Adam Hathaway, rugby correspondent of The People, urges the suits to have a look at the forward pass law after rugby was made to look stupid again and reviews a tell-all autobiography from a former Wales full-back.
If you were one of the 81,683 people who paid between £35 and £110 to watch England’s 21-8 win over Argentina at Twickenham then give yourself a pat on the back – you really took one for the team.
It was a turgid affair and only enlivened by Eddie Jones’ very public meltdown in his coaching box when notebooks and Anglo-Saxon language were flying about the place.
For anyone who did not see it – and some highlights packages blanked it out – England’s favourite Aussie delivered a massive four-letter-peppered rant at his team after they had conceded yet another mindless penalty. At least it gave us a story.
There wasn’t much else to write about.
Apart from some nonsense that has been going on for far too long – the forward pass.
And if it was your first time at a game of rugby we promise you it is not always this bad and we realise why you left Twickers dazed and confused.
You must be wondering what the fellow with the whistle, on this occasion South Africa’s Marius van der Westhuizen, actually does.
You would have been told that one of the laws of the game is that the ball cannot be passed forward so you might be asking how come England’s second try was awarded. And some of us who have been around the game for donkeys’ are still scratching our heads.
Henry Slade’s pass to Semesa Rokoduguni, which resulted in the game-breaking try for England, looked forward, according the lines on the pitch went forward but according to the law book, and more importantly the referee and the bloke upstairs, was not forward. It was of course utter cobblers.
As the old saying goes ‘If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck – then it is probably a duck’.
Not in this case.
It looked like a forward pass, if had been a duck it would have quacked, swum on the lake and tasted all right with orange sauce, but it was not a forward pass.
So, to all you Twickenham first-timers, welcome to the nuts world of rugby and the bonkers nature of the game’s rulers who can’t leave well alone.
A couple of weeks ago this column was raging about the try-that-never-was that was scored by Dan Robson for Wasps against Northampton.
On that occasion the TMO was not used to see if Robson had put a foot in touch on his way to dotting down and the video clearly showed us lot he hadn’t. The man in the box should have been used there but on Saturday there was a clear reason not to use him.
Van der Westhuizen had an assistant referee, a touch judge in old money, almost exactly level with the spot where Slade threw the pass. Nobody would have been a better position to see if the pass was forward but they couldn’t come up with a decision.
We are lucky at Twickenham, we get seats in the press box that are bang on halfway and although that pass was a little to our right…………it was forward. Plain as the nose on our faces.
We are not clever enough to explain this one but the Law 12 contains the following phrase about chucking the ball forward in rugby.
“A throw forward occurs when a player throws or passes the ball forward, i.e, if the arms of the player passing the ball move towards the opposing team’s dead ball line.”
So as long as your hands are shaping backwards then the pass is a good ‘un.
But what happens if the ball actually goes forward? And how do you explain that to the kid you have brought to HQ for the first time?
It all about as clear as the fixtures for the Anglo-Welsh Cup where teams don’t play any of the sides in their pool, or the colour clash in Ireland’s game against South Africa, and it is utterly bonkers.
You can detect the hands of some boffins here. Some mad-haired, and mad-eyed, bloke in a white coat has come up with a way of proving that a ball that looks like it has gone forward has actually gone backwards. Me neither.
Our pal Stephen Jones summed it up in the Sunday Times when he wrote about the Rokoduguni try: “It was one of those ridiculous incidents where rugby officials have combined first-form physics with rubbish theory and persuaded themselves that such passes are not forward.”
And that was the polite version. You should have heard what he said in the press seats.
As in many of these ridiculous tinkering with the laws we can blame the southern hemisphere and topically, because they are in London this week after being in Cardiff last week, we can stick this one down to the Aussies. Why not?
Back in 2006, the Australian Rugby Union sent out a video that seemed to prove that because of momentum a pass that looked forward could be an optical illusion.
It also showed that if a player was running at full tilt the person he was passing it to would not be able to catch it if it was forward pass. Boy was it hard going but someone had to watch it.
Clubs practice throwing forward passes with their hands going backwards so they can’t be pinged but it is plain madness.
As an aside, Paul Rees wrote in the Guardian, back in 2013, American football allowed a forward pass in 1906 around 30 years after it had been banned. Rees also pointed out that the reason the Yanks let the ball be chucked forward was because of a spate of fatal injuries that had occurred but let’s hope rugby union is not down that road any time soon.
But it is time for some common sense. We are sick of referees preening themselves in front of the big screen – they should trust their gut. Because the gut is what most spectators rely on before the preening starts and why should refs, and their assistants, be any different?
If a pass looks it is forward then 99 times out of 100 it is forward. Anyone who has played, or watched, a lot of cricket knows an LBW when they see one – whatever Hawk-Eye and the mad professors say.
The forward pass is one issue in the game when it would be easier to ditch the video ref and the rest of the time-wasting nonsense. Keep them for foul play, foot in touch – just ask Robson – and grounding the ball but this one just doesn’t work.
The people in charge should have a feel for the game just like an umpire who knows a ball is going over the stumps however much science tells them it is going to hit the bottom of middle on a bouncy track.
It is time for the law makers to undo this mess and make it easier for newcomers to the game to understand.
If it looks like a wrong ‘un then it usually is a wrong ‘un and England got away with a proper wrong ‘un on Saturday.
RugbySpy is lucky enough to get most rugby books published landing on its doormat and some of them are brilliant, some are very good, some are average and some are absolute garbage.
Into the first category comes the autobiography of Lee Byrne, the former Wales full-back, which is titled The Byrne Identity.
Even we can see what he has done there.
God knows some of these tomes are insipid but this is anything but – and no, we have not got an interest in flogging this one.
Byrne talks us through the highs and lows of his rugby career – on and off the field. Injuries, nights on the sauce, touring with British & Irish Lions in 2009, moving to France, dyslexia and his fall-out with Rob Howley, the Wales assistant coach. He goes through the card.
Byrne used to like a punt on the pitch but I didn’t realise he liked one off it as well. In one passage he reports how he won eight grand at a roulette table but then admits that a gambler only tells people about his wins.
Then his now-wife, Andrea, found one of his bank statements that showed he had spunked a few thousand quid betting and he knocked the whole thing on the head.
There is stuff on Gavin Henson, who Byrne reckons was the most talented player he played with, and plenty on the late Jerry Collins, Byrne’s old team mate from the Ospreys.
And it all started with Byrne driving a fork lift, and playing for Bridgend Athletic, before getting his first professional contract, with the Scarlets, which came in at a princely £8,000 a year.
We don’t often recommend books but this one is definitely worth a butcher’s. Some books say they are going to lift the lid, as we tabloid hacks like to say, and do nothing of the sort.
This one does.