30 June 2015

My World Cup Wallabies

It's the most wonderful time of the year...

The Super XV season is just about over (Go Highlanders!) and the international rugby season is about to begin. And it gets even better - this is a rugby World Cup year.

With that in mind, here is who I think (as of today) should run out onto the pitch against Fiji at Millenium Stadium on 23 September...

1. James Slipper/Tetera Faulkner
2. Stephen Moore (VC)/Tatafu Polota-Nau
3. Sekope Kepu/Paul Alo-Emile
4. Rob Simmons/Sam Carter
5. Will Skelton/Luke Jones
6. Sean McMahon/Liam Gill
7. Michael Hooper (C)/David Pocock
8. Ben McCalman/Scott Higginbotham
9. Will Genia/Nic White
10. Quade Cooper/Bernard Foley
11. Taqele Naiyaravoro/Nick Cummins
12. Matt Toomua/Kurtley Beale
13. Samu Kurevi/Matt Giteau
14. Henry Speight/Drew Mitchell
15. Israel Folau/Karmichael Hunt

I know its not the standard way to put together a rugby roster, but I have chosen two players at each position, with the first being the proposed starter and the second being the next best option.

There are a few notable omissions that I want to mention.

The first is Adam Ashley-Cooper. Frankly, I like AAC and I can make no compelling argument why he should be left off Australia's World Cup squad, but I left him off my list for a few reasons. First, I rate Speight and Naiyaravoro ahead of him. Second, I chose Mitchell and Cummins for the intangibles they bring to the table off the pitch. Mitchell hasn't been tainted by the last several years of below mediocrity and Cummins is a beloved character that brings lightness to what is likely to be a tense situation.

The second notable omission, another Waratah, is Wycliff Palu. The reason here is a lot more simple: I think Palu is overrated. His defense is above average, but he does not bring the energy level that Higginbotham and McCalman do. I had little difficulty leaving Palu off my list.

My final notable omission (you Waratah fans must be screaming bloody murder by now) is Nick Phipps. Again, like Palu, I don't rate Phipps. He benefits from playing with a very good stand-off in Bernard Foley and an incredible back line. At the international level, Phipps has not impressed and his exuberance and tendency to play on the edge get the better of him. I would be more comfortable with White coming off the bench.

I'm no expert. There must be one or two players on my list that you disagree with. Let's hear it Wallabies fans.

Keep Right Except to Pass

Keep it simple stupid. If you want people to understand what you are telling them, keep it as clear and concise. At least that's what they say. It doesn't always work.

What could be more simple than "Keep Right Except to Pass"? It is straight to the point and uses no unnecessary words. It is difficult to imagine anyone not understanding the meaning of this phrase. Or so you would think.

However, there are a remarkable number of you out there who either don't understand what "Keep Right Except to Pass" means or, for some unknown reason, think that the rule does not apply to you. In what is becoming a bit of a theme here, it is you people that I would like to address with this post.

There are only five words (four that count really), so let's get out the Funk and Wagnalls and define them...
KEEP: To remain or stay.
RIGHT: Pertaining to that side of the body which is toward the South when one faces the sunrise.
EXCEPT: With the exception of.
PASS: To move past or go by.
So, if simple doesn't work for you, maybe this will be more understandable: "Remain to the side of your body that is toward when you face the sunrise with the exception of when you are moving past another vehicle".

Unless you are actually in the process of passing another vehicle, you should always be in the lane that is furthest to the right.

I really can't believe this is so difficult but, inevitably, there are dozens of drivers who insist on driving in the left (passing) lane when there is no one in the right lane next to them. Pass you on the inside (right lane) and you glare at me like a hipster at a Justin Bieber concert. And flashing my high beams at you to remind you to move over only seems to strengthen your resolve to stay where you are.

There are only two exceptions to "Keep Right Except to Pass" that I can think of: (a) if your exit requires you to be in any lane other than the right lane; or (b) if you move into the left lane to allow another vehicle to enter the highway. That's it. There can be no other reason.  

It doesn't matter how fast you are going. Get in the right lane unless you are passing. It doesn't matter what the speed limit is. Get in the right lane unless you are passing. It doesn't matter how fast I am going. Get in the right lane unless you are passing. It doesn't matter if the highway has three, four, or even 25 lanes. Get in the far right lane unless you are passing. Oh, and by the way, you are not passing that 18-wheeler more than a mile off in the horizon...

23 June 2015

Proper use of turn signal

This was posted on Facebook by my old friend and former baseball coach John Austen. At first glance, it might seem like simple humour but, in reality, it strikes at the root of a significant problem - many drivers today do not know how to properly use their turn signals.

