Referees chief O'Brien hits back at Kidney's criticism
The northern hemisphere's leading rugby referees have been told to adopt a policy of zero tolerance on issues seen as crucial to improving the game.
Top officials from the northern hemisphere met in London this week and were warned by IRB referee co-ordinator Paddy O'Brien that "refer-eeing is not a popularity contest. Stop trying to be popular and do your job."
O'Brien continued: "We have given referees a very strong message. Anyone that doesn't comply will be found out when it comes to selection for future games."
O'Brien said that the meeting was called to ensure that from this June, when the northern hemisphere nations travel to the southern hemisphere for Test matches, there will be complete uniformity in referee interpretations and handling of games. The players and coaches will have 15 months to adapt to the new interpretations before the next World Cup, long enough, O'Brien insists, for everyone to get used to the changes and understand what is coming.
"We want consistency across all competitions from June onwards, so that when we get to the Test matches and especially next year's World Cup, there will be no misunderstandings."
Irish coach Declan Kidney criticised what he called the introduction of the new law interpretations "midway through the Six Nations," but O'Brien, in a thinly-veiled riposte, rejected such assertions. "I've been frustrated with some of the misleading information that has been put out about this. All the coaches were well aware of how the Six Nations would be refereed. But that is yesterday -- let's focus on tomorrow.
"The bottom line is that referees are coming under more and more criticism. Sometimes that is justified, but by no means always.
"Some of the correspondence I receive is so misinformed. People don't understand the actual laws. However, we have told officials to adopt a zero tolerance because it must be the same for everyone. We have told officials, 'if you don't referee according to the laws, you are letting down your mates because it will cause confusion'. That has to be done.
"We are well aware that some coaches have criticised us for inconsistency. But from June on, we expect any such inconsistency to be eliminated from the game."
The IRB's justified crackdown on key areas of the game, several of which have stifled attacking rugby, will remain firmly in place. That is good news. Five crucial aspects are involved -- the scrum sequence, the tackle area, offside around the fringes of ruck and maul, offside in general play, especially after downfield kicks and finally, formation of the maul.
O'Brien admitted that action was overdue. "We have been very conscious of the amount of space in the game. We haven't been happy with the offside around rucks and mauls. But probably the most difficult aspect to improve is the scrum where there have been too many collapses.
"The referee has to be the boss at the scrum. The players must wait for his call. Teams that do not adhere to the referee's sequence will be penalised. There will be no tolerance."