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How NZ Super Rugby captains are challenging refereeing decisions

2021-03-22 00:35:28 GMT

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How New Zealand Super Rugby captains are challenging refereeing decisions

New Zealand Rugby introduced two rule changes for the 2021 Super Rugby Aotearoa season to speed up the game and reduce refereeing mistakes. A goal-line drop-out and a captain's referral are the recent changes copied from rival sporting competitions, including the NRL.

Here we look at its intention and three occasions this season where captains have challenged refereeing decisions.

How it works

In a captain's referral, each captain is 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 review foul play. The captains have 10 seconds to make their referral, which must specify the actual incident they want to be referred, after play has stopped.

The TMO can go back to the last stoppage in play, regardless of how many phases have been played. The footage must be 'clear and obvious' for the TMO to uphold a referral.

If the referring captain is correct and there has been an infringement or foul play, they will keep their referral for use later in the game. If not, because the referee's original decision is proved correct or the TMO footage is not 'clear and obvious,' the captain loses their referral.

After the 75-minute mark in the game, captains can use their referral to check any refereeing decision, not just around possible tries or foul play in the build-up to tries.

When it's worked: Round 2, Highlanders 39 - 23 Chiefs

In a match where the Highlanders fought back from 20-6 down to beat the Chiefs 39-23 at the Waikato Stadium on Friday, March 5, 2021, to secure their first victory of the season, Aaron Smith became the first player to win a captain's referral in Super Rugby Aotearoa.

This is how it unfolded:


  1. Late in the second half, the Chiefs are on the attack, and Chiefs' forward Mitchell Brown carries the ball into contact with Highlanders flyhalf Josh Ioane;

  2. The ball is recycled, and Etene Nanai-Seturo goes over for a try;

  3. After referee Paul Williams blows his whistle, Ioane, seemingly on advice from the Highlanders' medic now on the field, tells Smith about the possible foul play in the build-up to the try - that Mitchell's elbow made contact with his (Ioane's) throat/neck;

  4. Smith then goes to the referee and uses his captain's referral within the allowed 10 seconds;

  5. The TMO reviews the footage, and Williams agrees that Mitchell's elbow hit Ioane in the chest and slid up to the throat;

  6. Williams overturns the try and awards a penalty to the Highlanders where the foul took place;

  7. The Highlanders succeed in their challenge and retain their captains' referral.



When it hasn't worked: Round 2, Crusaders 33 - 16 Hurricanes

While the dominant Crusaders earned their second win of the season with a 33-16 win over the Hurricanes at the Orangetheory Stadium in Christchurch on Sunday, March 7, 2021, they came up short in their second half captains' referral.

This is how it unfolded:


  1. The Crusaders' Sam Whitelock carries the ball into contact with Hurricanes captain Ardie Savea but concedes a turnover penalty;

  2. Whitelock tells his captain Scott Barret to challenge the penalty, suggesting that Savea's shoulder had made contact with his face;

  3. Barret goes to referee Ben O'Keefe and makes his foul play challenge, with the allowed 10 seconds;

  4. After reviewing the footage with the TMO, referee O'Keefe says there is no evidence of foul play, that Whitelock drops low as he comes into contact with Savea, who is merely bracing for the contact;

  5. The Crusaders fail in their challenge and lose their referral.



When it really hasn't worked: Round 2, Highlanders 39 - 23 Chiefs

In the same match that saw Aaron Smith successfully challenge foul play, his All Blacks team-mate and Chiefs co-captain Sam Cane was unsuccessful with his challenge. The referral to Cane came from the water boy, who said outside centre Sean Wainui was pulled back after the Chief's took a quick tap, and not - as the rule requires - from one of the players.

This will be one for the memory bank for Cane, whose Chiefs team is on a 10 match losing streak. They just might need that referral in the next round when they play the Crusaders, who Betway has at 1.10 to win.

None of these three referrals had a meaningful impact on the outcome of the game. In time, the players will become better at relaying information to their captains, who will become better at making their referrals.

It will be interesting to see how a challenge made towards the end of the game unfolds when the decision means the difference between winning and losing the game.

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