Category Archives: Discipline

Wales see Red as Aussie Gold have Black night…

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After five intense weeks, 46 matches, 256 tries, 18 yellow cards and two controversial red cards, the Rugby World Cup is down to the very pointy end – and a re-run of the inaugural final from 1987.

Wales were heartbroken by their narrow 1 point loss to France following the 17th minute red card for Welsh skipper Sam Warburton by Irish referee Alain Rolland, which has caused some controversy.

In 2007, the IRB approved a Law clarification which essentially made it clear that tackles involving a player being lifted off the ground and tipped horizontally, and were then either forced or dropped to the ground, were illegal and constitute dangerous play.

The summary for possible sanction scenarios when a tackler horizontally lifts a player off the ground are:

1. The player is lifted and then forced or “speared” into the ground. A red card should be issued for this type of tackle.
2. The lifted player is dropped to the ground from a height with no regard to the player’s safety. A red card should be issued for this type of tackle.
3. For all other types of dangerous lifting tackles, it may be considered a penalty or yellow card is sufficient.

Referees have been instructed not to make decisions based on what they consider was the intention of the offending player, but based on an objective assessment (as per Law 10.4 (e)) of the circumstances of the tackle.

The difficulty for players, coaches, fans, and indeed referees, is that contextual judgement and materiality is ruled out.

Was it a dangerous tackle? Yes?
Was it cynical and deliberate? No.
Was it a yellow? Maybe.

It was a very cruel way to end what has been a great tournament for Wales who deserved to make the final and would undoubtedly have pushed the All Blacks further than France seem likely to do.

As for the All Blacks, they face France in a re-run of the first World Cup final (when they prevailed 29-9). A very one sided semi-final against the Tasman rivals from Australia failed to spark into life on a damp night in Auckland, and Quade Cooper struggled to ignite the Wallabies.

It wasn’t a free flowing game, despite a sparkling and powerful start by the ABs who scored a stunning try just 6 minutes in and threatened to run riot. Australia kept them at bay and they didn’t threaten the try line again – and were content with a workman-like and deserved victory to reach their third final.

That final will be managed by Craig Joubert who has had a magnificent World Cup and deserves his place behind the whistle on Sunday. By the time he blows the final whistle of the 2011 tournament, New Zealand should be crowned champions and send a nation into celebrations 24 years in the making.

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Brought-into Disrepute

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With England crashing out of the World Cup (and Tuilagi splashing out!), Ireland crushed by an inspirational Welsh side, Australia proving you dont need possession, territory or ability to win a Test match and New Zealand stuttering to a win over the battling Pumas, the main quarter final talking point was yet again the substandard performance of Bryce Lawrence, who looked inept and like a rabbit in the headlights as he took charge of Australia v South Africa.

It appears an odd decision to have a kiwi refereeing a match that would decide the likely team to play the All Blacks the week later. This was compounded by the numerous mistakes and indecision he showed, particularly in the closing stages where South Africa demolished a ramshackle Wallaby team in every facet of the match.

However, despite their dominance and the Aussies committing numerous indiscretions, Bryce seemed only interested in awarding scrums, until an innocuous issue at the lineout that he determined was deliberate and gave Australia a lifeline and passage into the Semi-finals.

Hopefully, the silver lining means that it is unlikely that Bryce will darken the World Cup again.

It appears that referees here are too getting more of a hard time from clubs. Broughton Park RFC in Manchester are being investigated after their online tirade against a referee in a recent match. The club have become known on occasions for some blinkered views of the game and dont appear to be a fan of referees at times.

The recent written outburst came after a losing performance against league leaders Sandbach, which they lost narrowly by 3 points. However, they missed two last minute penalties to pull off an upset. This fact is overlooked and undersold in their commentary. The only positive is the number of referees and clubs who have shown support for the ref concerned (who isnt me – but is an outstanding referee).

Yes its hypocritical to lambast Bryce Lawrence and then decry the actions of a club for seemingly doing the same – but Bryce is a professional and should not make the mistakes he does, Broughton Park hit out at a referee who actually had a great performance and was more sour grapes, Mancunian style*.

*It should be noted that the club have now altered their match report, which is a very welcome and positive move!

It started with a kick…

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Well the season proper has kicked off and the World Cup is on the cusp of monopolising the next six weeks. The Aussies have announced their pedigree to lift the Webb Ellis again and send the All Blacks into another four years of therapy. England finished off Ireland’s hopes and left them in a record low of eighth on the IRB Rankings – their lowest ever position.

The Wallabies victory was memorable for the role reversal in approach – with Australia running the ball and looking to counter attack at every opportunity. The blew New Zealand off the park in the first 40 mins before taking the foot of the pedal after the break. The main talking point was the innocuous knee to the head of Richie McCaw by Quade Cooper.

The attempt was pretty lame, but deliberate and Cooper was lucky (and relived) to be cleared by the citiing committee post match. The Aussies now enter the World Cup as growing favourites to win a third title.

Whilst the players and spectators prepare for the tournament to start, the rest of us have started a new season at grass roots. Following on from three good warm-up matches, the weekend saw the first round of the county cup competition. I took charge of a good local derby which turned out to be a tense affair in which the tumultuous weather played second fiddle to a bizarre incident late in the match.

