I am a 76-year-old lifelong rugby union enthusiast from the Sunshine Coast.
On 12 September I travelled three hours by road to Brisbane, then joined friends for the rail trip to Cbus Super Stadium on the Gold Coast to watch four of the top seven rugby nations battle it out. I was genuinely excited to see a unique international rugby double-header. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
To say I came away bitterly disappointed and let down is an understatement of immense proportions.
When the ball was actually in play, both games were terrific to watch. However, the flow, impetus and spectacle were comprehensively murdered by constant hold-ups for consultation, review, more consultation and more review. It took up to five minutes on some occasions for the referee, assistant referees and the television match official to ratify or change the original decision of the referee.
This is just nonsense, and it’s killing our wonderful game. In many cases rugby games have become borefests.
The demands made by the faceless lawmakers of the World Rugby, whoever they are, certainly ensure that correct decisions ensue, but there is no consideration given to the paying public, who are now attending games in ever-decreasing numbers.
The frustration voiced by those sitting around me at Cbus last weekend was palpable. There were calls of, “No wonder people don’t come any more” and, “This is so boring!”. On and on they went, and I agreed with them entirely. There were even numerous Mexican waves, which is surely an ominous sign that something was sorely amiss with the spectacle.
The fallible human element is a key to all sports. It forms an integral part of the game’s attraction. We all make mistakes, and so do rugby referees, as they have done over the decades. This provides fuel for vigorous public discussion and debate in bars and homes in the aftermath, which in turn keeps the game alive. Surely that’s healthy.
Other codes are showing the way and in the process are killing rugby union. In AFL, for example, the game is played at a non-stop rate with instant decisions being made by umpires on the fly, some to the ire of supporters but welcomed by others, which in turn brings the game alive and makes it a vibrant spectacle that attracts huge crowds week after week. It is much the same with the NRL. Games are free-flowing with constant action, referee mistakes and all. Crowds and viewers love it.
In rugby union it appears that referees and TMOs are stamping their authority on the game in the search for error-free or perfect matches. It’s not their fault; the lawmakers are to blame.
Referees are so fearful of making career-threatening mistakes that they are hampering the joys and spectacles of the games they control. But the referees do not make up the laws, they merely police them. Those laws are being created by the rugby pedants who have little appreciation for the long-term future of the game and for those of us who once loved it – and could love it again!