Tony Ward: Here’s to hearing alot less from refs in 2012
My 10 big New Year wishes include end to officials’ irritating scrum talk and a breakthrough for Fionn Carr
In the lead-in to every season, goal-planning is central to player preparation. Realistic individual and collective targets are set. I'm not too sure it was that much different in my day, only overall objectives were of a more personalised nature.
Now it is a fundamental part of the build-up, with every conceivable type of help sought in hitting reasonably achievable plans.
My wishes for 2012 are of a more generalised nature -- irritating things I would like to see addressed in the coming year to make the game a better experience for players and spectators alike. The role of match officials is key, for without the considered input of the referee and his touch judges there can be no game.
That will be my over-riding theme, but in no specific order here is my wish list for 2012.
1 With our biennial trek to Six Nations defeat on Gallic soil scheduled for Saturday, February 11 at Stade de France, let that game be our initial target for 2012.
Forget talk of finally beating the All Blacks in June and concentrate instead on a Six Nations trip to a country where our record is lamentable in the modern era.
For the record, only once in the last 20 Five/Six Nations matches stretching back to 1972 have we emerged victorious in Paris.
We did register a win in Jimmy Davidson's first international in charge at Auch in 1988, but that match was deemed one of two uncapped games on that four-match tour.
Despite the extraordinary shift in provincial confidence when heading to France in the Heineken Cup -- specifically our two premier sides -- we still haven't managed to hack it at the highest level.
Whereas Munster and Leinster travel expecting success, for the national team, whether it be at Stade Colombes, Parc des Princes or Stade de France (apart from the incredible Brian O'Driscoll-inspired victory in 2000) we appear consistently caught in a straitjacket of fear.
One win in nine attempts in France since the game went professional is simply not good enough. One win in 40 years of trying borders on embarrassment at this stage.
Beating Wales in Lansdowne Road will be tough, but if we manage that win the week before, that all-consuming commodity called momentum should be in place to ensure we give it a traditional Mick Doyle-style lash when we run out in Paris on February 11.
2 Connacht to qualify for the Heineken Cup for the second year running, irrespective of the route. It will have to be on the back of a Big 3 -- Munster/ Leinster/ Ulster -- outright success again in 2012, but so what?
The more experience gained at this level the better they will be for it. The benefit to young up-and-coming players of the calibre of Tiernan O'Halloran, Eoin Griffin, Kyle Tonetti, Niall O'Connor, David McSharry cannot be overstated.
Connacht have been a welcome addition to the premier tournament and while qualification through the Pro12 is the prime objective for now, any way will do.
3 Allied to that, I would like to see the governing body exercise a far more fluent internal movement of fringe players at the Big 3 provinces to Connacht.
What is the point in Ian Nagle, Willie Faloon or Andrew Conway not even getting the occasional bench splinter in his ass at Munster, Ulster and Leinster respectively when all three (and significantly more) could be getting precious game time with Connacht?
It is time for the union to back words with action: there must be a more fluid movement of potentially good players west.
It would be a win-win situation.
4 That Fionn Carr, a successful product of the cross-province system, finally makes the breakthrough that increased game time (in the absence of so many top-tier Leinster backs for the Six Nations) should present.
Without wishing to apply undue pressure, I see a player with attacking potential over and above the ordinary.
Let's stop hearing what he can't do and concentrate instead on what he can -- score tries and create opportunities for others with minimal opportunity and maximum effect.
To draw the soccer parallel here, he is an old-fashioned winger who runs at and terrorises defences.
5 That Sevens finally be taken seriously by a governing body that still fails to grasp the significance and benefit of full-time involvement on the circuit.
Of course there are financial constraints, but the return far outweighs the risk, and think what an Irish-based Sevens tournament on the schedule might generate in terms of added income for the economy.
What we are witnessing is tokenism in terms of the Shamrock Warriors Irish Sevens club on the basis of a possible green light from the powers that be in 2013, regarding the 2016 Olympics. Who is fooling who here?
6 That "crouch-touch-pause-engage" be removed from the lexicon of global rugby and, more to the point, that referees return to the level whereby the less heard, the less seen the better the performance.
Am I alone in finding it the most excruciating element to rugby coverage?
With the greatest of respect to my many refereeing friends, when on live duty where the option exists, I switch them off.
Even were the coming 12 months to see it sliced to "crouch-engage" (with the match official controlling the line of engagement) it would be a step in the right direction to removing the most repetitive irritation known to man!
7 Closely linked is the earnest hope that touch judges perform their relatively simple task much more efficiently.
We are not talking match-determining bloopers of the Peter Allan (remember Cardiff) scale but straightforward assistance for the referee in calling off-the-ball incidents, particularly those within the immediate area in which they are standing.
The odd bit of assertiveness in avoiding 'going upstairs' to the Television Match Official too might help. Where there is doubt, go. Where there is not, be bold and call try/no try with conviction.
8 Back to the central character in rugby today (some of them are now media personalities in their own right) -- the referee.
Again I look to the best, to Alain Rolland, who sets the bar for all the rest.
First and foremost, where a knock-on occurs I would urge the official to hold fire on the whistle and, as exemplified by Rolland, let play develop to see if the non-offending side will regain possession from the next phase.
It's called feel for the game -- and if nothing else helps avoid another couple of minutes wasted with another mind-numbing scrum.
9 As a follow-on to that, safety allowing, when the scrum collapses, if the ball is at the No 8's feet or well down the relevant channel, that the referee lets the scrum-half sweep it away.
Is there anything more irritating than a series of excruciating scrums?
10 One concluding desire for 2012 of the man in the middle. No more on-field warnings.
Stick with the pre-match lecture and when the first professional foul takes place, produce a card straightaway. Trust me, the potential problem (in testing the referee) will be removed in an instant.
PS Finally on a personal note, the wish that so-called true Blues or dyed-in-the-wool Reds get the message that I don't care whether it is Leinster or Munster dominating.
I judge each game objectively on its merits and call it and individual performance accordingly. Praise of one is not implied criticism of the other.
To those who choose to read it otherwise, get a life.
That said here's to a magical rugby year in 2012.