The IRB must simplify the rules of rugby

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Super Rugby is suffering from inconsistent refereeing. AAP Image/Lukas Coch

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I was reading the comments of some English and Welsh supporters on the weekend and the conversation inevitably moved on to Steve Walsh and the manner in which he officiated in the match.

As some might know the English coaching staff wanted some explanations on certain interpretations during the game.

Graham Rountree, the forwards coach, wanted clarification on the scrums and breakdowns.

England only managed to win one out of four scrums on their own feed and conceded a total of 12 penalties and four free kicks during the match.

According to one article, the Welsh have conceded that they dropped six scrums in total, but the English were penalised for not being able to keep the scrum up.

Further to what I read this weekend, the Welsh supporters are rather proud of the fact that their team “played to the referee” better than the English.

Going back to a rather painful episode during the quarter final when South Africa were ousted by Australia, a similar situation occurred when John Smit, then captain of the Springboks, and Victor Matfield the vice captain commented after the match that Bryce Lawrence was not interested in communicating with them on-field.

They felt like Australia was getting away with murder at the breakdown.

In that game Australia managed to defend their 22 without conceding one penalty in the red zone, despite the fact that they spent a very large proportion of the match under pressure.

This after John O’Neill criticised Bryce Lawrence heavily for his performance during the pool loss to Ireland.

“There was some pretty nasty political stuff going on about that appointment.

“I refereed Australia versus Ireland and Ireland had won but behind the scenes guys like John O’Neill were kicking up a massive stink.”

“I knew a bit about that and it was enough to affect me, and it probably made me freeze on the biggest stage.”

The sad thing about refereeing rugby on such a big stage is the impact that they and their interpretations can have on the modern game.

Their every move can now be scrutinised in slow motion and high definition and any flawed performance is there for anyone to see.

Obviously not all these performances will impact the result of a game.

It does, however, have the ability to influence large parts of the game at critical moments. An incorrect penalty against an attacking team can halt momentum, release pressure and importantly swing that momentum and pressure to the opposite side.

But, and this is a big but, it is unfair to lay the blame on the shoulders of referees as it is nigh on impossible to get two referees to agree on the course of action when some of these indiscretions occur.

I have spoken to a candidate referee within the Lions rugby union, and he tells me when they discuss video tapes of ruck situations, the varying opinions in regard to these studies are scary to say the least.

The reality is referees are human, and with the complications of rugby laws and the varying manner in which they are interpreted in classrooms would suggest it to be very challenging to get a clean sheet during a match.

In my view this all boils down to the number of sub-divisions you would find under each law, be it the breakdown, the scrum or any other area.

It is therefore imperative that the IRB look at simplification of the laws. Not more laws and no further subdividing of laws, but simple, easily understood and interpreted laws.

Just an example of these laws are the breakdowns, where a referee has so many different issues, be it entering through the gate, the offside line, holding on, releasing the tackled player and numerous more that need to be monitored.

In all likelihood you could find a penalty at every ruck.

I don’t want to see rugby being touted as a game where supporters are proud that their team “played to the referee” better than the opposition.

This is not the diving board or gymnastics (Pieter de Villiers will attest to that), where a panel of judges score you for pointing your toes, or entering the water with minimal disturbance.

This is rugby.

It is supposed to be about physical dominance, superior skills and execution. It is a game where men and women grunt, bellow and bash their opponents with the aim of putting fear and hesitation in your mind.

Where you run an opponent into the ground, and in some cases (most likely amateurs) can have a beer after the game and swap stories until midnight.

IRB, please get your act together and simplify our sport.

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