Adam Hathaway, rugby correspondent of The People, says that referees should put the players back in their boxes and stop coaching them as well and finally gives the RFU a pat on the back.
We are going to sound like the old bloke nursing half a bitter in the back of the snug bar and bleating about how the world has gone mad but here you go anyway and the subject of this wheezing whinge is referees. And to all you poor sods who do the hardest job in the game, apologies – well sort of.
Yep, referees have a job-and-a-half to do in a game with a million-and-a-half laws and a million-and-a-half interpretations and no-one would envy any person officiating in front of the Shed at Kingsholm or the Crumbie Stand at Welford Road.
No-one would have fancied being in Ian Tempest’s boots, on Saturday at Sixways, during that crazy finish to Worcester’s 21-19 win over Bath which ended with the visitors down to 11 men with three in the bin and one red-carded. It lasted for 98 minutes so Tempest can at least probably claim overtime and the cost of a hotel room.
Hats off to them for everything they do but please, all you whistlers, stop acting like you are the players’ mate and you will be heading off down the boozer after the match and a post-session curry. You are the men or women in charge, at whatever grade of game you are blowing at or as Jack Regan, of Sweeney fame, might have put it – you are the law.
And please don’t call players by their Christian names. The fellow playing in a blue number 10 jersey is blue number 10 unless he is captain. Then you have official permission, from RugbySpy, to call him blue captain.
The fellow playing in a green number seven jersey is green number seven – he is not Tom, Dick or Harry or George or Chris or Richie or Sam.
There has to be slight separation between players and referees so everyone remembers who is in charge – umpires do it in cricket too and that is not welcome either. It is all very well for players to butter up referees, Sam Warburton was a master at it, mostly by not getting involved with them until it really mattered, but referees should not butter up players.
Nigel Owens famously chastised Chris Robshaw when England were playing France in the Six Nations back in 2015. Going into the last 10 minutes Robshaw, then the national captain, queried Owens about a decision in that bonkers 55-35 match that saw England just edged out for the trophy.
The flanker was rebuked with a ‘Christopher, thank you’ and that was that. The referee did not call him Chris, as everyone else usually does, but he put the England skipper back in his box good and proper and the drama was over.
That is one of the exceptions though.
In 2014, Owens sorted out a tricky situation in the French game against England in Paris after Louis Picamoles, the French No.8, had indulged in a spot of afters following what he thought was a late tackle by Tom Wood.
Owens did the right thing addressing the players as ‘8’ and ‘6’ and no-one was in any doubt about who was in charge. There is no need to cosy up to the players although in one Varsity match he did tell the students there was no need to call him ‘Sir’ because he was from the west of Wales.
Wayne Barnes is pretty good at this sort of thing too although we have marked him down for addressing George Ford as ‘George’ before a re-start in Leicester’s win over Gloucester at Welford Road on Saturday. He didn’t get much else wrong, mind you.
At the start of the season the referees were given a directive to cut down on back chat and for the most part this campaign they have heeded it. We have even seen teams marched back a few times for chit-chat and a couple of seasons ago we thought that punishment had gone the way of the dodo.
A couple of weeks ago Owen Farrell, one of England’s co-captains don’t forget, got done for questioning decisions by Tom Foley in Saracens’ defeat against Exeter. RugbySpy is one of Farrell’s biggest fans but that seemed fair enough to us.
But there is more that can be done and that means not talking to the home inside centre like you are going back to his place for tea and crumpets after the game.
Yes, we need dialogue between officials and the two captains but apart from that no-one else should be engaged, or be engaging, with the referee unless they are being given a rollicking. And to any players reading this the referee should be addressed as ‘Sir’ at all times. When Robshaw copped it from Owens he apologised to ‘Sir’.
The referee is the boss for the 80 minutes of the game and you are lucky, especially at lower levels, that they have given up his or her afternoon so you can have a run a round.
Come RugbySpy’s rugby revolution that also means no coaching from referees when play is going on. If a player is offside, don’t tell him or her to get onside – just ping them and give a penalty.
Have a chat with the teams before hand about how you want the scrum to go but after that just whistle anyone who infringes. And referees should not have to justify their decisions to anyone apart from saying what the offence is, saying who offended and possibly explaining to the captain if they have got their knickers in a twist.
But coaching on the pitch should be a massive no-no.
On Sunday at the Ricoh we had Luke Pearce saying ‘Don’t try and buy it, Dan the ball is available’ during Wasps 27-16 win over Northampton. Harsh to single him out but he was the man in the middle that day but a lot of referees do it. It might keep the continuity of the game going but players must learn what is and what is not acceptable and most fans can hear the chit chat as well thanks to the in-stadium earpieces.
It is up to the players to learn what is, and what isn’t, on.
One international referee once said that the first time he was in charge of a game involving Richie McCaw, the great New Zealand flanker, McCaw did not hit a breakdown for the first six or seven minutes.
Once McCaw had worked out what he could, and could not, get away with he hit most of the rest of the breakdowns when appropriate and everyone was happy. McCaw did not need coaching on the pitch from anyone, let alone a bloke with a whistle and yellow and red cards in his back pocket.
Teams have thousands of support staff and coaches to look after them and tell them how to play the game – the men with the whistle don’t need to get involved.
We’ll have that other half of bitter now, cheers. Bah humbug.
The RFU cop their fair share of flak, and there will be more coming their way for sure, but last week they got something right by awarding 28 full-time contracts to leading English women’s players.
They topped that up with seven part-time deals for women who are new to the international scene or want to pursue a separate career on the side. Amy Cokayne, the hooker who is in the RAF, falls into that category and good on her.
So Sarah Hunter, Katy Daley-Mclean, Emily Scarratt and the rest won’t have to be looking down the back of the sofa for some loose change so they can go training.
After the 2017 World Cup the union took the ludicrous decision to disband the contracts for XVs players and concentrate on sevens. That is all well and good, if they win gold at the Olympics, but the XVs team suffered, with some stars shipped to the shorter form, and there is a World Cup coming up in 2021.
The women did not really get the ticker-tape reception they deserved when winning the global tournament in France in 2014 but now they have got a chance to get one in two years time.
Captain Hunter was on a conference call last week on the day the deals were revealed and admitted she never thought she would see the day, as a player, when women would get these contracts.
They are not on Harry Kane money, they are not Maro Itoje or Owen Farrell money but they are enough to make sure the squad can train and not have to worry about going to work in a so-called proper job.
They, reportedly, come in at between £18,000 and £28,000 a year and while no-one is getting rich they are not losing sleep about being unable to pay their rent.
There is one downside.
No other women’s team in the world is being looked after like this so they had better deliver.
No pressure then – but well batted to the RFU.