With not much to report on the home front in Canada we skip our usual wrap up of the game in Canada and use this opportunity to take a look at an issue that sadly is in danger of detracting from the enjoyment of our great game – refereeing.
Last weekend’s potential spectacles were marred by poor refereeing which in some people’s view directly influenced the outcome of a pair of critical games for the four competing sides. I for one tend to disagree that the refereeing albeit sloppy determined the outcome of the games. As mentioned earlier it is inevitable that in the frenetic pace of International Test Rugby one or two decisions will rightly or wrongly go against you and teams must learn to adapt to this. Blaming the referee for bad calls is no panacea for a teams’ weak performance. South Africa lost last week because ultimately they played poorly and when it mattered most did not rise to the challenge. The Pumas lost not because they were denied a try and had their superior scrum subjected to some bizarre interpretations. At least Argentina were humble enough to admit that it was their concentration that let them down and the fact that they were playing a superior side.
Nevertheless there is no question that poor refereeing can influence a team’s morale on the field especially if they are being penalised for incorrect calls or subjective interpretations of the rules. In both games George Clancy and Pascal Gauzere were guilty of this. Pascal Gauzere called Leonardo Senatore’s charge down a knock-on and thus disallowed a brilliant and perfectly legitimate try by the Pumas. This coupled with him constantly penalizing Argentina at the breakdown and letting New Zealand completely off the hook, especially in the scrum where Argentina were clearly and legally superior, it is not surprising that a certain weariness and frustration set in amongst the Pumas leading to the critical lapses in concentration that ultimately lost them the game. If it is perceived by a team that there is a certain bias against them by the referee, it is inevitable that confusion and a lack of coherence in gameplay sets in. This is inexcusable in International Test Rugby where the margins for error are so small.
As for George Clancy and his controversial yellow card given to Bryan Habana the same applies. There is no question that South Africa played poorly based on a totally ineffective game plan given the conditions. However, given the fact that they are a big and physical side the contact nature of their game will always be rather intense. In this area they were much more noticeable and effective than Australia. However, despite completely legal albeit powerful tackling this style was perceived as foul play on several occasions by George Clancy. Teams should adopt their game plan to the conditions on the pitch not the style and perceptions of the referee. If this happens then sadly the team in question is playing at referee psychology and not focusing on the game at hand and the strategy required to win. It was obvious that this was affecting the Springboks on Saturday in Perth and in this area they deserve our empathy. Like I say it doesn’t detract from the fact that they ultimately threw a game they should have won, but having to deal with the constant discrepancies in George Clancy’s refereeing did not help their cause.
The International Rugby Board has to take a much more proactive role in training and disciplining referees. Rugby teams should be playing each other not the referee as well. Furthermore if we are to generate greater interest in our glorious game, newcomers will be put off by rules that seem to change from game to game. Consistency is the key here. One possible solution I saw put forward that I think has a great deal of merit is a challenge system like there is in professional tennis. Each team would be allowed to challenge a set number of referee calls per match. There would be a limit placed on these challenges, I would argue that no more than 1 per team per half, so a total of two per game per team. However if the crowd sees it on the replay on the big screen and the players know that it is a questionable call it would seem fair that a review much like the television match official ruling on tries would be appropriate. If we are to generate a level playing field for players and referees and the enjoyment of rugby’s devoted fans then surely something along these lines must be incorporated into the modern game.
The IRB says it is committed to simplifying the game and promoting fair and free running rugby – well then put your money where your mouth is gentlemen!