19th November 2014

I have often wondered about the current trend or system of referees constantly chatting to the players during a game of rugby. Watching the video of Dylan Hartley being red carded in the Premiership final for verbal abuse of the ref brought it back to the front burner in my somewhat cluttered mind.

I accept and appreciate the warnings during rucks and mauls – “No!” “Get Out Number 7” “Leave It! White!” or similar remarks. These moments are important in guaranteeing a game that flows without too many stops and starts and with fewer penalties. We are talking about that phase of play where it is very easy to transgress and get penalised, and we do not want to see a game that consists of penalty after penalty, after penalty after penalty.

I do begin to doubt the necessity of the warnings to players who are chasing a kick from a potentially offside position – “Wait!” or “Stop Number 15” or whatever – Surely each player must be aware of his position on the field when a kick is launched skywards and either wait until he is played onside, or retreat the required distance from the ball’s landing zone. If a player is too stupid to see for himself that he is offside then he, and his team, deserve the resultant penalty. The ref should not be warning players during open play. He is not an on-field coach, he is there to referee the game.

I certainly doubt the trend to constant mid-game conferences with the captains. On Saturday past both De Villiers and Robshaw were in Walsh’s ear all the time, and it was all very “matey” too. Richie McCaw is another who “has a word” with the ref on an ongoing basis. By all means query a decision, but stop coaching the ref in order to gain an advantage of one or another kind. Sean Fitzpatrick says he “spent 12 years trying to ref matches” which, although amusing, is indicative of the problem.

Captains are constantly trying to sway a ref off the narrow path of impartiality.

I detest and actively dislike the constant verbiage between players, especially scrumhalves, and referees. Firstly, it seems to be deliberately aimed at either confusing or distracting a ref, and always at trying to milk a penalty. Secondly, it is often tantamount to cheating, gamesmanship at the very least. Nick Phipps is a constant irritation and probably the most frequent offender in world rugby, Craig McCleod is always flapping his arms and appealing to the refs and touch judges, as do so many others.

I recall an incident where Craig Joubert stopped a game, called him over and said to McCleod “You need to stop telling me my job!” Well done Craig Joubert- I do not like the constant chatter by players at all. James Small was red carded for constant chatter, it is about time we saw it stopped.

When the refs feel that it is their right to have friendly conversations on the field I feel that it going way too far. On Saturday we heard Walsh telling Willie le Roux “Great pass, mate! Great pass!” That is completely wrong, no matter how good the pass was Steve Walsh has to know and realise that the England players will hear him, and immediately feel he is biased against them. It works like that!

I am often astounded at the amount of chit-chat that is going on when two packs of forwards lineup to scrum. At every scrum the refs, most of whom have never even thought of joining a scrum to find out about the actual mechanics of this rather technical area, are constantly coaching and advising grizzled old forwards on how to bind and where to put their shoulders and the like. The players are ignoring whatever he has to say and all talking to the ref at the same time to tell him what they think. It is a cacophony of noise.

I wish they all, referees, captains, and players, with scrumhalves getting a special mention, would simply shut up and get on with the game.

Bill – November 2014