Sevens: It’s a numbers game

2007-12-08 00:00

This week sees the annual IRB Sevens tournament at George in the Western Cape. It is one of the most watched sporting events during our summer and it is worth looking at the laws that are specially adapted for the game of sevens rugby.

Firstly, it is all about the numbers. You are only allowed seven players on the park at any given time and your squad is usually 12 players strong. You are only allowed to make three replacements during a match. The game may not be longer than 14 minutes (two halves of seven minutes each). The thing you will find at George is that there will be a timekeeper who might allow for some stoppages as common sense allows.

In the finals the games will be two halves of 10 minutes each. Interesting at these IRB tournaments is that you have four finals, namely the Shield, the Bowl, the Plate and the Cup final, with the latter being the championship final. Half time is one minute in the pool games and two minutes in the finals.

From an officiating point of view the major difference is that in sevens you have in-goal touch judges who have the same powers as the regular touch judges. Their jurisdiction is restricted to the in-goal area but they may also assist the referee with foul play. In sevens, the game is always quick and the play sometimes gets away from the referee, and the in-goal touch judges assist the referee with the awarding of tries. This greatly reduces the controversy that used to accompany the game of sevens, especially when the players use the grubber kick into the in-goal area and you get two players converging on the ball simultaneously.

A recent development allows the opposing team to gather on their 10-metre line when the other team has scored a try. There are no more charge-downs at conversions and in sevens the team that scored last then has to restart the game with a drop-kick from half way.

The most influential change in sevens rugby is that the arbitrary infringements all result in free-kicks, which adds to the pace at which the game is played. Sevens is becoming a stepping stone for referees to hone their skills. Lots of talented young referees like our own Craig Joubert got their break in sevens and very few actually know that Craig refereed the last World Cup final for Sevens. It will be interesting watching this weekend and hopefully the Springbok sevens side can emulate the Boks this year.

At Saru in the last week, the panels were released and for the first time all the panels were rated in merit order. It makes for interesting reading and I fear that we are in for another year of controversy and frustration.

National Panel (top 10 in merit order):

1. Jonathan Kaplan (Saru)

2. Craig Joubert (Saru)

3. Marius Jonker (Saru)

4. Mark Lawrence (Saru)

5. Jerome Fortuin (Saru)

6. Willie Roos (Saru)

7. Deon van Blommestein (Saru)

8. Phillip Bosch (Saru)

9. Pro Legoete (Saru)

10. Christie du Preez (Saru)

What I don’t get is that Mark Lawrence can receive the highest rating at Sanzar and in our domestic competitions, gets given the Currie Cup final and then gets rated at four. Craig Joubert is not deemed good enough to referee the Currie Cup final and is asked to sit in the stand as the reserve referee, but is rated at two. Craig must think this is easy: you don’t referee anything and still get promoted up the rankings. Marius Jonker officiates at the World Cup only to get back to South Africa to find that he has been demoted down the order. How absurd is that? We must be a laughing stock in world refereeing.

But for me the real problem lies with the next group of referees, the so-called wannabes and has-beens. Willie Roos and JC Fortuin managed to hang onto their spots on the panel and for the Super 14 next season. Crazy enough though is that Roos is on the IRB B-Panel and Fortuin not, but Fortuin edges over him at five. These two officials cannot screw up any more than they did last season, so we can only hope they improve. Then you get Dion van Blommestein at seven, who in my opinion had an excellent season, but has been suspended from the Super 14 and manages to still be on the panel. Crazy! The rest, other than Bosch, don’t deserve a mention.

The real shame for me is the relegation of the young Gareth Lloyd-Jones (Western Province) from the top 10. He was by far the most promising young referee that I have seen this year but for some reason he did not crack the nod from the selectors. It still seems that transformation or racial profiling is rife within the refereeing fraternity. If JC Fortuin was white he would have been off the panels long ago. But because Saru has targets to meet and jobs to protect they destroy the passion that these talented referees commit to the game. When will Saru realise that refereeing is not a team sport, but the ability of an individual to manage a game played by teams? Quotas cannot apply here and talent does not have a colour.

•Your views to

•Michael Katzenellenbogen is a former referee and lives in Pietermaritzburg.

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