Corbyn’s “simple questions” do not justice to complex world

This day last week Jeremy Corbyn had his best performance at Prime Minister’s Questions, demanding six times whether “Karen”, the real person who had been in correspondence with him and whom he used as an example, would be “worse off” under the tax credits changes. The Prime Minister squirmed.

“All I want is a simple answer to a simple question”, said the Leader of the Opposition.

However, that is the very problem with Mr Corbyn. Because, in fact, it is not a simple question at all.


There is an alarming tendency among politicians, especially as they become ever more populist among electorates increasingly unwilling to compromise, to present “simple questions” and, most of all, to present the world as if it is controlled by politicians. To some extent, it is a comforting thought – we prefer the thought that we live in a world controlled by someone rather than the chaotic reality (as I have explained before).

Thus, Mr Corbyn presents a world in which politicians change things and everything else remains the same – there are no other, independent, actors. As ever, unfortunately, Mr Corbyn’s world is not even reminiscent of the real one in which people do strive, people do aspire, and people do adapt to political decisions.

The image above sums up the issue, usually presented with regard to management of the Health Service. Too often, Health policy is presented as something which politicians and administrators create to manage patients, who have no independent thoughts of their own and will always respond in the same predictable way to any intervention. In rare cases, this is true – someone admitted to hospital with a sudden, serious injury, for example, is in no position to act independently and their care is therefore 100% in the hands of the hospital (at least initially, until family and friends arrive). Just as with learning to throw a stone at a target, practise for long enough and you will perfect this.

However, most cases are not like that. Diagnose a patient with diabetes, for example, and in fact most of that patient’s care is in their own hands. You can advise on diet, medication and other responses, and you can even cajole, but in the end the patient will decide. That is the equivalent of trying to direct a bird, rather than a stone, at a target – you can learn to set it off in the right direction, but in the end it will decide where it goes. Most public policy is, in fact, like that.

This can lead to dramatically different outcomes from those expected, even with vast amounts of public money in play. In the late 1980s, for example, the UK Government wanted to link the new M25 London Orbital Motorway to the Channel Ports, most obviously at Dover. It had two options – upgrade the existing main road, the A2 (which, unbelievably, was still single carriageway on some stretches); or build an entirely new motorway either side of the Medway, the M20. Expert studies showed that, although it was the far more expensive option, the M20 would attract 80% of traffic between the M25 and the Channel Ports if constructed. So the M20 was constructed and London (indeed Cardiff, Liverpool and soon even Glasgow and Newcastle) were finally linked to the Continent by motorway – but for the first decade of its existence, barely 50% of the M25-Channel Ports traffic opted to use it. The Government intervened, gave people the better road, yet still half the people ignored it. There is just no accounting for this.

So, what about “Karen”? The reason the Prime Minister was squirming was of course that, all things being equal, “Karen” will be considerably worse off, at least over the rest of this decade. But he was also squirming because he knows all things are not equal. “Karen” may or may not have time to find a better job and raise her income; she may or may not have time to take on an extra part-time job (say, running a class once a week for £50/evening or helping out with the local cruise firm bringing passengers to or from her local city centre for £100/day); she may redouble her efforts at getting the money she is due from her child’s father; she may even look more closely at her entitlements and realise she’s not receiving all the allowances to which she is entitled. Any of these, far from leaving her £1100 worse off, could see her at least that much or more better off – albeit with the time sacrifice involved; or they may not see her break about even, because she has to even up the gain by paying for childcare or losing an allowance if she works more hours or is allocated more money from whatever source; or they may simply be practically impossible because her circumstances genuinely don’t allow any flexibility and she is already receiving all she is due. We just don’t know. Why do we not know? Because it’s not that simple!

Politicians can act; but so can the public in response. Always beware anyone in the business of government demanding a “simple answer to a simple question” – because it’s a complex world out there.

The remarkable journey continues…

A blatant re-post with minor update from five years ago, but surely appropriate on the day that’s in it…

This day 85 years ago was born in Plumstead, South London, a young boy with few prospects named Derek.

