Sunday 18 February 2018

O'Brien and Co's edicts not helping state of Nations

Sean Diffley

Who is responsible for plunging the Six Nations into ludicrous controversy and giving only a couple of days notice on the new interpretations of rugby's playing laws?

Was it the Einsteinian brilliance of Paddy O'Brien, the New Zealander and elite referees' manager, who lives in New Zealand and not in Dublin, where the International Rugby Board (IRB) -- his employers -- are based?

Nearly a thousand years ago one of Paddy's ancestors, you may recall, didn't roll away in his tackle against the Danes and won the Battle of Clontarf and 980 years later, in 1999, O'Brien refereed the last of his three internationals at Lansdowne Road when he presided at England's victory over Ireland.

But I digress slightly. It is, of course, O'Brien and Co who are the guilty party.

There is a five-man sub-committee -- two from the northern hemisphere and two from the south -- but it's a well-known fact that O'Brien has the casting vote and, no doubt, the support of his two southern colleagues.

The two from south of the equator are Tappe Henning from South Africa and Bob Francis from New Zealand and from the north there is Steve Hilditch from Ireland and Michel Lamoulie from France.

Hilditch was a good referee and took charge of 17 Test matches. He is ranked among the top 11 inter-national referees.

I've never heard of the other three, but I gather the duties of the four are confined to producing a list of their judgments on whom they consider to be the most efficient referees. They hand this list to O'Brien, who inflicts his choices on all the Tests, including the Six Nations.

Then we consider the basic matter of facts. The Irish coach Declan Kidney -- usually diplomatic to a fault -- the highly-qualified manager Paul McNaughton, players of the calibre of Brian 0'Driscoll and Paul 0'Connell are all adamant that they only learned of the 'new' interpretation of the tackle law a few days before the Welsh match last Saturday.

O'Brien insists that the whole matter was clarified back in November.

A plethora of sources in the Six Nations challenge that assertion, however, and, as one put it: "Changing players' mindsets halfway through a competition is unacceptable."

Really, what's it all about?

The consensus in Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales and probably France, is that the countries south of the equator are suffering from a lack of finance and lack of sponsorship and they believe that a plethora of tries will fill those empty spaces in the stands and entice more people to enhance the TV ratings.

More and more, the rugby denizens of New Zealand, Australia and South Africa seem to be attempting to embrace certain aspects of rugby league.

But the statistics don't encourage that approach as -- in this part of the world -- rugby league is mainly confined to an area in the north of England.

In contrast, each season, at least a million spectators will watch the Six Nations and, whatever the standards, the crowds still turn up. England may be boring the lives out of everybody, but they still overfill Twickenham.

One bit of advice for O'Brien -- "Return to Kincora no more."

Irish Independent

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