O’Mahony to fall awkwardly on the ground, the first of two such incidents in Sydney.

Both times O’Mahony was being lifted by fellow backrower CJ Stander, a tactic that put him in a precarious position.

Haylett-Petty said the more decisions made in the same ilk, the more likely it would be to see teams rolling out the lift to try and attract penalties.

“I think they're probably encouraging teams to do that if they're going to protect them so heavily,” he said.

“Every single one of those Izzy's got an eye for the ball, it's a fair contest, they're at the same level, and then any sort of contact, you saw, he fell heavily, so it doesn't take much at all.

“It really encourages teams to do that if they're going to protect it so heavily.”

Haylett-Petty was on the other side of a similar contest, contacted in the air off his own jump, but didn’t fall to ground, and said maybe things might have been different if he had.

Dane Haylett-Petty was caught in plenty of air traffic in Sydney. Photo: Walmsley“If we'd done a one-man lift then, I probably would've fallen and it would've been the exact same sort of thing, because their player did the exact same sort of thing but I suppose because I didn't fall, it's not adjudicated on,” he said.

The Wallabies were left confused over a number of calls in the match against Ireland, including a penalty against replacement hooker Tolu Latu in the dying moments, that gave Johnny Sexton the chance to boot the match-sealing penalty.

Latu said he wasn’t sure whether a TMO could have, or should have, intervened, with that process another providing headaches for fans and players alike.

“I don't even know if the refs know when they're supposed to be used,” he laughed.

“I feel like the players have an understanding around tries and dangerous tackles, when they can be used, but not really around general play and stuff.

“i don't know what the ruling is around general play and stuff, but looking at it on the big screen,

“I thought that I wasn't the tackler, so I had all rights to the ball but we didn't get the call.

“It was a big moment in the game.”

Latu was quick to stress that the decision didn’t cost the Wallabies the match, with the Aussies leaving a handful of chances on Allianz Stadium.

The Wallabies head back into their Super Rugby clubs this week, before convening for the Rugby Championship in August.