His parents were themselves born 30 years apart, and had a seriously disabled daughter already, consequence in all likelihood of an attempted back-street abortion (she was born just months after they were married). Four years later another brother was born, but that same year the father was diagnosed with cancer. By the time the Crystal Palace burned down in 1936 – an event Derek witnessed with his own eyes – his father had already died. His mother was left with him, an invalid daughter, and a babe-in-arms.

Pre-Welfare State, this was a hopeless situation. The children were placed in homes or with foster carers. As the War began and the doodle bugs began to drop, even this became untenable, and Church homes took over. Derek was forced to forego a proper education despite obvious ability, and ended up so wracked by hunger that he resorted to eating candle wax. As the War ended, he had little option himself but to choose a military career.

This was a tremendous stroke of luck, as it turned out. A combination of sporting prowess and sheer determination saw him sent all over the world – to Egypt, to Malaya, to Hong Kong and elsewhere. With his own eyes, he saw Germany as it was occupied upon the fall of Nazi-ism; Borneo under invasion by Indonesia; Cyprus after partition.

It was small wonder, after retirement, that Derek chose to venture back to spend much of each year for a whole decade in South Africa – a neat symmetry, given his own father had himself fought in the Anglo-Boer War. He came to love South Africa, which his father had seen divided and in ruins; he came to love Germany, which he himself had seen divided and in ruins; he came to love a woman from Northern Ireland, itself recovering from being divided and in ruins.

He still lives at home, which now means on the Northern Irish coast; admittedly the mind – both in terms of concentration and memory – isn’t what it was after 85 years of rich and frequent use, but he is still fundamentally healthy and the sense of humour which got him through on so many occasions is still intact.

Few have lived such rich and eventful lives. This is why so many people are proud to have a friend they call Derek.

I myself am proud to call him “Dad”.

History of the different codes of Rugby/Gridiron Football

The Rugby World Cup saw a rise in discussion about the history of the game. Some of this discussion pre-dated 1863-1871, which, as I noted at the time, was somewhat odd as there was no meaningful “rugby” (as distinct from the broad codes of “football”) before that period.

Legend has it, of course, that “football” when it moved to become a field game (almost entirely the case by 1823) became split when William Webb Ellis picked up the ball at Rugby School and ran with it. Legend is exactly what that is, of course. In fact, there were varying codes of football until well into the Victorian Era. The basic aim of “football” was to manoeuvre the ball over the opponents’ goal line; typically between some posts. Quite how this was to be done, and what was permitted in so doing, varied from school to school and club to club. In 1863, an association of schools and clubs came together and set out one code which became “Association Football”; in 1871, another code was clearly agreed upon based on Rugby School’s code which became broadly known as “Rugby Football”. These were shortened, respectively, to “soccer” (from “Association”) and “rugger” (from “Rugby”). One obvious distinction was that the latter was more liberal about the permitting of handling, and (increasingly over time) of physical contact (most particularly, formalised “tackling”).

It should be noted that even “soccer” still has some vestiges which are clearly of common origin with rugby. Handling is still permitted, albeit to one player on the team within a certain zone; charging is still permitted, albeit now in very specific circumstances; the ball is still returned to play from the sideline via a throw, albeit a specific type designed to limit the distance which can be achieved from it. It also retains the distinction between a direct free kick (formerly known as a “penalty kick” even when outside what became the penalty area) and an indirect free kick (formerly simply the “free kick”), which in fact developed after the split from rugby but reflects common influences. “Offside” also has a common derivation, initially from disallowing any player to be in front of the ball, even though the exact rule is now quite different (having begun to diverge in many schools and clubs which came to allow a kicked pass to a player standing in front with certain restrictions even pre-1863).