I have a lot of pet peeves when it comes to the way people drive, but not using your turn signal properly is near the top of the list. Why can't people figure this out?

Here are a few educational notes. If you already know this stuff, feel free to disregard. But, if you are among the many who don't, study what I am about to say carefully and try to keep it in mind next time you get behind the steering wheel and that crazy little wand that sticks out from the left hand side of it.

It is called a turn signal for a reason. Those lights on the front and rear of your vehicle are designed to signal your intention to turn. The signal is not for you, it is for the other drivers on the road who are not inside your head and do not have the ability to guess what you are going to do before you do it. You probably know that you are going to switch lanes or make a turn at the next intersection long before it happens, but the rest of the world doesn't. We need to know so we can conduct ourselves accordingly. If you make a turn without signalling, or half a millisecond before you turn, other drivers have no idea what you are going to do. This may cause us to crash into your vehicle or, at the very least, to blast you enthusiastically with our horns (another way for drivers to signal one another).

A turn signal is a way for drivers to communicate with each other. It tells other drivers that you intend to make a turn. This is helpful information when I am sitting at a green light waiting to make a left hand turn. You are in the oncoming lane and I am waiting to see if you are going to go straight through the intersection, or if you are going to turn right or left. If you are turning, I can proceed. If you are going straight, I have to wait. But, if you wait until you are in the intersection to signal your turn, I am losing my mind because you have made me sit there thinking you are going straight. Again, you may hear my horn at this point. If you see a vehicle ahead of you waiting to make a turn, use your brain and signal to them what you intend to do. Communicate with the other driver and tell them that you are turning left and that they may safely make their turn.

This is not a difficult think to grasp if you just keep one thing in mind - you are not the only person on the road. There are other drivers out there who need to know what you are going to do. Communicate with them.

18 June 2015

World Rugby Laws - Ball in Touch?

I sent out an email to my fellow referees in Nova Scotia regarding a controversial ruling made during a recent game. It appears that the call was controversial for reason. There does not seem to be a universal interpretation of the World Rugby Laws as they pertain to the situation.

Here is what I am talking about...
WHAT IS THE CALL? Team A has been awarded a penalty just inside Team B's 22-metre line and approximately 15 metres from the touch line. 

Team A opts to kick for touch. 

Player from Team A kicks the ball along the ground toward the sideline. 

The ball bounces twice in play and then takes a high bounce before crossing the plane of the touch line. 

Player from Team B rushes forward, jumps in the air with both feet in play, and knocks the ball back across the plane of the touch line and back into play – before he, or the ball, land on the ground in touch. 

In my view, the proper call is 'play on'. The ball has remained in play and never touched the ground, or a player, in touch. That view, however, is not universally held and some interpret the law in such a way as to conclude that the ball is in touch when it crosses the plane of the touch line. There is a lengthy and lively debate from several years ago on the Rugby Referees Forum. I have since joined the debate.

The commonly accepted interpretation at the international and professional levels is that the ball remains in play, even if it crosses the plane of the touch line, as long as it does not make contact with the ground, or anything touching the ground (including a player), in touch.

I found a few YouTube videos that illustrate the point...

Here, during an international match between South Africa and Samoa, both the referee allow play to continue after the ball clearly crosses the plane of the touch line, but is saved by a player who leaves the ground in the field of play and throws the ball back onto the field of play before landing in touch.

The same call, 'play on', is made here during a Super XV match between the Blues and Brumbies. Note that, as in the previous video, the ball clearly crosses the plane of the touch line and the Brumbies' player lands in touch after returning the ball to the field of play.

Despite my efforts to do so, I have been unable to find any video of a play where a referee has called the ball in touch simply because it has crossed the plane of the touch line. There are a few videos where the ball is called 'in touch', but it is unclear whether the call is made because the ball crosses the plane of the touch line, or because the player trying to save steps on the touch line before making his jumping effort to save the ball.

It appears, however, that the Australian Rugby Referees Union disagrees with my interpretation. It's document, entitled "Line Ball Your Call: A Guide to Assisting You in Making Line Ball Decisions", deals with (among others) this scenario.

The document goes on to summarize the laws regarding 'in touch" as follows:

• If the ball, which has crossed the plain-of-touch, touches a player beyond the touch-line, the ball is in-touch, regardless of whether the player is on the ground or jumping in the air. The ball has been put in-touch by the kicking team. 

