Saturday 21 July 2018

Back chat at rugby referees is on the rise - time to crack down by using 10 metres law more

Referee Nigel Owens
Referee Nigel Owens

Mick Cleary

It was no more than a rap across the knuckles, the one-week ban handed out to Anthony Watson for his volley of abuse after being sent for a dangerous aerial collision with Alex Goode (for which he got a further one-week suspension).

Of course you can understand Watson’s frustration. He is not a dirty or malicious player. But he got his jump wrong, albeit hampered on his run-up. Goode was clattered. The decision was correct. And off he went.

He let rip. And has paid a bit of a price. The sanction was probably just about OK in this particular incident. It was not the most heinous outburst. But there needs to be a greater crack-down. There needs to be less chat-back allowed from players. And there needs to be far more use of the march-back-10-metres law. It is one of the game’s best laws. But it is used less and less.

There was a time when the 10 metre ruling was regularly invoked. A raised eyebrow to question a decision and back you go sunshine. There was an instant response then from the offending team. Or rather the teammates of the muppet who had spoken out of turn. Suddenly the opposition goal-kicker is within range and over goes the three-point penalty. And for what? Just to get a bit of heated emotion off the chest. Peer group pressure would then ensure it did not happen again.

The authorities have only themselves to blame for the tendency of players to question decisions. Not overtly, but subtly. It is part of the touchy-feely world in which we live, this desire to engage and promote interaction, the right of everyone to have their say, a spin-off from the meritocracy of social media.

Refs are encouraged to talk with players. There is not a game goes by without this or that comment made to refs, the subtle gnawing away at their position of responsibility. It has got to the daft level where refs point out to players that they are offending and for them to get back onside or get out of the maul or whatever.

The best refs, of course, still thrive and still have that air of authority that is so vital. Nigel Owens is the master of the putting-in-place comment. "Now then, Christopher," as he said to Chris Robshaw, invoking the Christian name that is probably only ever used by Robshaw’s mother. "This is not football," is another of Owen’s put-downs.

But if you encourage player interaction then it is going to spill over, especially at lower levels. The ref, whether he makes a complete horlicks of a decision or not, is always right, even when he is wrong.

So, let’s have less chat and more marching ‘em back 10 yards. 

Online Editors

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