There has been a huge amount of criticism of referees regarding turning points in games over the course of this Rugby World Cup. The argument being southern hemisphere teams have ‘got away’ with more than their northern counterparts. Referees may provide start and stop times, but do not decide the outcome of a game of rugby, players do that.
Ultimately, the likes of Australia, Argentina, South Africa and particularly New Zealand are worthy of their positions in the semi-finals of the Rugby World Cup.
The main bone of contention is for that brave performance from Scotland - that the last-minute penalty should, according to the IRB’s unprecedented communication, never have been given. However, as any mini-rugby player should know, you play to the whistle, you don’t give the referee a chance to penalise you.
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Let us not forget, the penalty resulted from a Scottish line-out throw that missed its mark, the forwards having gambled on a long ball to the back of the line-out.
The resulting fumble back and forth could have gone either way. Quite simply, the Scots, as were the English, Irish and Welsh, not clinical enough; especially at that latter stage in the game.
Lest I be lambasted as being anti-Scottish, let’s look at how England have been bamboozled by refereeing decisions, not just through the World Cup but going back to last Autumn’s internationals. They show a distinct lack of guile that is distinct within much of the southern hemisphere game.
Bending the rules?
Richie McCaw of New Zealand is often criticised as being on the edge of cheating in much of his play, and will adjust his game according to the different referees he faces. Should he need to be squeaky clean, he’ll behave as such, should there be an opportunity to gain an advantage by transgressing the laws of the game, then likewise he’ll choose his path.
Ireland perhaps missed their main protagonist of the so-called ‘dark arts’ in the guise of Sean O’Brien, far more in their quarter-final against Argentina than they did the talisman of the team in Paul O’Connell and Jonny Sexton. It was Argentina’s ability to turn over the Irish ball and prevent their quick ball at the breakdown that unsettled the men in green.
Perhaps then there is something in the oft-quoted stories that the southern hemisphere nations have the beating of their northern counterparts. Their ability to adapt to the referees they face seems to be much more shrewd.
Indifferent refereeing performances
That’s not to say the referees do not have more work to do, especially in their own credibility. Perhaps the sprint off the pitch at the end of the Scotland v Australia game wasn’t the wisest move on the part of Craig Joubert. They must tread a wise line between instructing the players in the reasoning behind their decisions and having a committee of captains and/or TMOs for each breakdown of play.
The exemplar of the tournament in this instance would have to be Nigel Owens, whose command of the game has been superb. The ability to be no-nonsense in his approach, coupled with the ability to explain and justify his reasoning. His further use of the TMO when the ball is still in play, to allow the game to flow uninterrupted until a natural halt, has been second to none.
Let us hope that he leads the way for other officials to follow and that games will be remembered for their positives, rather than the shrill of a whistle at a contentious time. Scotland should rightly be proud of their performance and that shouldn't be overshadowed by controversy.
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