• If a player has one foot in the field-of-play and one foot in-touch, and catches the ball, the team that kicked the ball has put the ball in-touch. The non kicking team has the throw-in to the line-out. 

• The only situation where play continues after the ball contacts a player beyond the touch-line is where the ball has not crossed the plane-of-touch and the player plays the ball but does not catch it. (Law 19 Definition last paragraph)

The applicable Law of Rugby, under the heading "During the Match – Restarts", is Law 19 Touch and Lineout, which begins with a series of definitions. I have numbered them for ease of reference, and they read as follows:
1) ‘Kicked directly into touch’ means that the ball was kicked into touch without landing on the playing area, and without touching a player or the referee. 

2) ‘The 22’ is the area between the goal line and the 22-metre line, including the 22-metre line but excluding the goal line. 

3) The line of touch is an imaginary line in the field of play at right angles to the touchline through the place where the ball is thrown in. 

4) The ball is in touch when it is not being carried by a player and it touches the touchline or anything or anyone on or beyond the touchline. 

5) The ball is in touch when a player is carrying it and the ball carrier (or the ball) touches the touchline or the ground beyond the touchline. The place where the ball carrier (or the ball) touched or crossed the touchline is where it went into touch. 

6) The ball is in touch if a player catches the ball and that player has a foot on the touchline or the ground beyond the touchline. If a player has one foot in the field of play and one foot in touch and holds the ball, the ball is in touch. 

7) If the ball crosses the touchline or touch-in-goal line, and is caught by a player who has both feet in the playing area, the ball is not in touch or touch-in-goal. Such a player may knock the ball into the playing area. 

8) If a player jumps and catches the ball, both feet must land in the playing area otherwise the ball is in touch or touch-in-goal. 
9) A player in touch may kick or knock the ball, but not hold it, provided it has not crossed the plane of the touchline. The plane of the touchline is the vertical space rising immediately above the touchline. 

With respect to this discussion, the relevant paragraphs are 4, 5, 7 and 9.

Paragraphs 4, 5 and 7 stand for the proposition that the ball is 'in touch' if it touches the ground on or beyond the touch line, or anything (including a player) on or beyond the touch line. Therefore, in the scenario being considered here, it would seem that the ball remains in play and the correct call is 'play on'.

Paragraph 9 refers only to a player who is in touch (ie. is in contact with the touch line or the ground beyond the touch line). It says that a player in touch may kick or knock the ball backwards from in touch as long as the ball does not cross the plane of the touch line. This is the situation presented in the third video. Notably, it is the only reference to the plane of the touch line anywhere in Law 19.

Based on this, it is my view that, in the scenario being considered here, the proper call is 'play on'. Unfortunately, that view is not universally shared and there does not seem to be a consistent interpretation of this Law. I have also searched the IRB Law Clarifications and have not found anything.

What do you think? I think there needs to be a standard interpretation so that the call is made consistently across the rugby world.


As a result of this post, I re-opened the discussion on the RugbyRef forum.

While there still seems to be no clear consensus (other than that the law does not adequately address the situation), it did create some helpful and informative debate.

There seems to be two ways of looking at the situation...
  • One approach is to focus on the placement of the players feet in relation to the touchline. Here, the ball remains in play if the player knocks the airborne ball (even if it has crossed the plane of the touch or dead ball line) back into the field of play while his or her feet are on the ground in the field of play. However, if the players feet are in the air, having jumped from the field of play or from in touch, the ball remains in play only if it has not crossed the plane of the touch or dead ball line. If the player's feet are in the air and the ball has crossed the plane of the touch or dead ball line, the ball is in touch or dead.
  • The other approach essentially disregards the plane of the touch or dead ball line. The ball remains in play if the player jumps from the field of play and the ball returns to the field of play before touching the ground in touch or beyond the dead ball line. Similarly, if the player leaves the ground from on or beyond the touch or dead ball line, the ball is in touch or dead as soon as it is touched by the player, regardless where it is in relation to the plane of the touch or dead ball line.
Both approaches seem to be supported by the definitions set out in Law 19. Personally, I can live with either, but it seems to me that the second makes life easier on the officials - especially where the referee is working without an assistant or touch judge. Most rugby matches are played without assistant referees or knowledgeable touch judges, and it seems unnecessarily onerous to ask a referee to judge when a ball has crossed the plane of the touch or dead ball line. The positioning required to be able to do so would be a nightmare.

In the absence of a clarification from the IRB, my preference would be to use the second interpretation of Law 19 to determine when an airborne ball is in touch. But that's just one man's opinion. Again, what do you think?

To see the entire discussion on the RugbyRef forum, link here