Fans puzzled as Poite takes centre stage
That Romain Poite from Toulouse is the referee for today's Heineken Cup final is about as beneficial to understanding the complexities of the scrum in Cardiff as it is working out that meaningless proverb, "one does not lick a stamp with the aid of the Niagara Falls."
M Poite made a banjax of the scrums in the Ireland-Italy match in Rome in February, was then honoured with the England-Scotland affair at Twickenham and then his CV was sufficiently enhanced that he shall be a big-shot ref at the World Cup in New Zealand this autumn.
Clearly, the International Rugby Board, an august body, operate on a planet a fair distance from the latitudes inhabited by the rest of us.
Who appoints the refs? Officially we are aware that New Zealander Paddy O'Brien is the IRB's referees director and that he's assisted by a small committee in assessing the capabilities of referees. But the thousands of spectators and TV viewers who have "assessed" Poite find the IRB's appointment puzzling -- to put it at its most diplomatic.
There's no doubt that the major problem affecting rugby -- professional and amateur -- is the problem of referees untutored in the shenanigans of scrummaging.
Few of us reared far from the front-rows have any great knowledge of what's going on, but it seems that the confrontations in the scrums are a closed book too as far as even the most experienced referees are concerned.
The great mystery is that in former times, problems like these didn't really arise.
Paddy Madigan (remember him? -- a hooker that Ken Kennedy kept off the Irish team, who was on Tony O'Reilly's Belvedere College schools team, who played regularly for Leinster and became president of the IRFU) -- once told me that the IRB made a mistake when they decided that possession in two sectors became predictable.
Madigan yearned for the days when hookers competed for the ball in scrums, and line-outs were not virtually confined to the side throwing in the ball.
"Those predictable phases of the game have caused our problems; unpredictability should never have been done away with," he said.
That a couple of Irish referees -- Alain Rolland, George Clancy and the now retired Alan Lewis -- are among that exclusive list of the better performers is not surprising as we recall such universally respected officials as Kevin Kelleher, Paddy D'Arcy, John West, Steve Hilditch, Dave Burnett, Owen Doyle and Dave McHugh.
For a long time, until internationals became more prolific, Kelleher was ranked as the top official on the list and he and D'Arcy, in the 1960s, were virtually in charge of most matches for a few seasons. Before that there was the much respected Welsh referee Gwyn Walters.
Later, another Welsh referee, Clive Norling, introduced a new look, employing his touch-judges as assistants, before the IRB laws accepted that. John West, of course, claims that the West Stand in Cardiff is so named in his honour, but some of us tend to doubt that.