Football in general soon developed a problem in the UK, in that the more professional classes saw sport as a purely leisure pursuit, whereas industrial workers felt they had a right to compensation. “Soccer” ended up with two separate competitions as a result – the Football Association-administered “Challenge Cup” (a knockout competition which professionals disliked as they could be out of the competition after just one match), and the Football League under different administration (disliked by amateurs as it required professional levels of training and fitness to compete over a full season of round-robin fixtures). “Rugger” had the same division but with much wider consequences: the “Rugby League” did not just become a separate competition in which players could be compensated, but ultimately a different code altogether.

Fundamentally, the objective of all Rugby-derived codes (including “football” in North America) came to be to advance the ball over the opponents’ goal line for a “try” for a score of the highest value, which is also followed by a further play offering extra points (typically, though in North America now not compulsorily, a kick). In each case, kicked goals (through the posts and over a crossbar) without the “try” remained a means of accruing points, but of comparatively decreasing value.

From the late Victorian Era, the rules adopted by the Rugby League came to diverge from those used by the amateur Rugby Union. Over time, League was considerably simplified: line-outs were removed; the points system was altered; the two flankers were lost, making the game 13-a-side; and, most fundamentally of all, the contest for possession after a tackle was abandoned.

Interestingly, and apparently coincidentally, football in North America followed a similar path to Rugby League – it became professional (albeit with a significant “college” variety in both the United States and Canada), and it also removed line-outs, altered the points system, reduced the number of players allowed on the field during play (to 12 in Canadian and 11 in American), and abandoned the contest for possession after a tackle. “Down-and-distance” rules were adopted, separately in Canada and the United States albeit under common influence, which also changed the field layout to a chequerboard, i.e. resembling a gridiron (as, after a tackle, the ball had to be played from the square in which the tackle had taken place). Thus, the name “Gridiron” came to be applied to football as played in North America – even after the gridiron layout was abandoned in favour of lateral lines every ten yards accompanied by longitudinal hash marks.


The original “gridiron” field (Syracuse, NY, 1910) – courtesy Wiki

Thus, Rugby Union is distinguished from all other forms of the game deriving from the Rugby code by the contest for possession after the tackle (known as the “breakdown”). This feature of the game – involving releasing the ball and the creation of rucks or mauls – is perhaps its most distinctive aspect. Competition of possession is in fact the most outstanding distinction in general – such competition also defines scrums (usually awarded for minor infringements and also used for some re-starts), line-outs, and even in theory free kicks. (It is increasingly debatable, however, just how stable this aspect of the game is: the sheer complexity of the laws around it and the obvious potential for injury and concussion are leading to serious questions being raised about the very viability of the game – questions which are currently peripheral but which will no doubt become more mainstream. We may therefore reasonably predict that the laws of Rugby Union will move towards those of the other codes as the century progresses.)

Gridiron Football and effectively also Rugby League are all defined by a set piece after each tackle and “down-and-distance” rules (though the terminology varies). Rugby League allows six “tackles” to score; American Football allows four “downs” to advance ten yards (on a 100-yard grid); and Canadian Football allows three “downs” to advance ten yards (on a 110-yard grid).

Fundamental divisions between both codes of modern Rugby and both main codes of Gridiron are apparent in the attire the players wear (Rugby kits are similar to soccer, albeit with increasing padding; Gridiron uniforms include helmets and shoulder pads) and thus in the type of tackle allowed (Rugby requires arms to be used, and wrapped; Gridiron does not, although this liberal attitude to “hitting” is increasingly being debated on safety grounds, even with helmets and pads). However, perhaps the biggest distinction is that Gridiron’s post-tackle plays begin with a “line of scrimmage” (a deliberate change from Rugby’s grouped “scrummage”) and that it came to permit one forward pass from behind that line. Gridiron also only requires the ball to be moved across the opponents’ goal line for a “try” to be awarded, whereas Rugby requires the ball to be touched down (albeit with very slight differences in precisely how between Union and League): it is odd, therefore, that the term for this in Gridiron in common usage for the score itself has come to be “touchdown” (the “try”, formally at least, refers to the kick or throw for extra points afterwards), whereas Rugby retains the word “try” for the score alone.

