The biggest thing for me is empathy for the game, which may sound a bit flowery but involves a referee understanding what impact -- positively or negatively -- his decisions will have on the game, and developing a really good understanding there. The other thing is offside in midfield, particularly when you're at a wide ruck and the offside line is breached in the middle of the field because the defending team hasn't had the time to get back. And finally, entry at the breakdown. It happens so rapidly but if you've got really good empathy you'll know if a guy loses his feet by trying to stop the ball coming out intentionally, or if he's trying hard to get out of a compromising position and doesn't manage it.
It would be great to see improvement in a few areas. Firstly, we can't get a balanced scrum if the number eights are counter-balancing the front five, then firing them into the engagement like sling shots. Equally, the front rows need to start square and genuinely attempt to stay square with their shoulders at least level with their hips. At the tackle we need a genuine and immediate 'release and roll away' by the tackler, instead of him impeding support players by loitering. Finally, at the breakdown, there's still a lot of sealing going on: rather than engage an opponent the support player angles straight down onto the tackled player, which kills off any fair contest. I think these improvements are achievable.
I'm biased in that a fast game suits us but I'd love if referees were prepared to consistently penalise offending teams rather than back off because they're afraid they're giving away too many penalties. I think teams push the boundaries as far as possible knowing that the ref might be reluctant to keep blowing his whistle. But if the sin bins keep filling up then coaches will react accordingly. At the same time, and I know this sounds contradictory, they need to have an understanding of what to blow and what to let go. An easy area to improve is the back of the ruck. There's no grey area here: if you're not behind the hindmost foot, you're offside. So penalise it.
The way the scrum has gone it's all about the team going forward. I've no problem with rewarding the dominant team if they're, say, 95 per cent legal but that's not what's happening. Popping up is a favourite tactic here in France and if you have momentum then you get the decision. If you're dominant then you should be able to do it by staying down. But it's all about size and power and I don't see much room left for the smaller but technically proficient front row. I couldn't see Paul Wallace doing now what he did for the Lions in South Africa in '97. The other thing is sealing off. Maybe it's because I'm a defence coach but it's so hard to contest the ball with the amount of sandbagging going on. It's unreal.
Sunday Indo Sport