View Full Version : Make Referees part of the solution

05-12-05, 19:12
Interesting article by Will Greenwood in the Torygraph.

England need to get referees onside
By Will Greenwood
(Filed: 03/12/2005 in The Daily Telegraph)

Who would be a referee? You get decisions wrong, you get abused, you get shouted at, and - if the comments from some top coaches this week are anything to go by - you get blamed for the decline of English rugby.

The national side lost narrowly to a New Zealand team who went on to win a Grand Slam and spluttered for long periods against a fired-up Samoa, and who gets a kicking? That's right - the men with the whistles. And all because of how they run a rule over the breakdown.

It is true that referees can make or break a game. They are so important that when an international team prepare they not only watch the opposition, they also watch videos of the man in charge. Charts are made, numbers crunched and a game-plan takes into account the sort of decisions he is likely to make. A ref who gave an average of eight penalties a game and was a bit lax about the breakdown area would have grizzled old back-row forwards such as Neil Back smacking their lips in anticipation.

Someone much more whistle-happy, with an average of 25 penalties, might mean a game of kicking for the corners and territorial domination that could yield a wealth of three-point chances. International coaches spend a couple of hours talking to the referee in the days before a game, checking out his views and then changing training to accommodate his likes and dislikes.

During the 2003 World Cup Steve Lander travelled with England. He would analyse his fellow whistle-blowers, give us presentations on what to watch out for and referee training sessions in the style of the man in charge of our next game.

But understanding what the ref wants is only half the battle. Sometimes you need to dictate to the man in charge just what you are looking for. Take the breakdown as a case in point.

It is a bun fight at present and each nation has a different approach. Players from New Zealand and South Africa use it as a war zone, where teams can be blown out of a game. Europe lags in this department. Our technique is not as dynamic and so instead of winning the ball quickly and getting it moving, things get tied up.

Watching the All Blacks against Wales, the Kiwis were often running away from the contact area knowing their team-mates would scatter the ruck and leave the ball on a plate as the boys from the valleys were heading the other way, committing more and more players. That's the real difference - greater power and dynamism allows teams such as the All Blacks to win the ball with fewer men, freeing up others to find space and give playmakers more options.

If we want to change this, the referees have a role to play along with coaches and clubs. England need to develop a style that is all about attacking and quick ball, then tell the referees what they should be doing.

Many of rugby's laws are about interpretation and referees need to be coached in the same way as players. They are not afraid of honest, constructive criticism because they realise the game is about the teams, the spectacle and the crowd. They don't want to be the centre of attention.

Referees are assessed after games, the hot topics are discussed and conference calls made so that everyone gets the point. If we decide the game needs changing, then let's tell them to give the attacking side the benefit of the doubt, as they do in the Super 12 tournament. And why stop there? If we are going to go down that route, let's tell them to be more ruthless with the wily old hands who slow the ball down and creep in from the wrong side.

Once the penalties and cards start flying, attitudes and styles will change and so will the national team's style of play. We need to stop seeing referees as the problem and start making them part of the solution.

In the World Cup final, England's scrum was getting whistled to a standstill by the referee, Andre Watson. Until that is, Jason Leonard came on. His first move was not to eyeball his opposite number or start complaining. Instead he had a quite word with his old refereeing friend and explained that while there may have been some problems with the scrum, Jason only went forwards or backwards, as the laws intended, not up or down. He added that if there was anything he could do to help, Mr Watson had only to ask. From then on, the England scrum and the referee saw eye-to-eye. Apart from being a shrewd bit of psychology from Leonard, and a smart substitution by Sir Clive Woodward, it showed that refs do listen and change their point of view.

We should all start talking before it's too late and the World Cup is lost. Otherwise it won't be the men in the middle who are to blame for killing off our chances.