American Football has moved further from the original Gridiron version than Canadian has: it reduced the size of the field; moved the posts to the back of the “end zone” (i.e. to the dead ball line from the goal line); and introduced greater restrictions on movement. Gridiron has also adopted a defensive score not available in Rugby: if a team takes the ball behind its own goal line and fails to move it back beyond it, it concedes a “safety” (worth two points to the other team) and also kicks away possession (otherwise, unlike in Rugby, the scoring team kicks off after any score). Canadian Football, uniquely, also has what is known as a “single”, scored by kicking the ball beyond the opponents’ goal line without it being successfully returned beyond it by the other team (one of the marked distinctions of Canadian Football from American is that kicks generally remain live, including missed field goals).

The original means of scoring in Rugby were the “try” (a goal kicked after advancing the ball over the goal line), the “dropped goal” (a goal from a drop kick in open play), the “goal from the mark” (a goal scored by a kick after a fair catch) and, in most varieties, the “field goal” (a goal scored by kicking the ball straight off the ground). The “penalty goal” was added to both Rugby codes as a direct kick following a major foul, but Gridiron did not adopt this. All codes quickly came to recognise that advancing the ball beyond the goal line alone (the “try” in Rugby and the “touchdown” in Gridiron) should have a value of its own, and above that of any other score (Union was the slowest to complete this latter). Effectively the “field goal” and “dropped goal” were merged in all varieties (and the “kick from the mark” either abolished or rendered impractical by adaptations to the precise shape of the ball).

Scoring is now:

  • Rugby Union: 5 for a try/touchdown plus 2 for a conversion goal; 3 for a penalty goal; 3 for a dropped goal;
  • Rugby League: 4 for a try/touchdown plus 2 for a conversion goal; 2 for a penalty goal; 1 for a dropped goal;
  • American Football: 6 for a try/touchdown plus 1 for a conversion goal or 2 for a conversion touchdown; 3 for a field goal; 2 for a safety;
  • Canadian Football: as American, plus 1 for a single.

Even a slight difference in the rules can, interestingly, lead to a very different game. For example, as in Rugby, the ball may be advanced in Gridiron by passing the ball sideways or backwards to a free player at any time (specifically, in Gridiron, prior to contact), but because possession is at a premium this is much rarer. Dropped goals are allowed in Gridiron, including for conversion kicks, but, because the ball is sharper at the ends, they are now almost never attempted.

Gridiron is, of course, also marked out from any other version of football by its strict timing and its rolling substitutions. In terms of timing, Gridiron is based around a game clock for timing, with strict rules. In terms of players, Gridiron teams came to have three distinct “platoons”, for “defense”, “offense” and “special teams”. Rugby is moving that way in both cases, but is markedly different. It now has basic game clock timing, but in practice the final “play” can last several minutes; and it has long had a clear distinction between “forwards” and “backs” as separate groups (albeit all on the field at once). Union now allows 7-8 substitutions and in limited circumstances replaced players may return to the game.

Despite these marked differences, there are a number of areas where all the games retain vestiges of when they were once one. All are about advancing an oval ball over the goal line for maximum value, or kicking between the posts and above the crossbar as an alternative means of scoring (by moving in this direction, scoring has also increased in all codes over the years); all involve tackling by physical contact; all allow forward kicks and side/back passes (although Gridiron now allows one forward pass to restricted receivers from a particular zone); all have a particular default use of the 20-25 yard line (for restarts in certain circumstances); none rewards “knock-ons”; and all exhibit “offside” (albeit in different ways).

The culture of the different codes means they will probably all remain distinct: Canadian Football and, outside Australia, Rugby League remain very much minority versions, but they have a clear geographical home which is unlikely to shift. The big differences will probably come around the common concern to all codes of concussion and later mental health of players, with Rugby Union the code most likely to be directly affected in terms of gameplay. Union’s distinctiveness from all other codes, marked by its constant competition for possession, will probably decline over the coming decades as safety concerns grow. It will be interesting to see exactly how this comes to be addressed!

