I suspect that more important offences are missed in rugby than any other sport. But don’t blame the refs – or not too much, wouldn’t want to spoil all the fun. The problem is so many things are happening at the same time on and off the ball, it is almost impossible for one man to pick up.
Did I say one man? In fact it is almost impossible for three men to pick up, because the assistant refs seem to miss most of the stuff as well. The situation has become so bad, it may be time to consider a second referee on the pitch whose sole area of concern is to monitor what is happening off the ball.
There was wholesale cheating during the international weekend, as is usual in the modern game at the top level. Australia’s try against England was created because Nick Phipps run through a gap created by off the ball obstruction. Italy’s try against New Zealand was similarly fashioned and so was France’s third try against Argentina.
The poor old Pumas, who keep getting the worst of the refs particularly when Mr Walsh is involved, could have justifiably wondered why four Frenchmen were not yellow carded. The first French offender should have been punished with at least a yellow and arguably also a penalty try for a deliberate knock-on. Then there was a tackle on a man in the air, a hit five yards after the man had passed the ball and finally a trip. The last two went completely unnoticed by the officials.
At present the IRB is busily reviewing the Adam Thomson affair – and quite right too. A local New Zealand ref told me he was aghast at the leniency of the punishment. He said it was typical of the judicial bodies who seem to put the ref on trial more than the accused player and make it almost impossible for him to do his job on a Saturday.
But perhaps the IRB could also give some thought of how it is going to deal with this plague of cheating. Football is far more sensible on the issue. It yellow cards players for diving and it red cards players who foul in order to prevent a direct goal scoring opportunity.
I would like to see rugby get similarly medieval on the asses of these serial cheats. Anyone who prevents a try scoring opportunity by cheating, as in the deliberate knock on, should be red carded. Anyone who creates a try-scoring opportunity by cheating, as in blatantly holding or blocking a player off the ball, should be red carded. They should then be up before the beak and suspended for a game or two. It is the only way to get this stuff out of the game.
It may also be worth considering an orange card for players who seek to gain an advantage by holding and obstructing and shepherding and deliberately preventing release. Two orange cards would lead to a red card.
While on judicial matters, I also wonder why the IRB is acting on Thomson but not on Samoa. At least three Samoans should have been cited and suspended after the victory against Wales for a swinging arm, a no arms high hit and a highly dangerous clean-out. No top level team will want to play Samoa, a side that brings so much joy to other parts of its rugby, if it can’t clean up its game. The cost in players is just too high.
At the moment it’s anarchy out there. The IRB needs to make 2013 the year when it cleans up the game. It needs to instruct refs to issue red cards for cheating and for violence and it needs to warn coaches there will be zero tolerance. The IRB then needs to back the refs to the hilt in the judicial hearings.
The IRB’s new boss has made a good start, but he needs to go much, much further.