Mind Games: Does the white card have a lasting home in rugby?

2015-04-06 09:00

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To talk of playing the white card – given the current climate of racial disharmony – may sound a bit provocative, but bear with me.

The white card I am referring to is the one being used in Varsity Cup rugby, which allows a team to contest a decision made by the referee.

First introduced at the start of Varsity Cup but found to be unproductive and scrapped, the white card has been brought back this year for another trial to see whether it gels with the two-referees system being used in the student competition.

The white card allows coaches to refer decisions made by the referee for review by the TV match official – the objective being to arrive at the correct decision if it is felt the match official has erred.

In theory, it seems a good idea, but in practice it has not been that effective.

Not only does the appeal delay the game unnecessarily, while television technicians search for the correct bits of tape to show, but the replays are often inconclusive – especially when a possible forward pass is the bone of contention.

One applauds the effort to eradicate possible referee blunders, but unfortunately the use of the white card has drifted away from the worthy intention of getting things right.

What you now see is that coaches, rather than captains, immediately flash the card when a try has been scored – often more in the hope that some mistake might be revealed than because there has been a clear infringement.

The ridiculous injunction forces referees to make a call on whether the ball has been “passed forward out of the hands” and makes an appeal more likely. This is because, in all replays, the kinetic energy of a player moving at speed is transferred to the ball and therefore appears to be travelling forward.

A solution may be to keep the white card but add a forfeiture clause, such as each team being allowed two white card appeals, one in each half. If their demand for a review is successful, they retain the next card, but if not, the next white card is forfeited.

This will encourage coaches to stop taking flyers and only disagree with the referee when they feel certain he’s missed something.

Interestingly, the two-referees experiment continues even though most Varsity Cup coaches and players are not in favour.

It is another example of a drum I have been beating for some time now. It’s not a good idea to experiment with laws that require subjective decisions by match officials, instead of those that apply the rule as it is written – for instance the edicts governing what is legal at a ruck. The laws are a mess. There is no other way of putting it.

One trusts that once the rugby World Cup has come and gone, world rugby administrators will waste no time in ordering a comprehensive rewrite of the law book.

Hopefully, this will be done by an eminent panel of leading referees, coaches and, most importantly, players who are either still involved in the game or have recently retired.

Let’s get props to fix the scrum, loose forwards to tell us what’s wrong with the breakdown and locks to mend the line-out?…?in a way that is clear and comprehensible to all.

This applies from the top international player to the fan sitting on his couch, from the precocious student in Varsity Cup to a youngster playing on a gravel field somewhere on the platteland.

*Follow Dan on Twitter @retiefdan 

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