If you want to protect borders, it’s helpful to know where they are…

It pays to be careful whose advice you buy as the EU referendum campaign kicks off.

The "Leave EU" campaign is so committed to the UK, that it doesn't even know where its borders are...

The “Leave EU” UK referendum campaign Facebook ad mysteriously includes the whole of Ireland…

The “Leave” side wants to “protect our borders”, but evidently doesn’t even know where “our borders” are…!

Delay in tax credit changes the sensible next step

There are numerous aspects to the tax credits debate which should probably be dealt with distinctly. Let us try to do so in three main areas.

Firstly, are the Conservatives right in principle to change the system so that the burden on subsidising low pay falls on the business not the taxpayer? In my view, yes, very much so. Pay should be at a significant enough level that anyone in work is better off than anyone opting not to work, and anyone working full time is better off than anyone working part time – with certain exceptions (albeit perhaps one around parenthood).

Secondly, are the Conservatives right to do this as part of their plan to cut the welfare bill and close the deficit? There, I don’t think they are. Welfsre should always be distinct from budgetary deficit-reducing. They should be doing this because it is the right thing to do, not because they want a quick fix to their somewhat adventurous claim that they can close the deficit in a single term.

Thirdly, has the Lords a right to intervene? There I really do see both sides, but also I see that both sides are hypocritical. Conservatives are suddenly finding the Lords being unelected to be troublesome; and others are suddenly finding it more in touch with the people than those the people elected. Both sides, in other words, need to think again.

The constitutional issue is peripheral to the direct impact on changes to tax credits, which I support but which are being moved through too quickly. A three-year delay at least in implementation would mean wages had risen to even up the loss in most cases, still close the deficit on the welfare side, and would give people time to plan. That is something which is politically deliverable surely. It is the right response now.

Sinn Féin still struggling with Catalonia and the border

Sinn Féin and other Irish Nationalists like to talk in terms of the improvements that could be made by “removing the border”, from stopping duplication of services (in their view) to, er, stopping cross-border fuel smuggling (okay, that’s just bizarre and not the topic for today’s blog).

This is odd, however, because it was Irish Nationalists who insisted on creating a border within the British Isles. They may have had very good reason, but it remains the case that once it became inevitable that there would be a border between the Irish and British, the position of that border would be contested. There is no particular logic which places that border in the Irish Sea, any more than it places it where it is, given the pattern of settlement.

However, even of we accept the logic that land borders are a particular problem (whereas somehow sea borders aren’t), because of duplication or smuggling or whatever, it does lead to a peculiar problem with Sinn Féin’s stance: why on earth does it advocate independence for Catalonia? Indeed, far from creating a land border with the inevitable duplication and potential fuel smuggling that would cause, should Irish Republicans not instead be trying to unite Spain and Portugal to abolish one?

There is a blatant inconsistency here. It is very difficult to take Sinn Féin’s positions on anything seriously until such obvious contradictions are sorted out.

NI economy in better shape that figures indicate

Headlines last week indicated that the Northern Ireland economy had contracted over the last quarter, with initial estimates indicating economic output had contracted 0.1%.

I am not an economist, but something strikes me as wrong with that. My impression, in business myself, is that discretionary spending is rising in NI, despite the obvious uncertainty of closures in the retail sector and inevitable (and frankly necessary) public sector job losses.

A few thoughts on what may be wrong.

Firstly, the quarter concerned was the first which saw significant exits from the public sector (and, in any case, incorporated part of the summer break when many people are away), thus reducing the overall “output” figure via what is, in fact, a particular (and, in the long term, wise) adjustment.

Secondly, the figure is a comparison with a previous quarter in which areas such as transport equipment were astonishingly strong. It is to be predicted that such strength would not be repeated.

