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All-Star 7s Semi Marked by Controversey

Monday Aug 31, 2009 in Sevens All-Stars

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(Ed Hagerty photo.)

The National 7s All-Star Championships men’s semifinal between the West and Mid-Atlantic was embroiled in some controversy, that ended with USA Rugby 7s referee chief Pat McNally and game ref Brad Klein in a long meeting with Mid-Atlantic coach Chris Harvey as well as Bill Gardner, who was also with the team.

The discussion centered around two incidents that could very well have decided the outcome:

First, the referee radios broke down during the game, meaning there was poor communication between the sidelines and Kleiner regarding substitutions.

At one point, MARFU had two players injured, and were not able to send subs on in time. Up seven players to two, the West scored a try.

According to McNally, the issue stemmed in part from the MARFU bench not communicating correctly whether their subs were ready. But all agreed that the breakdown of the radios contributed to the problem.

In the second incident, MARFU player PJ Komongnan ran into in-goal and was about to score a try when a West player attempted to trip him with a whip-like motion of his leg. Komongnan jumped over the attempted trip, but then before he touched down stepped on the dead-ball line and the try was disallowed.

The argument from MARFU was that the West player had attempted to commit foul play, which affected Komongnan’s run, and prevented the try. The West player was yellow-carded and a penalty was awarded, but no penalty try.

IRB game guidelines state that “a penalty try should only be awarded if a try would have been scored but for foul play by a defender, if it is prevented, or a try would have been scored in a better position.”

It does not say that a yellow-card offense automatically means a penalty try.

McNally told ERugbyNews that it was the referee’s judgment (and that of the in-goal judge) that Komongnan had effectively avoided the trip and his standing on the dead-ball line was an unrelated mistake.

MARFU coaches vehemently disagreed with this.

Referee Kleiner exacerbated this with an acknowledged mistake, as he awarded MARFU a penalty on the West 22, rather than five meters from the line. In the end, MARFU scored off that play, but in the corner. They missed the conversion (which would have been an easy one had Komongnan touched down, or a penalty try given) and the game was won by the West 14-12.

McNally called the substitution controversy a technical snafu exacerbated by the fact the officials were not sure where the MARFU subs were, and so Kleiner re-started the game.

He and Kleiner acknowledged that Kleiner awarded the wrong mark on the tripping penalty, but stood by the decision not to award a penalty try.

“It was a high-stakes game played with speed and intensity,” said McNally. “I stand by my refs. There were one or two errors, but the stepping on the dead-ball line was not the result of the trip. Referees have a big part in the game. We try to be in the background and invisible but in a tight game there’s always going to be a call, a knock-on, or a penalty, can has a direct effect on the result. We sat down with PJ Komongnan and the coaches and talked it over – Al Caravelli came over to discuss it as well – and it was a good discussion. We just have to remember we’re all on the same side.”

Would the West have scored anyway if all seven Mid-Atlantic players had been on the field? Quite possibly, but certainly two more players on defense makes a difference.

Would Komongnan have touched the ball down legally if no one had attempted to trip him? It is clear his line of running was affected by having to jump over the trip. Tripping is among the more heinous acts of foul play and can seriously injure a player and the yellow card was certainly justified.

(Addendum - Ed Hagerty of ERugbyNews was at the field in the end where Komongnan was touching the ball down, and said he was closer than anyone. Komongnan outched down before he stepped on the dead-ball line.)

But is a yellow-cardable offense committed against someone who is in-goal and about to touch down, a penalty try whether you can prove it prevented said try or not?

The West went on to win the NASC. Mid-Atlantic won their 3rd/4th game easily.

- Alex Goff

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