It’s tough at the top, or so they say. The reality is that actually it is tougher in the middle. The expectations placed on referees is growing at all levels of the game, and none more so than those lucky (?!) few who make the international grade.
Tomorrow England face Argentina in their opening World Cup clash in Dunedin. The most significant name on the team sheet is that of one Bryce Lawrence, the New Zealand referee charged with the arbitration of the match.
Normally the choice of referee is simply a matter of curiosity as a rugby fan, but this selection has some serious significance. England have NEVER won a game with Lawrence in charge. Coincidence? Maybe.
But then consider that the recent shock (but deserved) win of Italy over France in this year’s Six Nations had signore Lawrence at the helm. In matches with southern hemisphere versus northern hemisphere teams the south have always prevailed. Bias? Maybe.
Worst of all, Lawrence had the most significant impact on the 2009 British Lions tour to South Africa.
He officiated the first test so badly that most international press had a field day in criticising his quality and pedigree – he is after all the only New Zealand international referee (Steve Walsh in now Australian) and his dad was also an international referee.
He came into his own special league less than 60 seconds into the second British Lions test when he made the recommendation to yellow card Schalk Burger for eye gouging! Any under 9 player could tell you that contact with the eyes is a simple and straight red – a concept seemingly way beyond Lawrence. Incompetence? Maybe.
So tomorrow promises to be a tough day at the office for England. Even if a competent display is forthcoming will Lawrence favour the south over the north, the underdog over the favourite, as appears to have been is form for the last 3 years at International level. Anomaly? Maybe…..
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….
Lent is traditionally the time when we all consider giving up our guilty pleasures for a short period. An abstinence to purge the mind, body and soul. Sometimes too, as the hallowed clock strikes the strokes of midnight to usher in the New Year, we slur some drunken resolution to kick a bad habit. It seems the Kiwi’s have gone a step further…
In order to get the country behind the All Blacks in their bid to win the World Cup (now just 21 sleeps away!) New Zealand Telecom are promoting “Abstain for the game”… In effect, give up the sheep shagging for the entire duration of the competition and help the ABs lift the Webb Ellis Trophy.
You have got to ask yourself – what the hell does refraining from sex have anything to do with the team winning? You could understand the players getting a ban – but the whole country? Is this a subtle but not very effective teenage pregnancy decoy – or was there a massive baby boom 27 years ago that they dont wish to repeat in the current economic climate.
It’ll make the post Try celebrations a little more interesting, the ABs pile on top of one another like footballers, this could be considered a bit of dry humping and surely lead to a ban?! Perhaps all the opposition need to do is bring in some hot, nubile ladies (and sheep for the front row) to distract the under-sexed ABs?!
Rocky Elsom already seems to have got in on the act as he has given up the captaincy of the Wallabies (or had it stripped from him) – which seems staggering given how close the start of the tournament is, and does not bode well for their camp.
Meanwhile, whilst BlackKitGate cools down, the Kiwis are now focusing their shirt wearing wrath at Addidas as a price war has broken out over the cost of replica All Black shirts.
Its probably cheaper to buy the England or Wales away kit instead!
With what seems like a blink of the eye, the new season has swung round already and Saturday will see the first outing for me to see battle joined for 2011/12.
Training has intensified, but it still feels less like Rocky Balboa and more like too many Rocky Roads in the off season! The key focus for me this season will be to improve my lineout work – which I discovered I clearly have an issue with at the end of the season when we were all asked to submit a review of our seasons assessments. How I had not picked up that lineouts were my Achilles heel is beyond me – but at least I know I can fix it.
My first two fixtures are National League sides – my first are playing a National League touring side from Scotland. Both should prove to be stern tests and provide the right warm up ahead of a hard schedule for the opening two months of the season – which includes five exchanges in the first six weeks!
Its an exciting start to the season too, as shortly after the first whistles are blown the Rugby World Cup will start in earnest in New Zealand. The All Blacks continued to underline their favourite tags with a significant thrashing of the Springboks in a bizarrely half empty stadium in Wellington.
They also unveiled their new look kit – including their new away kit. Which is all white. This after some huffing and puffing from Jonah Lomu about Englands new all black kit! This also followed on from Eddie Jones’ odd outburst about England’s chances at the World Cup (still bitter after 2003 perhaps?!) or perhaps just a lack of recent press/needs a job – this surely means David Campese will be next to come up with some utter bollocks. Given the current up and down form of the Aussies, and the fact we thumped them last time we played them, you think they’d wind their convict necks in!
For now I need to focus on the task in hand and hope I can get through my first match on Saturday.