Thirdly, there is a geographical problem. At the moment, construction in the UK is skewed towards the London area, and any construction work there goes on to the London area figure – even if carried out by a Northern Irish firm which will “repatriate” the profits and by Northern Irish workers who will bring most of the money earned there home.

That final point also ties to a further reality that rising property prices often see a rise in confidence and spending which has no basis in reality. Those rising property prices are much more marked in the rest of the UK. This is a good thing. If there is one thing more important to an economy than confidence, it is stability – so Northern Ireland would be best to avoid this boom and bust cycle, although time will tell if it does so in the long run.

Northern Ireland is fairly well positioned economically with rising confidence in both Great Britain and Ireland (the main export markets), strong foreign direct investment and sensible property prices. Its main problem is political instability, which inevitably delays or even blocks investment leading to jobs. Now there’s a thought…

Paramilitary report must mean comprehensive change

The headlines around yesterday’s IMC-style report focused on the existence of the (Provisional) IRA, the DUP’s subsequent appointment of Ministers, and to some extent in social media on the ongoing existence of Loyalist paramilitary groups.

Of course, the political response ranges from flawed logic (apparently it does not matter how many people Loyalist paramilitaries intimidate or even murder, as long as they’re not in government) to outright lies (the report must be wrong because the IRA does not exist and Sinn Féin’s President was never in it even when it did). The civic response is going to need to be clearer, more reasoned, and frankly more courageous than that.

For the headline in the report was not the one widely quoted (because Stormont’s existence may depend on it), but a broader one in the summary at section ix:

The existence and cohesion of these paramilitary groups since their ceasefire has played an important role in enabling the transition from extreme violence to political progress. Much of the leaderships’ ability to influence, restrain and manage the expectations of its members draw on the authority conferred through these hierarchies. 

We may want to think about that long and hard. It is an open statement of something we all knew to be true – every political party, the security forces, the governments and so on. Yet it is intolerable.

By essentially giving a bye-ball to paramilitary leaders, we have:

  • ensured that we are absolutely not all “equal under the law”, including the effective enabling of a cross-border smuggling trade;
  • allowed, in much of the inner city in particular, a minority to dictate to a majority despite lacking any democratic mandate to do so, providing entirely for the wrong sort of role model;
  • placed into high office, including roles as Special Advisers, people who are not there on the basis of merit but rather on the basis of having in the past supported “extreme violence” (to quote the report), rendering at a disadvantage those who had always sought peaceful means;
  • devalued educational attainment and professional development as a means of attaining influence and high office, while giving the impression that “extreme violence” may in future be a viable route to them;
  • left entire communities entirely dependent on the public purse or other external funding, disempowering them completely from acting and competing in the real economy; and
  • disabled any truly effective community relations programmes, particularly in the inner city, by leaving “hierarchies” in place which draw their very legitimacy from fear and division.

Paying the penalty for this are not educated, professional suburbanites, but the very people in the inner city the two largest parties claim to serve. Yet they have done nothing to move us beyond entire communities living under the “influence and restraint” of “paramilitary leaders”, and thus left them deprived of any real potential for social change or economic growth.

However, it would be unfair to pin the blame entirely on the DUP and Sinn Féin. This has suited the governments and, up to a point, the other parties too.

The question now is a very real one: it is not just how we make “paramilitarism” go away, but also how we replace it with structures which will empower communities, promote economic growth, and encourage social cohesion. 21 years from the ceasefires, this is work which, disgracefully, we haven’t even truly started yet – all because of what is summed up in that single paragraph.

Time to redouble efforts on Road Safety

The last road fatality in Northern Ireland brought the total this year to equal to the total for the whole of 2013 – in other words, by mid-October as many people had lost their lives on our roads as did in the entirety of 2015.

It can be argued that this is inevitable as an economic upturn sees people driving more. However, with vehicle safety improving every year, even that does not necessarily stand to reason. Comparable countries have not seen the rises we have seen in the last two years.

