Thursday, 23 February 2012
During the Six Nations BBC Wales gets very excited, blowing buckets of cash on entertaining trailers but also documentaries about rugby and players. This year they have an excellent series recalling classic Welsh games, I have just watched two games from the Golden Era, England v Wales 1976 and Ireland v Wales 1978.
I must have watches clips of these games many times before, but never from the perspective of a referee. I am sure we would all see a big difference compared to the modern game but it struck me that the referee played a much reduced part of the game.
As soon as the knock on was given, the players formed the scrum and jostled until the ball was in then drove, often the scrum-half was casually walking around with the ball before throwing it in. Ball not straight and foot up seemed to be the only thing the referee was worried about. Slipping binding, front row standing up and arm binding and turning in were completely ignored. More staggering was during the England game, the were two scrums on the England 5m line were Wales whipped the scrum around and scored from the resulting confusion.
Practically every forward from both sides is involved in each ruck, there is no policing of players staying on their feet and we all know what happened to players lying on the wrong side. Players handling the ball on the floor and holding the ball to slow down release seemed to happen in front of the referee with impunity.
Again, every maul seemed to attract every forward, there did seem to be a very loose interpretation of coming in from the side and obstruction (truck and trailer) wasn't policed. Mauls where dynamic and the ball appeared very quickly, perhaps because the lack of penalties in this area of the game, teams were less interested in grinding out a penalty and would use the ball to run with.
There seemed to be a lot more space, because the forwards are tied up in the rucks and mauls (also tackling was a good deal more optional), there also seemed to be no sanction for blocking runners.
There is no question that the rugby was exciting, hard fought and ultimately entertaining but it does open the debate as to whether all the changes in Laws of the Game have been for the best? More penalties from referees to stop player cheating perhaps have teams forcing the penalty rather than playing positive rugby. If the scrum is such a cauldron of conflict where its so difficult to know the truth, ignoring it as they seemed to do in the 70s meant players got on with competing for the ball rather than screwing penalties out of the opposition. How we square that with safety is another matter.
Watch the game here and look out for the Wales v France classic game, my guess would be Paris 1975 and Graham Price length of the field try.