Monday 26 February 2018

Referee Kaplan to clamp down on negative nonsense

Peter Bills

The rugby men of Wales and Ireland had better be warned. The southern hemisphere referee who takes charge of today's Six Nations clash in Cardiff is in no mood for nonsense.

South African official Jonathan Kaplan is unlikely to take kindly to the sort of stuff Welsh referee Nigel Owens put up with -- especially at scrum time -- in the match between Scotland and Ireland in Edinburgh two weeks ago.

The shenanigans at the scrum, plus assorted other offences by a group of players as wily as a wagon-load of monkeys, drove Owens nearly to distraction.

Just about every offence in the book was on display that day in a game bursting with indiscipline from both sets of players. Yet Owens only showed one yellow card. You could say the nonsense had another effect -- it dragged Owens' performance down to the low level of the players on the day. He is normally a far better referee than that.

But if Ireland's shockingly indisciplined players think they will get away with more of the same in Cardiff, they'd better think again.

Kaplan will meet both coaches and captains before the match and will stress one factor above all others: be positive.

Kaplan will ensure that negativity doesn't shroud the game. He will demand players stay on their feet at the breakdown and do not seal off the ball, and will try to make sure ball is rapidly recycled from the breakdown.

Nor is he likely to tolerate incessant scrum collapses. Kaplan is a tough enough match official to wave more than one yellow card if he deems several players to be equally culpable.

There are two reasons for this state of affairs, which ought to concentrate the minds of the players in today's game. The first is the speed at which most matches have been played in the early weekends of the southern hemisphere's Super 15 this year. A premium has been put on ensuring the ball is freed instantly at the breakdown. This is seen, correctly, as the key to the type of game most teams want to play in the Super 15.

Most referees will not tolerate players slowing down release of second-phase possession, and Kaplan is especially hot on this.

It might be a different hemisphere in Cardiff, but Wales and Ireland should understand that Kaplan's determination to officiate in a positive manner will not change.

The second reason is that Kaplan is on top of his game. He had a spell last year when some of his displays fell away from what had been a consistently high standard. But he has started this year in fine form.

By nature, Kaplan is unlike referees such as his fellow South Africans Craig Joubert and Marius Jonker. He believes if the referee is positive and imparts that philosophy to the players before a game, then they have every chance to match his outlook. As a consequence, the whole spectacle can benefit hugely.

He is not enamoured of players who show indiscipline. And he has never been afraid to use yellow cards to enforce his point. Had Owens done so at Murrayfield, it is quite likely a completely different type of game would have ensued.

So Wales and Ireland have been warned. They would be well advised to desist from such practices this weekend.

Irish Independent

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