Certainly, as I have noted before, the lack of resources for police enforcement is a serious issue. However, that only reinforces the responsibility on the rest of us. We need to consider whether we are giving the road our full attention; whether we are considering all road users and not just those surrounded by metal; and whether our driving is appropriate to conditions as winter approaches.

Typically, between now and end of year, around 12-14 more people are killed on our roads. Let us try to make that zero.

Please rugby, don’t turn into football!

I follow (association) football before rugby union, but I am sure I am not the only football fan who has been enthralled by the Rugby World Cup. For me, most refreshing of all is the different culture of the game most obviously demonstrated by the respect shown for referees.

To see a burly Boer tell a man a full foot shorter than him “Sorry Sir” is an aspect of the game which should never be lost. It plays to an honesty and a camaraderie between all participants which has long, unfortunately, been lost to football at the highest level.

Yet there is a real risk that rugby, as it becomes more professional and more exposed to media scrutiny, will lose this culture (and consequent honesty and camaraderie) which make it so refreshing. That risk was evident yesterday.

In a wholly unexpected and frankly incomprehensible turn of events, Scotland, who had almost been eliminated in the previous game by tiny Samoa, found itself involved in an epic match against Australia, previously the tournament’s stand-out team. An intercept gave Scotland a try and conversion and a two-point lead with just seven minutes to play. A miraculous victory, and a long-awaited triumph for Northern Hemisphere over Southern Hemisphere, seemed nigh.

Yet the Scots contrived to lose a line-out near their own 22-metre line two minutes from time, and in the melee the ball bounced forward (from a Scottish point of view) into an offside Scottish hand, meaning a penalty to Australia.

There was some discussion about whose hand it had come off, with a suggestion that an Australian would merely have meant a scrum. Actually, as is so often the case with football, this merely served to show that the presenter and pundits did not know the laws of the game. Whose hand it came off was, in fact, redundant.


However, all the talk after the game was about the referee’s conduct. In football, this would be normal; but in rugby it did not strike me as loyal to the culture of the game. To use words like “disgusting” and to headline articles with stories about how a (widely respected) referee should now no longer officiate at international level is just not the way rugby works even if a mistake has been made (and also objectively ludicrous in this case, given the referee did not make a mistake). To re-emphasise: uninformed punditry from past players (but not past referees) is par for the course for football, but is not traditionally part of rugby. I fail to see how it is a good thing for rugby to follow football in this regard!

It was cruel. The Irish know only too well how it feels to seem set to steal a World Cup quarter final unexpectedly against Australia with a late try, only to have it seized away again with a last-gasp score (as happened in 1991). However, the rugby thing to do would be to focus on what an outstanding match it was, what a fine and unexpected effort the underdogs put up, and how well the Australians did to keep cool under pressure. If further discussion about crucial mistakes were really required, the obvious starting point was the decision to throw a line-out long so late in the game, which was always a risk particularly in the wet. Even if there is a dispute about the late penalty award (and, to emphasise, the farce in all this is that there really is not), the point to make is that the Australians were in strong position to kick three points anyway.

Let us be clear, paedophilia is “disgusting”; toddlers having shotguns is “disgusting”; a referee recognising he may not be popular and walking off the field quickly is perhaps “poor etiquette”, but we need to have some proportion – it is not “disgusting”.

We all say things in the emotional aftermath of a game, but rugby has a wonderful culture of respect, honesty and camaraderie. This culture should be maintained and promoted, not allowed to wither as the sport turns into football. It would do no harm to note what an astonishingly difficult game rugby is to referee – with more regulations covering the breakdown alone than there are for the entire game of association football! It would also do no harm to note that the referee had it right (just as he did when sending Wales’ Sam Warburton off in the last World Cup’s semi).

So I think it would be wise for some of those who got a little emotional to apologise to Mr Joubert; and for the commentary and punditry to focus on the wonderful entertainment and fine play this World Cup is providing, without an unhealthy focus on referees who are only doing their best (which is usually very good and always considerably better than the pundits expressing “disgust”) in extraordinarily difficult circumstances.


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