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The Roar


World Rugby and the refs are killing the game

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Roar Guru
5th October, 2019
11595 Reads

When we, the rugby community, want to try out a new experimental law – as we regularly should – we get World Rugby to sanction a trial.

Then that trial is carried out under controlled conditions, in lower-level competitions. For example, the Stellenbosch trials of several years ago, or the various trials of innovative concepts such as the 50-20 kick, or the idea where if the ball is held up over the try line, the restart is a goal-line dropout rather than a five-metre scrum.

A lot of people around the world would not know about these, but these are trials that are actually currently happening in the Australian National Rugby Championship, and there have been many similar trials of new ideas around the world, over many years, and many of those have never resulted in the particular idea seeing the light of day.

My point is that we painstakingly try out these new ideas in lower level leagues, and they are assessed by the powers that be at World Rugby. They may or may or not find their way into the law book, but the important point is they are not trialled at the highest level.

They are trialled so that they can eventually be melded into the fabric of the game and used at every level of competition, all the way to the Rugby World Cup, so that all nations and all regions are not disadvantaged.

And yet, here we are at the World Cup, where some governing body – maybe the referees, maybe World Rugby – has imposed this head contact rule on the game, apparently without any real thought for the fact that they are destroying this tournament as a spectacle.


The whole head contact issue is important, and yes, it needs to be heavily policed and mandated. But is the RWC the proper place to do it?

Why not crack down on it in the intervening years? There are plenty of competitions and plenty of opportunities for the governing body and the referees to get it right.

I wrote a while back that by giving people red cards and forcing an uneven contest, we are ruining our game. This RWC is living proof of that.

The referees and the TMOs are killing this as a spectacle. There is no doubt about that.

Watching Nigel Owens send off Argentina’s Tomas Lavanini against England, I felt for both of them, both Owens and Lavanini. The referee had no choice and the player was dead to rights. What a shame.

Tomas Lavanini

(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Why do we have to put up with the inevitability of it?

Rugby is a tough game, played by tough people, of all different shapes and sizes, who willingly play the game, knowing the risks.


Dirty play should always be sanctioned, but when the officials start second guessing the players, then there is a major disconnect.

When big men are tackling smaller men in games at great speed, it is inevitable that there will be innocent mistakes made.

Here is the message: World Rugby and referees, you are killing our game.

This may not be a big deal in some parts of the established rugby world, but it a huge problem in places where rugby is not the main game.

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That’s not just Australia, where we suffer competition from three other codes, but in places like Uruguay, where their football team has won the FIFA World Cup twice, and, in fact, most nations where football is the main game, or the USA and Canada that are absolute minnows.

Education of the players is the answer, but doing it by forcing a new regime of red cards and citings at the once-in-four-years spectacle of the Rugby World Cup is not the appropriate forum for it.

On the one hand, we have Japan winning hearts and minds through the highly organised way that they are running this tournament, and then you almost have the rugby governing body working against those efforts to spoil the game as a spectacle.

It’s just all out of whack.