Referee training last night; mental not physical. The topic was materiality and it is an import concept for keeping the game rewarding for players and entertaining for spectators.
The idea is that the referee will only blow for an offence if its effecting the game. The laws of rugby are complex and at any one time, technically, several offences might be committed but the referee must decide if they affecting the flow and outcome of the game. Example, the prop might be in front of the kicker but he is unlikely to reach the receiver quickly enough to affect his actions, the winger might be a different matter. Similarly, at scrum time the outside backs may be offside, but the scrum half shots down the blindside.
As a player or spectator you may see the technical infringement and be baying for a penalty, but the referee is making a judgement as to whether that offence is making a difference to sides ability to win or use the ball effectively. Play some rugby or have yet another kick, which do you want?
There is a clear difference between advantage and materiality, the former has clearly affected the game and should nothing come of the resultant play, then we go back. It is important that the referee shouldn’t hide ignorance of infringements behind the materiality cloak so it is important to communicate to players that you’ve seen what happened; a quick comment at the next break in play, “Watch the offside, backs”, “Prop, keep behind the kicker”, etc.
Judging materiality has to take into consideration many factors, firstly, as always, safety but also intent. The vets prop may have fallen at the ruck, because he’s old and fat, not a cheat (he may of course be both). The score and time in the match also affect the decision, is a marginal penalty with 2 minutes on the clock going to change the result and would that be fair.
In the end the most important skill, in this context, that the referee can have is good empathy for the players and how they want to play. Keep the game flowing, reward good positive play and let them know how and what you are thinking.