Before starting I should emphasise that none
of the following is in any way intended to blame
referees for any of the failings listed. Having
refereed myself many times at junior levels I
can only imagine what it takes to keep on top of
things at the higher levels of the game.
However, although there has been considerable
and commendable narrowing of the gap in
recent years, there is still a difference
between the way referees interpret the laws
and players approach the game in different
countries and different parts of the world.
I also watch many other sports and I don't
think there is such a big variation in the
decisions of referees in any other game.
I'm sure that there are constant reviews and
instructions at the highest level but there is
still room for improvement in standardisation
as referees from more and more countries
reach international level.
Need for Law changes
Admittedly my comments can be seen as being a
bit prejudiced because most of my playing days
were before the advent of the professional
game and therefore most of today's players
and followers probably won't appreciate many
of my observations. But there certainly seemed
to be much greater variety in the games we
played back then compared to the game we see
on television today.
In addition, it used to be considered a game
that anyone could play, even at high levels. In
fact many of the stars were no bigger or
faster than the average young men of the time.
They just had more determination and
commitment than the others.
Almost all of the spectators, very small
numbers for all but the biggest games, were
players, former players or friends and
relatives of players. It was essentially a
players game and the most enjoyment was
gained by the players themselves. Not an ideal
game for a paying spectator sport. Hence, I
presume, it was the reason for most of the
However, there is no denying that the old game
was in urgent need of new Laws. Much of it,
particularly the set and loose scrum (scrums
and rucks), was very difficult to referee and it
was too easy for players to cheat. Also the
scoring system, with the try and the penalty
both three points, made it equally valuable to
kick a penalty goal as it was to score a try.
I think the first mistake that was made in the
inevitable Law changes was to make the try
worth five points. Immediately this made all
the previous point scoring records useless for
comparison and many great names virtually
disappeared from future rugby discussions and
reports. It also gave rise to basketball score
Obviously something had to be done to increase
the relative value of the try because too many
games were being won by 'penalty location luck'.
That is, a penalty in front of posts was far
more likely to lead to a score than a penalty for
the same offence committed near the touch
line. This is still true today of course,
especially with the lighter and more
aerodynamic balls, but now there is at least a
slight increase in the incentive to score a try.
A much better solution would have been to
keep the try at three points and reduce the
value of the kicks.
The change to differential kicks, free kicks
and penalties was good but it did not go far
enough. Very few infringements justify three
points to the non-offending team. Particularly
those committed unintentionally. Only penalties
for dangerous play, 'professional fouls' and
repeat offences should be worth one or, at
most, two points and they should not be subject
to the position on the field where the offences
My preference would be to eliminate all scoring
kicks from the game, except drop goals during
play, and instead to award the choice of lineout
or scrum at designated penalty spots.
The conversion of a try is not justified as just
as much, if not more, effort and skill goes into
a try in the corner as a try under the post.
Furthermore, if this eliminates past record
scoring goal kickers from future discussions
then that wouldn't be such a bad thing.
Scrums have always been a mess and this was not
always a bad thing for the players, but now, with the
game's every increasing profile and increased
television scrutiny, changes to the Laws were
inevitable. But I don't think the law makers did a
very good job with the Law changes. What other
sport would put up with the delays caused because
its top professional are unable to carry out such a
basic manoeuvre as a set scrum without the almost
inevitable string of resets, free kicks and
What on earth led to the decision to let the full
impact of two 800+ kilogram packs crashing
together be taken on the shoulders of only six
players. How were the front rows going to interlock
correctly using this strategy if they couldn't do it
under the old laws. The change to let both front
rows touch before engaging is a small improvement
but why not let the front rows bind together to the
satisfaction of the referee before the remaining
forwards join the scrum.
Also, if the decision many years ago to stop the
flankers (wing forwards) from following the balls
through the scrum was correct, in the interest of
helping to get the ball away from the scrum quickly,
and I believe it was, then why not limit the scrum
halves in the same way?
People want to see the ball going through the hands
of the backs as often as possible and set scrums
are the best chance for this to happen if they are
What sets rugby union apart from most other body
contact sports for me in my playing days, was the
fact that, apart from accidents or clumsiness, you
could be fairly safe in assuming that you wouldn't be
tackled or obstructed if you didn't have the ball.
That is one of the main reasons why the serious
injury rate was relatively low for such a physical
contact sport. Nowadays obstruction at rucks
seems to be an essential part of the game. I know
it's called 'cleaning out' now but it is still basically
another form of 'obstruction'.
The whole ruck situation makes it virtually
impossible to referee fairly and it appears as if the
referees penalise the first infringement they see
(and there are many simultaneous infringements at
every ruck) just because a Law is being broken
regardless of whether it is the one having the
greatest effect on the outcome.
For example, which comes first, a player not
releasing the ball quickly enough or a player not
giving him the chance to release it? Very frequently
they are simultaneous and it depends entirely on
which the referee sees first. Hardly likely to be
seen as unbiased refereeing by one of the sides.
