Rugby Union is not my sport – in the sense that although I don’t mind watching a good game of it, I never played, coached or officiated. Therefore, I need readers’ help on any discussion of it!
On Saturday, Scotland came close to defeating New Zealand in what would have been the Scots’ greatest victory for at least a generation if not ever. However, the officials failed to issue two yellow cards to New Zealand players and Scotland fell a score short.
In the second instance, the referee saw it wrongly but was convinced by what he saw – awarding a knock-on when in fact an advantage played would have put Scotland in for a try and probably seven points (as it went back for a penalty this was a gain of four over what actually happened, so they would have had eight minutes with a numerical advantage to find three more – quite possible). It seems widely accepted that Southern Hemisphere teams are specifically skilled at getting away with niggly fouls, and indeed that this skill is almost regarded as part of the game. Is that really viable?
Perhaps even more gallingly, in the earlier instance the referee allowed himself to be talked out if giving a justified yellow card by the television match official (TMO). This sort of thing is just ludicrous – what is the point of a TMO if he overturns correct decisions?!
With television cameras everywhere and the game now professional, this is only going to become an increasing problem. Refereeing rugby at the top level – under current circumstances and with current rules – is surely becoming a practical impossibility.
For a start, it seems to me that the laws of rugby are incredibly complex and yet they do not remotely clarify every eventuality. My understanding is that there are more laws in rugby governing merely what happens at the breakdown than there are for the entirety for football or hockey. The scrummage has now become all but a lottery, with so many regular infractions and a culture developing that some are overtly ignored (such as the put-in) that in almost any case a penalty could be given either way. This is before we get to the sheer danger element of a game now played by bigger men at bigger speeds.
Then there is the issue of the TMO, which is a good idea seemingly applied terribly. Too often, the TMO actually gets it wrong, or there is an element of lottery, or it is just unclear; furthermore, the whole process takes far too long and in many cases is unnecessary (used merely as insurance), often resulting in individual halves lasting approaching or even over an hour. The rules around the TMO surely need reformed; perhaps to something in line with American Football where teams have a limited number of challenges if they genuinely believe an error has been made.
It seems to me, however, the referee also needs further help on the field. Would there be a role for additional assistant referees (perhaps close to the action and positioned on sidelines but even coming in behind the try line when appropriate), refelecting some proposed developments in football? Is there even a case for two referees, as in hockey; or even many more (say, seven), as in American Football?
On top of this, as an outsider but someone presumably to whom the game hopes to appeal as an observer, really something has to be done to simplify the laws, perhaps at the same time as making the game safer. It seems to outsiders like me too often that the game is settled by penalty kicks which appear to be awarded for the most bizarre reasons. Surely the spectator should be watching the ball rather than the umpire’s arm?!
Readers… help, please!