For the first half an hour of Friday’s Super Rugby Aotearoa clash between the Chiefs and the Highlanders, the home side had the wood over the opposition, eventually building a 20-6 lead.
The visitors eventually flipped the game on its head, however, ultimately securing an unlikely 39-23 victory.
Highlanders fans may have had reason to feel aggrieved, however, that their side wasn’t given a leg up earlier in the match when Chiefs dangerman Etene Nanai-Seturo collided with Connor Garden-Bachop while the latter was mid-air.
Nanai-Seturo, camped on the left wing, rushed out of the line to collect his opposite in a ball in all tackle but the pass from halfback Folau Fakatava didn’t quite arrive where Garden-Bachop would have expected it. The Highlanders No 14 turned his body to catch the ball and leapt into the air and the oncoming Nanai-Seturo, who had dipped his head in preparation for the hit, clattered into Garden-Bachop’s legs and sent him tumbling to the ground.
Garden-Bachop landed on his back, avoiding any injury, and the Chiefs defenders looked up to referee Paul Williams, as if expecting a blow of the whistle. It never came, however, and play was waved on.
Many social media users, including a host of professional stars, were left flabbergasted at Williams, who seemed to ignore the incident completely when some felt a red or yellow card was warranted – or a penalty, at the very least.
— Nasi Manu (@Nasi_Manu) March 5, 2021
That’s a straight red over this side bro ??????
— Malakai Fekitoa (@MalakaiFekitoa) March 5, 2021
Was I the only one who saw Gardon-Bachop taken in the air? Directly in front of Paul Williams? #CHIvHIG
— Ollie Ritchie (@OllieRitchie1) March 5, 2021
Hi Nasi. That’s a def yellow, probably red up North.
— Paul Williams (@thepaulwilliams) March 6, 2021
Not everyone was sold on the matter, with some suggesting there was little else Nanai-Seturo could have done in the situation. A number of users, including former British and Irish Lions star Andy Powell, even argued that Garden-Bachop should have been penalised for jumping into the tackle.
Nacho, everyone knows I have no idea about defence ? – what could the defender do to stop anything happening ? He can’t exactly pull out , surely it’s just one of those situations that looks no good but it’s hard to blame anyone 100%. Trying to look from a neutral eye here ?
— Marty Banks (@BanksMarty) March 5, 2021
Really don’t know what the teachable element of this would be for a player. Don’t come up quickly on defence? Don’t try to tackle low?
— Maika Bennett (@MickBennettNZ) March 6, 2021
Surely, you can’t jump into the tackle. Defender was set within a step of the jump. I thought they changed this rule as it wasn’t a kick?
— Ba-ad Luck (@black_hutt) March 5, 2021
Penalty against white jumping into tackle
— Andy Powell (@andypowell8) March 6, 2021
Since when has jumping into a tackle been legal..?? ????? It’s a cynical ploy to play refs who are trigger happy on tackles in the air. He sees a high hospital pass coming at him, knows he’s gonna get creamed in the ribs if he reaches up to catch it so, he’s jumped into the tackle.
— John Gorey (@gorey_john) March 6, 2021
Less than a month ago, there was considerable discussion following Jonny May’s wonder try against Italy when the England winger dived over the last defender to score. Revered referee Nigel Owens suggested on Twitter that May should have been penalised for the jump.
“Now what you can’t do is jump into or jump over a tackle or would-be tackler, the same as you can’t dive or jump over a ruck to score a try,” Owens said. “You need to decide if you think that Jonny May has actually jumped to avoid the tackle, then it should be no try. If you think he has done it in the action of scoring a try, then the try stands.
“Mike Adamson and his team of officials looked at it, they decided that he dived to score the try and therefore the try stands.”
There’s a similarly fine line for Friday night’s case – was Garden-Bachop jumping into the tackle or was he jumping to catch the ball?
Although it was entirely possible for the wing to grab the ball out of the air without jumping, that doesn’t mean he’s still not allowed to jump to catch it – creating a significant grey area for any decision-making.
Four years ago, when the British and Irish Lions toured to New Zealand, the Lions kicked a penalty in the final minutes of the match to nab an unexpected win over the heavily favoured All Blacks.
That penalty was awarded after Kyle Sinkler jumped into the air to catch a poor pass from halfback Conor Murray and Charlie Faumuina, who had his head down for the short-range tackle, collided with the oncoming prop.
The Lions victory tied the series at one apiece and in the final match, the two sides played out a 15-all draw.
There was plenty of debate surrounding the decision at the time and as evidenced from Friday’s event, we’ll likely continue to see disagreements over such decisions until the rules are made more explicit.
At present, there’s no specific law that covers jumping into a tackle – although it’s generally treated as dangerous play if there are no other mitigating circumstances.
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