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New referee's challenge law gets off to an inauspicious start in Super Rugby pre-season

By Sam Smith
Codie Taylor. (Photo by Dave Rowland/Getty Images)

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Super Rugby Aotearoa will trial two new laws for the 2021 season and it looks like there’ll be more than a few teething issues in the early stages of the competition.


The first change sees a goal-line dropout take place under a number of in-goal circumstances that would normally lead to 22 dropouts or 5-metre scrum. It’s a simple change that could have major consequences – but at least it’s easy to police and understand.

The second change allows team captains to challenge referee’s calls in the build-up to tries but, as shown in the Crusader’s pre-season loss to the Blues, its application isn’t quite so simple as the goal-line dropout.

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Following a game-winning try to Blues wing Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens, Crusaders captain Codie Taylor notified referee Paul Williams that he wanted to challenge the decision.

There was a breakdown in communication between Taylor and Willilams, however, and the referee misunderstood which part of play the All Blacks hooker had taken umbrage with.

Under the new law, captains must specify which specific phase they want to question – it can’t be a general all-encompassing challenge that covers all bases.

Taylor and his teammates thought that the Blues had been offside at the lineout drive that led to the eventual try but Williams thought that Taylor was concerned with an offside at the initial throw-in.


The end result was that the challenge came to nothing and the try stood – to the obvious, visible disappointment of Taylor.

Following the match, Williams apologised to Taylor for the breakdown in communication.

“[The issue] was about the language you use in referring [for a challenge],” Taylor told media following the match.


“The ref actually got it wrong and apologised afterwards. But he’s learning as well. It’s better to learn here [in pre-season] than next week.

“With this one, [the play] was off a lineout, I challenged the offside at a maul, and the ref thought it was off a lineout so [the challenge] doesn’t count. It has to be the right phase if there are multiple [phases].”

While the new law may be appreciated in the long-run, it’s evident that its introduction may have a few teething issues to overcome first.

The full law is as stated:

A captain’s referral will see each captain given one opportunity per match to ask the referee to have the Television Match Official (TMO) check for an infringement in the lead up to a try, or to review foul play.

  • Captains will have 10 seconds to make their referral after a try has been awarded.
  • The TMO will be able to go back to the last stoppage in play, regardless of how many phases have been played.
  • Foul play referrals can be made after any stoppage in play if the captain believes foul play has been missed by the match officials.
  • Captain’s must reference ‘specific’ incidents or infringements.
  • Footage must be ‘clear and obvious’ for a referral to be upheld.
  • The scrum and lineout are not included in the referral process.

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New referee's challenge law gets off to an inauspicious start in Super Rugby pre-season