For a sport that supposedly prides itself on respect, the treatment of some officials at the Rugby World Cup should leave most fans embarrassed.
The fact the quarter and semifinals have been somewhat overshadowed by refereeing decisions given the rugby on show is a fairly damning indication of the behaviour of some fans. Yes, there have been controversial calls, but these should in no way take anything away from what has been a truly fantastic tournament.
Seeing the way that South African referee Craig Joubert was vilified by some sections of the rugby community after awarding a penalty to Australia in the dying moments of their victory over Scotland is frankly pathetic. Yes, he got the decision wrong, but he wasn’t the only one to screw up that afternoon.
I’ve seen very little criticism of the Scottish forwards who did a wonderful job of bungling what should have been a fairly simple line-out that ultimately led to the penalty decision. All the media attention has been focussed on Joubert’s decision to award the penalty, rather than a call to go to the back of a shortened line-out just as the rain started to come down.
Joubert wasn’t helped by two factors, one of which was entirely out of his control. His decision to immediately run off the pitch at the final whistle left players and fans somewhat confused and in many ways is the most disappointing aspect of his performance given the controversial nature in which the game ended, however if rumours of bottles being thrown are true then his reaction is entirely understandable.
The most disappointing factor which was unfortunately entirely out of his control was the decision by World Rugby to come out announcing he got the decision wrong. This was a case of an employer well and truly hanging a well respected employee out to dry in the most public of manners.
Neither of these instances have warranted some of the comments seen online since the incident, or the reaction of some fans at Twickenham during the game. If rugby fans wish to continue holding up the sport as some sort of bastion of respect and sportsmanship, they have to learn to treat officials in the same way as they deal with the opposition.
Unfortunately we saw a repeat of this disappointing behaviour during Australia’s semifinal victory over Argentina when fans directed criticism at Wayne Barnes for his decision not to go to the TMO over a potential forward pass. Again Barnes perhaps got the decision wrong, but did not deserve the criticism directed at him after the game.
Once again, if the officials are to be criticised then fans also need to look at the players who were just as culpable for Los Pumas eventual demise. Nicolas Sanchez’s pass which led to the Wallabies opening try was at least as important, if not more so in the final result, yet he has not received anywhere near the level of criticism Barnes has had to endure.
At the end of the day, referee’s have an impossible task with the losing side just as likely to blame the officials for the eventual result, as they are to take a long hard look in the mirror. Given that they then have to make split second decisions in the heat of a professional rugby game whilst 30 blokes are trying to find any way possible to gain some kind of competitive advantage.
The reality is that as professionalism has kicked in, players and coaches are finding increasingly complex ways of gaining an advantage which is making officials jobs even harder. Whether it be props slipping their bind, flankers with hands in the ruck, or scrum halves firing the ball at lazy runners, players are constantly using smoke and mirrors to make officials lives harder.
Throw into the mix all of this happening at an increasingly faster rate as players become fitter, and officials job is getting harder, even with the support of technology (which Joubert unfortunately did not have the advantage of using).
At the end of the day, referee’s do a bloody good job for the most part in increasingly difficult circumstances, and yet receive very little praise for their efforts. Given there is a shortfall in qualified referee’s across much of the world, shouldn’t we be doing more to encourage individuals to take up officiating rather than ensuring anyone having doubts is now certain to avoid picking up a whistle anytime soon?