LONDON – Rugby union was divided yet again on Saturday night by contentious officiating as England tried to come to terms with the decision to disallow a try which would have brought a famous win over the All Blacks.
Bath flank Sam Underhill touched down four minutes from the end of an epic Test at Twickenham.
But the score was disallowed following a video referral that ruled Courtney Lawes was offside before charging down TJ Perenara’s kick to set up the try.
Lawes admitted he was unclear on the rule. “In the moment I thought, ‘I am onside here, I’m going to charge it down’,” he said.
“I don’t know exactly what the offside line is.”
The decision has polarised opinion in the game. Even former referees were split in their views.
Every aspect of this complex area has been the subject of review and amendment, so it is no surprise this decision has been fiercely disputed.
South African TMO Marius Jonker made the ruling, telling French referee Jerome Garces to reverse his on-field decision.
That is despite an edict released by World Rugby just last week declaring that TMOs must offer guidance, but allow the referees to make the final call, and that decisions must only be overturned when there is ‘CLEAR and OBVIOUS’ evidence (the words were capitalised for emphasis) that an incorrect decision has been made.
In this instance, any evidence is marginal, so England have every right to believe that their hopes of victory were wrecked by a breach of protocol in terms of the TMO overstepping the mark.
Coach Eddie Jones stopped short of a public protest, but said: “The players thought it was a try, but we are happy to follow what the TMO says.”
Speaking to the BBC, he added: “It’s difficult to swallow, but you have to and you have to respect the referee. That is enormously important.
“I was really proud of our players. They just got on with it and tried to win the game again.
“It’s a real tribute to their character and how they respect the values of the game. We don’t challenge the referee on decisions, and we don’t abuse him after the game.”
Underhill, the England flank whose brilliant finish turned out to have been in vain, added: “It’s tough to take, but it was marginal, and that’s the game. Ultimately, the ref’s decision is final. If he says the grass is pink, then the grass is pink.”
But All Black coach Steve Hansen said: “There was no doubt he’s offside. He’s just about in the halfback’s back pocket.
“What was going through my mind was, ‘Are they going to be brave enough to make the right decision?’. They were.”
His captain, Kieran Read, added: “As soon as I saw it on the big screen, I thought it would be our penalty.”