27 Nov 2021

Who'd be a referee? Four Longford rugby club referees explain some of the new law interpretations

Longford RFC have a proud history of supplying referees who have officiated at the highest level

The final rest weekend of the Six Nations took place on the weekend past. However, two provincial derbies took place with Connacht visiting Munster and Leinster travelling to Ravenhill to take on Ulster.

Even though all sides were down numbers due to Ireland commitments, none more so than Leinster, two gripping fixtures ensued.

Also read: Your guide to the weekend's live sport on TV

Both Connacht and Ulster needed to win to keep alive their prospects of reaching the Pro-14 final but ultimately Munster and Leinster just had too much.

The Leinster game saw referee Frank Murphy taking centre stage producing four yellow cards and a red card for Ulster prop Ricky Warwick on thirty minutes for a swinging arm, which undoubtedly aided Leinster who ran out easy 19-38 winners after Ulster had roared into a 12-3 lead.

Referees and refereeing have certainly been in the cross hairs for most people over the last few months. Refereeing is undoubtedly not an easy job requiring split second decisions and interpretation of what can be a very complicated rule book.

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However, we have no game without our referees and one of the cornerstones of our game is the respect the referee is offered.

It is fine to question their decisions but please do so in a respectful way as like everyone else that they always go out and try to do their best.

Keeping this in mind we asked our club referees led by Trevor McHugh to put together some articles on refereeing and interpretation of the game’s laws.

Longford RFC have a proud history of supplying referees who have officiated at the highest level. We are always looking for more recruits, so if you think that you could do a good job, please contact Trevor McHugh who is our club refereeing coordinator.

Thanks to Trevor, Tommy Lyons, Cal Jones and Shaun Cunningham for taking the time to explain some of the new law interpretations and recent high-profile decisions.

Trevor McHugh – Leinster Branch Referee
With the 6 Nations and Pro14 providing most of our weekend sporting entertainment (as well as Cian McPhillips!) the level of scrutiny of rugby referees and their decisions has been at a whole new level.

With this in mind Longford RFC’s referees have put pen to paper to try and enlighten rugby lovers in the complex world of rugby laws and interpretation.

Just to illustrate the complexity of Rugby laws there are 45 possible infringements at a line out, 45 at a scrum, 23 at a tackle, 19 at a ruck and only 14 at a maul! So, multiply this by the number of these plays in a match and the magnitude of the referee’s job becomes apparent.

I’m going to concentrate on just one incident from the recent Wales vs England game. Welsh winger, Louis Rees-Zammit, received a pass which came off his hand, fell onto his calf, went backwards, was kicked forward and eventually resulted in a Welsh try. The point of contention was whether the ball was “knocked forward” in the initial contact by Rees-Zammit.

The Law books defines a Knock on as “When a player loses possession of the ball and it goes forward, or when a player hits the ball forward with the hand or arm, or when the ball hits the hand or arm and goes forward, and the ball touches the ground or another player before the original player can catch it“.'

So, the main point is did the ball go “forward” from the players’ hand? Given that he was running forwards when he attempted to catch the ball it is almost a certainty that it did, yet the slow motion replays are less clear that the real time footage and these were what the TMO based his decision on.

The referee has since clarified that he got the decision wrong in this case but to England’s credit they got on with the game rather than focusing on a decision that they had every right to be aggrieved about.

We don’t have TMO or video referrals in the club game and for us as referees the ethos of the game means that similarly contentions decisions are accepted by players and coaches alike and the game goes on.

Cal Jones – Leinster Branch Referee
The new ruck interpretations
Richie McCaw will forever be a name enshrined into the legend and lore of rugby. He is the two-time world cup winning captain of New Zealand, three-time world rugby player of the year and the recent winner of world rugby’s men’s player of the decade award. The curtain came down on his illustrious career a mere six years ago and while many may consider him the greatest in history, if you examine him under 2021 metrics, his game looks practically prehistoric.

His legend was one predicated on breakdown brilliance but under the eyes of Brace or Barnes in 2021, Richie would make the much-maligned Maro Itoje seem almost saintly. Whether by overextending, not supporting his bodyweight or by simply being off his feet, McCaw’s infringements would likely have dwarfed the almost unpalatable five given away by Mr. Itoje last weekend.

This new age of ruck interpretation has undoubtedly had its teething problems but can we not appreciate this new species, these new titans of technique? If Tadgh Beirne is an immense and immovable jackal, then Will Connors is a jack-in-the-box with springs for feet. In an era where reliance on brute force is bemoaned, give thanks for these breakdown boffins.

The truth is, we are all armchair referees and we aren’t all as polite about it as our own Matt Hanley. Long have we been clamouring for consistent ruck refereeing and finally, it has arrived. Refs have taken a bad rap during this Six Nations and while some refereeing decisions have left us head in hands once or twice, I beg of you, please be grateful for the godly gift of good rucks.

Thomas Lyons - Leinster Branch Referee
“He never let him up ref,” it's a cry any amateur ref will hear from the side-lines in the course of most games. It stems from a misconception that when a player flops down on a ball the opponent has to give him an opportunity to get back up. It's not in law but loads of people think it is.

It's just one of a number of wrongly held beliefs that people hold to convince themselves that they know more than refs. Being a ref is difficult. The decisions people make when they are on the side-lines come from the comfort of not having run for 25 minutes and have your view impeded by a rotund prop before you make it.

Referees make errors, almost in every game. The hope is that those errors are very few and that they balance out over the course of a game giving neither side an advantage.

Occasionally that's not the case. Exhibit A: England V Wales at the Principality Stadium, Saturday February 27, 2021. Despite what people say there was only one issue in this game. In the build up to a Welsh try Louis Rees-Zammit lost the ball forward and it hit his leg without him regaining control of it. In Pascal Gauzere's defence he went to the TMO who led the decision making process. Letting the TMO lead was his only error.

Another moment of controversy was when England weren't “allowed to set” for a penalty. It may not be in law but the maxim “you snooze you lose” is very much a part of the lexicon of rugby.

There are two lessons to be taken from this game. The first is that referees, or TMOs, are human and as such not immune to making errors. The second is that when the decision goes against you or your team, the ref is always wrong. Except on the scoreboard when the ref is always right.

Shaun Cunningham – Leinster Branch Referee
Offside from a box kick
Moving away from all the talk of red cards, one observation looking at the eight 6 nations games so far is the way the offside is being refereed far more strictly from the box kick situation.

Before, the referee would spend his time asking the scrum half to 'use' and then have to make sure all the backs were behind the number 9 when he eventually did kick, only for the pack that were involved in the previous ruck to gently trot or sprint if they could down the field having never come onside or waited even for a player to bring them onside.
Previously we had seen on average 4/5 players at a ruck, the scrum half takes his time in bringing the ball to the furthest point away from the opposition in the ruck before lifting it in his hands and delivering the box kick.

By the time the ball had come down there was usually at least half a dozen players within reason could make a play for the ball in the air. Numerous times over the weeks we've seen guilty forwards looking to referee's with almost the look "it was ok in the past".

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