In 2015, we wrote an article asking if professional rugby is now impossible to assess (read here); Eightteen months later, nothing has changed, and it has to be said that the judge’s task has become even more difficult.
When you read a rugby forum or a Twitter conversation about a top rugby game, comments always focus on how bad the referee was – but how can that be when we have the best referees in the world as a civil servant?
One of the main reasons rugby spectators end up with this perception is that they look in the wrong direction at their team, which is not being addressed by officials. So the natural conclusion is that officials are incompetent? But how did we get to this point?
Rugby – the only sport that ignores mistakes?
Rugby must be the only sport in the world where (with conservative guess) officials ignore more than 90% of crimes. In any other sport, if a player violates the rules or laws of the game, he will be punished – but not in rugby!
This selective punishment for mistakes is partly due to the complexity of the game, but in today’s world of professional rugby it is more the job of massive coaching of players to commit crimes, knowing that referees can punish only a small number of mistakes. Or that they make the game unguarded.
If you want to explain this concept in more detail, let’s take a look at the 10-second clip from the 2017 6 Nations match between France and Wales. The clip shows the last second or two bruises, the penalty crane and the subsequent backpack. Yes, this clip was in the closing stages of the game and the Welsh defense held on, but errors are pretty common at every stage of the professional game. What is shown in the pictures is regularly repeated in all professional rugby.
What’s a violation?
Following violations, the first question that can appear in the reader’s mind is: What do you mean by a violation? The complexity of rugby again means that we can have four levels of legislation and how they are used and applied:
The law book – The laws of rugby, as written. Sometimes these are monitored, often ignored or “interpreted”
Guidelines and clarifications on the application of the law – These are the official interpretations of World Rugby can be found on the website
Instructions from officials – if you are a referee, you will receive coaching and information that can help you with your work At the highest level, elite referees will receive instructions from World Rugby, who will decide how to judge the game, but these guidelines will not be widely made available to the rugby public
Interpretation of individual judges – we still have judges who interpret laws differently, especially in two hemispheres
We do not want to go into details on this now, but it is worth highlighting the uncertainty we all have about what is or is not against the laws of the game. If we list these violations, we have a total of 11 violations between the two teams. This amount does not include other laws that are part of the law book but are not enforced today, such as heads and shoulders that are not below your hips when you walk in the back or try to stay on your feet with your back. There are countless examples of ruck love that are simply no longer used. Given the ignored by officials on either side, we can easily see how supporters ultimately feel their team has been made tough by blaming the referee.