After a break from their own line, the away team galloped up field before their dashing winger was tackled heavily into touch. This tackle was taken in poor spirit by the other players and the obligatory derby handbags were waved. During the episode their was an attempt to re-enact the ‘karate kid’ by one of the home team, leading to stunned silence from all present and an early bath. It was an odd moment in a brilliant match, which the home side managed to pinch at the death, playing out of their skins with a player short.

This week sees the obligatory RFU fitness (frustration!) test and then a trip down the M62 for another local derby. Hopefully they will stick to just kicking the ball and not each other….

Big Tackles, Big Trouble

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In recent years the IRB has reevaluated the head high tackle situation. Last season referees were told to consider at minimum a yellow card for high tackles (ie anything above the shoulder) and that referees should not use contextual judgement when considering a sanction.

Its clear that nobody told Fiji that during the recent Pacific Nations Cup. During the match against Japan they were penalised time and again, with all three match officials in action, as at times it seemed they were set on attempting to decapitate their hosts.

The commentators (typical Antipodean hoons) seem to be watching a State of Origin match from the 1970s rather than the game in front of you – and their commentary is somewhat comical. After the first red card they lambast the referees for a “controversial” decision. But sheepishly change their collective minds when the replay shows the poll-axe tackle that flattened the Japan centre.

The reckless tackling left Fiji struggling to keep players on the pitch, with 2 Red and 3 Yellow cards, meaning they finished the game with just 12 players on the pitch. There is definitely work underway to clean up rugby (except in France!) but it is a contact sport. That said – Fiji should have learnt their lesson with the first Yellow Card.

Paint by numbers…

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One thing that has really begun to grind on me this season is the prescriptive and unempathetic way referees are being instructed to “manage” matches. Referees are encouraged to count penalties, issue warnings and use yellow cards as part of their management strategy – but where does that leave room for instinct or feel for the game?

There is nothing within the Laws of the Game that either instruct or could be interpreted as this “paint by numbers” approach to refereeing the game. Why should a referee give warnings after penalty number “x” and then issue a yellow card after penalty number “y”? Where is the materiality and contextuality?

Coaches and captains now often demand a card for an opposition player – knowing that referees are being given a premeditated mandate for how they will manage penalty scenarios.

I was recently told in an assessment that I had missed a “golden opportunity” to issue a yellow card in the first ten minutes of a game – to a player who had retreated 9 meters and not 10 from a quick tap. Lets forget that it wasn’t in the magical “red zone” close to the try line and there were no trends at this point in the match. There were only 15 penalties all game, none of which warranted a technical yellow card.

Referees should be encouraged to manage the game they are in charge of – facilitate a safe and fun (yup FUN!) environment for 30 players to enjoy their sport.

I use my instinct to determine advantage in a game, and when that advantage is over, so surely I should be able to determine when a yellow card or even a penalty is needed within the context of the game.

I became a referee as injuries meant I couldn’t play any more – and I was determined to give something back to the sport I love. But there is a huge amount of politics, egos and opinions that are thrown at referees every week – but not from players; but their referee coaches, assessors and other “supporting” cast members!

Its important to get some input on law, positioning and other improvements to the game – but on how and when to manage penalties should be a discussion point – not a dictate!

South African referee Louis Wessels also highlights his views on the decline in management techniques and the over indulgence of cards to solve problem players.

Players play with instinct. Referees should be allowed to referee with some too…

Gagging for a gag

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Whilst the wild speculation surrounding a certain Welsh* Premiership footballer’s indiscretions off the pitch are now subject to a legal “gagging” order, another Welsh sportsman probably needs a gagging order – but one that shuts him up to save himself from himself!

Yes the orange one, playing in the red of Toulon looks likely to turn blue as he’s to be left out in the cold by his second club in two months since returning to the game after a self-imposed exile.

Gavin Henson has all the characteristics required to be a prima donna, bling wearing, over rated, well over payed, roll around on the floor yelling footballer – and perhaps he should consider it after his new team mates appear to have shunned him.

Wales might want to reconsider their thoughts on taking him to the Rugby World Cup he is clearly not completely stable and would cause more problems than its worth.

On a similar note, Englands most over-inflated ego, Delon Armitage (thank god for Ben Foden) is in trouble again. This time rather than taking a pop at an anti drug official, he slyly punched Northampton’s flyhalf Stephen Myler in the face. With any luck the England management will leave him at home when flights to New Zealand are booked.

Perhaps he can snuggle up with Gavin on the sofa to watch what there over inflated belief in their own press has cost them.

*Allegedly and according to the Manchester United fans forum!

Day saves the day…

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The eye-gouging allegation against Mark Cueto and the “compelling mitigation” received unusual support when the alleged victim, Northampton’s Christian Day, said he was not “gouged” by the England wing.

In a very supportive statement Day believed that the issue had been taken out of context and looked far worse than it was. He had been the victim of eye-gouging attempts previously – and this was not one of them: “It was a pushing motion from an open hand, I felt no contact with my eye.”

Cueto received a 9 week ban from the RFU after being cited following the fractious match between Sale and Northampton which Northampton won 53-24, running in eight tries.