Once again the week was crowned with rugby that continues to endear the lover of the game. The crowds present enjoyed the first leg of the Bradby Shield to the last minute. It was as good as the previous block buster between St. Peter’s and S. Thomas’. The weather made the ground soggy and slippery but rugby was at its best. Every player did his best. Two players shone to make the match a memorable one. That was Kanchana Ramanayake of Trinity and Arshad Jamaldeen of Royal. The boot of Jamladeen was the winner for Royal. Seventy five points was scored in this match that ended thirty eight to thirty seven in favour of Royal.
Action at the last week’s Brady 1st leg.
The game reached a standard of delight to the spectator. Yet what is being said and debated is whether the referee should have done this or that. There was an offside when Royal scored. Should a player have been given a red card? Royal touched before the line when they scored last? Let us look at these one by one.
The Royal Scrum half opted to kick the ball from the base and the blind side winger and number 10 took off to exert pressure. These short kicks were to make best use of the laws where you are forced to err when the opposition returns kicks under pressure outside the twenty two. This was also done to gain space to an attacking situation. This he did probably by a signal which made the two players take off. They may have been in front when the kick was taken or may have not been. The Royal scrum half took one or two steps behind before he kicked. While the referee caught some the probable try is one he possibly missed. At all times the scrum half delayed while taking a step back. In this situation what was the defense doing as he did it again and again. They allowed him space to kick while there was no regrouping by others to defend where the ball landed.
Is there any reason why the last try should not be given? The referee was standing just where the ball was touched down. The man with the ball fell short but the momentum made him place the ball on the line. Then again it was pushed back as players got up and raised their hands in protest.
On the “red card” what the referee has to decide is the action and the fact that there was a stiff arm and a dangerous tackle and history. A stiff arm and a tackle above the shoulders is considered grave as it can cause permanent injury. At that time it is the referee that stands to be sued and no amount of pleading about history will help the referee or a player that is critically injured. Ignored offences escalate to bitter ones.
Let us look at some simple things that happen in a game. The law says that the ball must be put in straight at a scrum or that at a quick tap the ball must propel. Even at games such as Super 14 you may find the ball skewed and or a quick tap taken without a propel. Some Referees do allow it to go while some may not.
Do you question why somebody throws that ball in crooked? Was it the players wish or that he was taught to do so and gain an advantage.
There is little doubt that the game of rugby is high stakes at home and elsewhere. The spending is high and paid coaches as well as other officials expect the results that will help justify the expenditure. Then you use the magic words:
Consistency and to get the calls right. This is seen at all levels of the game at home and abroad. But most of this criticism is based on opinion, emotion and not fact or it is one fact that goes bad against many that have been good. It is no secret that referees have made mistakes at every level of the game such as the All Blacks learnt in the quarterfinals at the 2007 Rugby World Cup. An important element in the game the referees are more at the receiving end than being appreciated.
Various reasons have been attributed to the shortage of referees at home as well as internationally. The lack of financial enticement for prospective referees has to be chief among them. The continuous insults, the attaching of labels and the physical threat are also contributors. These individuals eventually give up all together.
Ask a young rugby player nurtured through school what he wants to be? He will never say that he wants to be a referee. Ask a retiring player and he will prefer to coach than being at the receiving end. Therefore the profile of refereeing has to be lifted. It is also necessary to understand refereeing as another path. Unlike in the past one cannot wait for retiring players.
Referees have to get some reward for their performance but yet depend on another normal day jobs as the status of refereeing is not fully professional. Most coaches are paid professionals and it is their jobs. But how can a referee, who has a normal job, be asked to carry the same responsibility? The playing field is not equal and this illustrates why there are so many shortcomings in refereeing.
Take the referee of the past who we like to earnestly remember. His job was different. The game was not this fast and the laws have made it to flow more. Referees are required to communicate more with the players and the world. There was a time when the referees’ communication consisted of a blast on the whistle and one of three gestures - scrum, penalty or try. That was it.
Most continue to talk of referees when these people are employed to assess the performances of the players, analyze their strategy and offer their expert opinions as ex-players and not as arm chair referees.
On the other hand, some referees seem to play into the hands of these sensationalistic observers with their confounding decision-making and dictatorial style. That is where the referee must work to get empathy and not sympathy.
It is not that I take the stance of blindly supporting the referee's decision and performance, and consider them untouchable even when wrong. In the face of evidence of poor performance it frustrates all. Yet continued harassment is not the answer.
*Vimal Perera is a former Rugby Referee, coach and Accredited Referees Evaluator IRB