Although there were many other areas of contention
in what used to be called 'loose scrums', releasing
the ball 'immediately' was not one of them. Now the
time given for a player to 'play the ball' varies from
referee to referee and from situation to situation.
I agree that all hands should be taken off the ball
as soon as a player from either side are in contact
over the ball but why should it be an offence for
the first player there to have a knee or a hand on
the ground and still be able to try to gain possession
of the ball?
How many times do you see the ball being handed to
the scrum half by a player on the ground, long after
the ruck has formed, without penalty?
The policing of the rucking Laws, particularly
'players joining a ruck must be on their feet', is
lamentable and leads to the most dangerous part of
the modern game. Particularly now that any player
may be called on to form part of the ruck
regardless of size and strength. Surely there are
better way to give the advantage to a team to
retain the ball at a ruck, if that is the object of the
Even more ridiculous than the way scrums are set
and rucks policed is allowing lifting in the lineout. It
is highly dangerous and it has removed one of the
great spectacles provided by the great lineout
jumpers of former years. I think it was a case of
'we can't police it properly so let's legalise it'.
This was never a very serious issue at the lower
levels of the game and can easily be policed at the
higher levels now that the 'touch judges' have
become 'assistant referees'.
Another concept that baffles me in it's
interpretation is 'not straight'. Throughout my
playing days I really didn't give it much thought
because the lines of players were very close
together and 'not straight' was fairly obvious. But
now that there is such a big gap between the two
lines of players the referees seem to be confused.
|Note: If you are in any way upset by the exclusive reference to males in these
comments then please interpret it to confirm that though I have great
admiration for the exponents of the female form or the game I have little
support for it. I laud the participants' love of rugby but I feel they should
channel their athletic enterprise into other games that are more suitable for
the female physique. (I prefer feminine females and I promise never to play
|Rugby Union - the game they play in heaven
|Some thoughts on the state of the Laws of the game.
First of all, the label 'not straight' is a bad one and
the Laws do little to explain it. Of course every throw
is straight unless a strong wind is blowing so what they
really mean is 'at right angles to the touch line where
the ball is thrown in'. If this is the case then the ball
should be within easy reach of both teams at all times.
It also means that a ball thrown directly to a player at
the front of the lineout is far more 'not straight' than
one thrown directly to a player at the back of the
The best judge of the legality of a throw is the
assistant referee and therefore, since he is perfectly
positioned, there is no reason for there to be any lack
of consistency throughout a game.
Having said this I firmly believe that 'not straight'
should not be called no matter how 'not straight' the
throw is if no one from the team not throwing in the
ball jumps to contest it.
I have never been in favour of the sending off law and
I feel even more strongly about this now that the
game has become professional. At best it gives the
non-offending team only a 'chance' of benefitting on
the scoreboard and at worst it can ruin the game as a
spectacle for the paying crowd.
If the intention is to penalise the player then he
should be replaced with a substitute for the rest of
the game. If it is to penalise the whole team then a
penalty try, if appropriate, or a lineout or scrum for
the opposition at a designated spot near their goal line
would be more appropriate.
In the worst case scenario the referee could enforce
A team being forced to play with one less in the
fifteen a side game is bad enough but in the case of
the seven a side game it is ridiculous.
Having said that I really feel that teams should act on
their own if one of their players is involved in a brawl.
This is one of the most degrading spectacles in the
whole of sport and if any player thinks more about
himself than he does about the team then his own team
should immediately have him replaced.
Professional players especially should be severely
dealt with if they can't control themselves.
This is another occurrence that is totally open to each
referee's interpretation. How can anyone possibly
judge whether or not a knock-on is deliberate in the
vast majority of cases?
What is wrong with a scrum for the non-offending
A penalty is totally out of proportion to the
infringement. Particularly when it is followed by a
yellow card as happened in a match that I witnessed.
The attacking team should be more careful with their
passes and they are lucky that the result is a scrum in
their favour instead of an intercept try under the
posts to the opposition.
If a team loses the ball and the opposition gains clean
possession then they have already gained a
considerable advantage. If they waste that advantage
then they shouldn't be given several further attempts
to regain it. The decision on whether or not the
non-offending team has an advantage should be almost
How many times have we seen the referee decide that
no advantage has been gained and then the team with
the advantage loses the resulting scrum.
The time taken by some referees to decide whether
an advantage has been gained is close to ridiculous and
a complete waste of time for players and viewers
alike and I can't imagine this happening in any other
Certainly if the team with the advantage kicks the ball
away then the advantage should be over immediately.
Maybe because I was a back in my playing days I have
strong feelings about the way that the game is
becoming more and more like rugby league with a solid
wall of players, both backs and forwards, stretched
across the field at almost every play.
I don't think this is directly as a result of the Law
changes but I do think that the law makers need to
address this situation as soon as possible.
I wouldn't want to deny agile forwards the opportunity
to run with the ball in their hands but having them
amongst the backs in every move is robbing the game
of a great deal of its essential variety.
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