Rugby Union is a sport bred for all, encompassing all and is the very reason we fans endure the toe-nibbling cold or the long-haul, bum numbing journeys to away fixtures.
A game in it’s element when played with pace and precision, the sport deserves to be officiated intelligently. With the IRB permitting increased use of the Television Match Official (TMO) this season, to ensure maximum clarity and fairness in the game, the Premiership has occasionally been a stop-start jigsaw of affairs.
Officiating such a confrontational, brutal sport is no easy task, whether it be U12s on a Sunday morning, or an elite game, and I’m sure anyone who has given it a try can back me up! The need to be correct time and time again is such an important aspect in the professional sporting era, and with players safety such a current issue, as we have seen from the Alex Goode incident weeks ago, there is definitely a key place for the TMO.
The rationale behind the increased usage of the TMO was not just to allow referees the opportunity to view previous phases in the lead up to a try, but also to evaluate the severity of an incident. However, many feel that the flow and the lifeblood of the game has been misplaced in the obsessive blowing of whistles and minor complexities that are hidden from the human eye. Why should players and fans alike tolerate an elongated break to witness a minor offence that is a normality of the sport? Especially when a monumental atmosphere is reduced to a lugubrious murmur of miffed bellows.
In light of the 2015 RWC, it’s an aspect of our game that needs a further re-think, as to ensure non-rugby attendees can be transformed into rugby fanatic’s. If officials get too wrapped up in the consequences of making mistakes, the likely affects are more negative than those if they were to stick with their gut instinct. Perhaps what the game needs is further competition for refs, or in my opinion, are large cohort of ex-professionals who really understand the ins and outs of the game at the top. Refereeing is all about judging context, occasionally laws take priority, however if we forgive minor discrepancies and be decisive when expected, game enhancing technology and old-school judgement can work effectively alongside one another.
The IRB Chief Executive has mentioned the need for a revamp of the laws to ensure rugby doesn’t lose its unique aspects and it seems likely that we will see a slightly different balance struck between the TMO and the 3 officials in the middle next season. Despite this, it must be noted that we have seen some terrific decisions this season by all referees, and we shouldn’t criticise referees for its over-usage. They should be applauded for being thorough and endeavouring for officiating perfection. What they need is further clarity about how best to enforce these laws, that present the game in its best image.
It doesn’t matter if a referee is wrong or right, as long as they are consistent.