Rugby has long occupied the moral high ground when compared with football. Complacent boasts have abounded of the gulf in standards of behaviour, both on and off the field, between the two codes. To some extent this argument is still valid but with every week there appears to be further erosion of standards in rugby. Of particular concern is the manner in which players and coaches treat match officials and attempt to influence the decisions of referees.
There has been a recent unhealthy trend for coaches to blame the officials when their sides lose. Coaches and players have to take responsibility for their own deficiencies or under-performance. Few referees get it right all of the time and, though some seem to make more errors than others, there is a process whereby complaints can be lodged.
England’s management don’t normally publicly criticize referees but after the defeat to Wales in the Six Nations decider, Graham Rowntree expressed frustration in the media with Steve Walsh’s performance and said that he would submit a critical report to the IRB.
In a recent blog on The Rugby Site, Eddie Jones wrote about how he works with his captains on how they talk to the referee. Sean Fitzpatrick, George Gregan and Martin Johnson are all remembered as captains who at times appeared to talk the referee into submission.
Sometimes clarification of law interpretations is required and it is entirely appropriate for dialogue between captain and referee. However, there is a growing trend in professional rugby which sees groups of players appealing and gesticulating wildly to the referee or his assistants in an attempt to win a decision. While this approach may at times achieve the desired outcome, it is a hostile and entirely inappropriate way to influence the referee.
Also of note is the rising incidence of petulance from players when things aren’t going their way. The manner in which Owen Farrell imploded in the Premiership semi-final on Sunday will not have escaped Warren Gatland’s attention.
With the game barely five minutes old Farrell started badgering the referee. As his game disintegrated, his behaviour deteriorated further and in kicking the ball at a retreating Dylan Hartley he raised questions over his suitability to play at this level, not to mention a Lions series in Australia. Meanwhile, SANZAR have fined the Stormers A$25,000 after they were found guilty of insulting and offensive conduct towards New Zealand assistant referee Sheldon Eden-Whaitiri during the recent Super XV game between the Hurricanes and the Stormers.
The Stormers were found to be in breach of Section 8.3a of the SANZAR Code of Conduct which states that “all persons must ensure the game is played and conducted in accordance with disciplined and sporting behaviour and acknowledge that it is not sufficient to rely solely upon the Match Officials to maintain those principles”.
The RFU Core Values Project states that “we hold in high esteem our sport, its values and traditions and earn the respect of others in the way we behave. We respect our match officials and accept our decisions. We respect opposition players and supporters. We value our coaches and those who run our clubs and treat clubhouses with consideration.”
The actions of players and coaches in recent months suggest that some at the highest level of the game do not believe these guidelines apply to them.
Much emphasis is placed on players and coaches understanding the, at times complex, laws of the game. Attention should also be focused on the codes of conduct and principles of the game as laid out by the governing bodies of the sport. From junior levels through to international rugby, standards need to be restored.
Much has changed since the advent of professionalism but surely those with rugby in their DNA understand the importance of protecting the spirit of the game. The responsibility for ensuring that this happens lies with all of us – coaches, captains, players, parents, supporters and referees – we need to make it happen.
Has the spirit of rugby been lost? How are you seeing this play out? Comments below…