Officials Erred in Preventing Wallabies Substitute, IRB Says

Match officials wrongly prevented Australia from making a substitution in last week’s Rugby Championship defeat in South Africa, a decision that forced the Wallabies to finish the match with 14 players.

Referee Alain Rolland prevented Saia Fainga’a from replacing injured Tatafu Polota-Nau in the 66th minute, when the move should have been allowed as a technical substitution, the International Rugby Board said yesterday in a statement.

The officials ruled that Australia had already used its seven replacements, two of them involving the same player, Benn Robinson, who had replaced fellow injured prop Ben Alexander after previously having been substituted himself. Following a review, the IRB said the officials acknowledged they failed to recognize an exception when managing substitutions.

According to the IRB, Fainga’a should have been able to come on under law 3.12 (Exception 2) which states: “a substituted player may replace a front row player when injured, temporarily suspended or sent off unless the referee has ordered uncontested scrums prior to the event which led to the front row player leaving the field of play and the team has used all the permitted replacements and substitutions.”

Human Error

“The area of substitution management is a team effort,” John Jeffrey, chairman of the IRB’s match official committee, said in the governing body’s statement. “This was an unfortunate case of human error by the match officials who fully recognize and accept that they made a mistake in the application of the substitution law.”

South Africa’s 31-8 victory took it ahead of Australia into second place in the southern hemisphere championship standings behind New Zealand, which secured the inaugural title last weekend by routing Argentina. The Springboks also moved above the Wallabies into second place in the IRB’s world rankings.

The Australian Rugby Union said today that as the sole judge of fact as per the IRB’s laws, referee Rolland was ultimately responsible for the mistake. None of the officiating during the match in Pretoria had affected the result, ARU Chief Executive Officer John O’Neill said in a statement.

“That is not up for debate at all,” O’Neill said. “However, given the circumstances where the Wallabies were dealing with a massive and mounting injury toll, it was frustrating and unfair for the team to carry additional burdens. The ARU hopes the referee has learnt from this error.”

The Rugby Championship concludes in two days as Australia visits Argentina and South Africa hosts New Zealand.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bob Bensch in London at bbensch@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Christopher Elser at celser@bloomberg.net.

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