Friday 23 March 2018

Why referee supremo O'Brien needs to do his homework

Sean Diffley

ThE International Rugby Board's single-minded concentration on the scrum has all the hallmarks of an investigation by the famous Pinkerton Detective Agency.

Remember Dashiell Hammett, of 'The Maltese Falcon' and 'The Thin Man' among other classics? Close observation was the order of the day, taciturn, tight-lipped.

Just a menacing word, a baleful order -- like crouch, touch, pause... engage.

Or, are the machinations of the IRB and its referee manager Paddy O'Brien, more akin to the starting of a 100m sprint? On your marks, set... bang! Once upon a time if you broke before the gun went you were given a second chance. Not any more. One break these days and it's back to the dressing-rooms (although the first person to jump the gun does get a reprieve).

And it's only one transgression now at the scrums. If you move before the engage pronouncement is made, then it's either a full penalty to the non-offending side, or a free-kick, all depending on which side the referee got out of his bed that morning.

The great enforcer behind the operations of the scrum and the other new laws is New Zealander O'Brien, who conducts most of his IRB duties from his home.

He has experienced members in a five-man sub-committee which recommends referees which they believe capable of officiating at international matches.

Steve Hilditch from Belfast is the only one of the five to have officiated at international level, although Dave Pickering played 23 times for Wales as a well-regarded flanker.

These five nominate 20 referees and O'Brien duly picks his men for the various matches.

I don't think there is much argument that the committee and O'Brien didn't execute their duties very well with the choice of the New Zealander Keith Brown for Ireland's match against Samoa. He lost the plot, didn't he?

One thing is for certain -- Irish referees are highly regarded in the international game.

Ireland have four top-class referees, as have South Africa -- both more than any other country.

The highly rated Irish officials are Alain Rolland, Alan Lewis, George Clancy and Peter Fitzgibbon.

As for those pesky set scrums that take longer than a pint of plain to settle (the pint not the scrums), maybe the referees should consider quick possession as more desirable than referring matters, every time, to the Supreme Court.

But please, no speeches from the dock by that clown on the sidelines.

Irish Independent

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