Referees instructed to clamp down on 'football-style' backchat in Six Nations
Referees have been instructed to crack down on ‘football-style’ backchat by players during the NatWest Six Nations Championship.
Referees have been encouraged to issuing yellow cards or penalise the offending team and march them back 10 metres, if officials feel that their decisions are not being respected.
It is understood the directive was agreed at a meeting between referees and the head coaches at a meeting at Heathrow airport on Wednesday.
The issue of dissent towards officials has been an increasing concern for rugby’s powerbrokers, after a number of high-profile incidents, such as Wales fly-half Dan Biggar’s reaction to South African referee Craig Joubert after he was shown a yellow card against Australia in Nov 2016.
Player backchat to referees was top of the agenda on Wednesday and there was a general consensus about the need to reaffirm the policy of only captains speaking to officials.
There will also be a crackdown on players gesturing for opponents to be issued with yellow cards in instances of foul play. Penalty decisions can also be reversed in such incidents.
Premiership Rugby issued a similar crackdown at the start of last season in a move to stamp out signs of football-style dissent towards officials creeping into the game to preserve the sport’s core value of respect.
It is understood the meeting was described as “highly-positive and constructive”, with coaches, players and match officials collectively agreeing they have a responsibility to ensure that a positive approach is maintained and the laws of the game upheld and as well as a consistent approach to officiating.
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Discussions also included ‘game management and coaching approach’, including scrum stability, offside at the tackle and ruck.
Scrum-halves, for example, will no longer be able to roll the ball back into the base of the ruck with their hands unless the ball is trapped under players on the ground. Scrum-halves will instead have to use their feet or they could be penalised or the referee will say the ball is out and the ruck is over, allowing opposition players to compete for it.
Coaches were also told at the meeting that the match officials would be less tolerant of scrum infringements, including early engagement and crooked feeds. There was agreement that there is a collective responsibility to maintain stability in the scrum.
Referees will also focus on ensuring that space for the attacking side is not prevented illegally by defences, with offside at the tackle and ruck and from restarts and maintaining a gap in the lineout among the focus areas.
French referee Jerome Garces also ran a session on penalty try alignment and English referee Wayne Barnes explained the approach to deliberate knock-ons.
Nigel Owens, who will referee France versus Ireland in Paris tomorrow said: “We get together as a group with the assistant referees and TMOs quite a few times a year before and during the international windows to prepare as best we can as a team.
“It is hugely beneficial. We are always learning and striving to improve our accuracy and consistency from match to match and the group works really hard.
“Because we are together a lot, there is great alignment. It is a case of more of the same for the Six Nations after a good November, while always looking for continual improvement. We are focusing on a competitive scrum, promotion of space for the attacking side and enabling the defending team to have a fair chance to win the ball.”