New head of refs must red card the cheats Posted about 4 years ago

I don’t suppose it will get a great deal of coverage but Joel Jutge started work yesterday (September 3, 2012). He could just be one of the most important men in rugby. Jutge takes over from Paddy O’Brien as the IRB High Performance Match Official Manager. For those people who don’t speak governing body, he’s the bloke in charge of refs.

Let’s cut to the chase. My great fear is that Jutge will follow in the great tradition of Frenchmen – a nation that did after all did invent most of the language of diplomacy – and be all things to all men on the surface, and be all things to one man in reality. He will appease Bernard Lapasset and do nothing to rock the IRB boat or the claret aboard.

My great hope is that Jutge will instruct referees to finally do something about the laws that deals with foul play. Like many of rugby’s laws, they are well written and apposite. Like many of rugby’s laws, they are routinely ignored by refs who think they are helping the ‘flow’ of the game.

In fact they are presiding over the gradual diminishment of the game. There is a moment in ‘A Man for All Seasons when Thomas More – admittedly out of fashion now after Hilary Mantell’s portrayal of a religious fanatic – wonders what his young son-in-law will do when, having bent one law for expediency, he finds that others have done the same and the devil turns round. What law will protect him then?

This is the situation rugby finds itself in. Foul Play covers many aspects of rugby of which these are a sample. No dangerous tackling, no collapsing of a maul, no repeated infringements, no acts contrary to good sportsmanship, no misconduct while the ball is out of play, no blocking the tackler, no running in front of a ball carrier, no intentional offending, no time wasting.

I could go on, but you get the picture. The first two rounds of the Rugby Championship involved multiple examples of these offences and very little was done. Here’s just one or two brief instances (and I have notes of many, many more).

Ma’a Nonu routinely ran a shield against Australia without punishment. In the first game between the Springboks and the Pumas Jannie du Plessis hit Juan Martin Fernandez with a tackle that was late, dangerous and involved no arms. It was one of several dangerous tackles in the two matches that ref Steve Walsh routinely ignored.

In the first match between New Zealand and Australia David Pocock was penalised several times. In the second match Richie McCaw was penalised three times in six minutes for the same (or similar) offence. Yet teams, let alone individuals, are rarely penalised with a yellow and then a red card for the repeated offence as the law requires.

These do not even constitute 10% of my notes, yet all these offences were scarcely penalised and never with at least a yellow card as the law frequently requires. The upshot of this “letting the game flow” is that teams cheat more and more as a matter of coaching requirement. This in turn strangles the game.

You can understand the referees’ reluctance to administer the law. Alain Rolland was slated for giving nearly 30 penalties in the first game between Australia and New Zealand. He could have given 60. Yet he was labelled by the ignorant as “excruciating”, “pedantic” and “officious”. Typical – shoot the messenger. The adjective I prefer for Rolland’s performance that day is ‘lenient’.

Professionalism has brought in so many extra layers of paid advisers that it was inevitable that sooner or later they would find ever more sophisticated ways of breaking rugby’s laws. Blame these coaches in particular and blame the top players for all the penalties in the modern game. But not the refs.

The only way to rid rugby of the scourge is for Jutge to tell his top referees to start applying the laws properly. A public announcement backed by Lapasset would help. He could tell rugby that until players stop persistently breaking the laws governing foul play, yellow and red cards will become the norm. That would clean the game up and get it flowing. Over to you Joel.

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Mark Reason has been a sports journalist for over 25 years. He currently works for Fairfax Media and will also be part of the Telegraph's World Cup team and a regular panellist on Radio New Zealand during the World Cup. He has covered every Rugby World Cup since 1991, the 2000 and 2008 Olympics, over 40 golf major championships, the FA Cup final, the Epsom Derby and a lot of other stuff he can't remember. Mark emigrated to New Zealand in 2010 having spent over 20 years covering sport for the Telegraph and Sunday Times in Britain.

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