Mind Games: Hey Mr Ref, you’re missing a great game

2013-11-25 10:00

If ever there was a resounding message to the International Rugby Board (IRB) that something needs to be done about the application of the laws of the game, it was in the Springboks’ match against Scotland last week.

An absurd refereeing incident highlighted the extent to which the laws and the way they are administered have become a source of mystery and frustration rather than a guiding template for the game.

At Murrayfield, Scotland’s Duncan Weir put through a diagonal kick for winger Max Evans to chase.

Springbok Bryan Habana spun around and sprinted to try to prevent the Scotsman from touching the ball down for a try.

The two players lunged for the ball and in real time it was difficult to see whether Evans or Habana had got to it first and whether one of them had touched it down.

Referee Jérôme Garcès called the TMO, Irishman Marshall Kilgore, to provide a ruling.

Even though the commentators and most viewers could see from the first replay that Habana had knocked the ball back and into touch in goal, the TMO required numerous replays.

Astonishingly, Kilgore then told a baffled Garcès that the ball had been knocked on and that it should be a Scotland scrum.

If it had been knocked on, it should have been a scrum to South Africa.

If Habana knocked it back (as he did) it should have been a scrum to Scotland. It was an inept error at any level, but unacceptable at test level.

Recently, in the plethora of tests played in the UK and Europe, there have just been too many “pilot errors” and instances in which it was abundantly clear that the players were perplexed and not sure how to stay on the right side of the law.

It’s simply not good enough at matches in which millions of fans have a vested interest, huge finances are involved, and the careers of coaches and players are on the line.

The new scrum engagement sequence – in which “crouch, touch, pause, engage” gave way to “crouch, bind, set” – initially seemed satisfactory because it seemed to bring back the art of scrummaging.

But different interpretations by different officials have caused the set piece to degenerate into as much of a mess as it ever was.

There seems to be a lack of understanding of the immense forces involved when 16 heavy and powerful athletes clash head-on, and of the fact that the formation is actually meant to be a contest.

Props will always try to outdo each other and tactics often require twists and turns that manoeuvre one team into a dominant position – hence the fact that teams may be “binding”, but so loosely that they have again introduced a destabilising “hit”.

This is down to the leeway allowed by some referees, and the onus is on the IRB to require consistency. Another area of unpredictability is the breakdown – part of the game that has become a yellow card printing works.

One clear way to solve the problem is to eliminate the ridiculous situation in which the tackler is allowed to play the ball from an offside position. How can this be, when playing onside is a basic tenet of the game?

One thing’s for sure, the old refrain shouted from the terraces, “hey Mr Ref, open your eyes, you’re missing a great game!” has never been more true.


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