Monday 19 December 2011

Friday 18 November 2011

The Laws, they are a changing?

Just when you thought it was safe to look at the Law Book

Points experiment in Varsity Cup - SuperSport - Rugby

Mind Games

Its not just sportsmen that are using sports psychologists, last night the Society had a presentation by Dr Raj Persaud on the psychology of officiating. It was an entraining and informative meeting but sadly Dr Raj didn't know enough about rugby to make it truly relevant to his audience. 

The most interesting to thing to come out of it was the concept that motivation drives perception, what we see will differ from others because our motivations are different. He illustrated this with a experiment with basketball players and a gorilla. By setting a skewed pre-condition he was able to demonstrate that many of us would miss the gorilla.

He was able to show us that we do see a different game to players, coaches and spectators because are motivation is to create a fair and safe game, whilst the other stakeholders are looking for something different, a win at all costs. When a player asks me' "did you see that ref?", I know that I didn't see the gorilla. Clearly, as referees, we need to keep as broad a focus as possible but we will never see the game in the same way players.

There were some other pointers to help us, the most important be the power of positive focus, when you need to do something well, concentrate on why it will go well rather than worrying what can go wrong. When you make a decision that may have been wrong don't dwell on it, reset the counter, focus on getting the next and every other decision right, each one is a independent event.

LSRFUR video

A behind the scenes look on match day..

Wednesday 16 November 2011

Exclusive - Martin Johnston's Resignation Letter!

I wonder..

..this story had any baring on the decision made in this one

Things that go Bump in the Afternoon

Rugby is a rough game and long may it stay so, but last Saturday I ended up abandoning my first game. 

I took charge of what should have been a hotly contested Surrey merit match. The game had been played at a moderate pace and with a good spirit, in dry and unseasonably warm condition, cloud cover was think and consequently the light was poor. The Home side had raced to a 34-12 lead by the start of the second half, when the Visitors won good ball from a penalty line out on the home 22. They moved the ball to the middle of the field and the centre took the ball at pace on the 22m line, he was tackled by his opposite number and dropped very quickly. The tackle was hard and there was quite a collision but it looked fair.

It was clear, post-tackle, that the Blue player wasn’t coming around never mind getting up. I immediately stopped play and two Blue members ran on to the field to help their team mate, the one who took charge I later learned was a fire fighter and looked to know how to care for the injured player. The fire fighter removed the player’s gum-shield and there looked to be a great deal of blood in the mouth/nose area and the player was choking as a consequence. An ambulance was quickly called and after 3-5 minutes the player look to be regaining consciousness. The ambulance arrived around 10-15 minutes later and eventually the player was judged fit enough to walk into the ambulance and was taken to hospital.

A number of the Visitors and spectators were agitated after the tackle as they felt the tackler hadn’t used his arms, I don’t have a clear recollection on whether his arms were correctly deployed but my first instinct was that it was a hard but fair tackle. The tackler sustained a nasty blow to the head but walked away. I suspect that heads clashed before the arms where fully raised.

The light was fading and within the hour it would be too dark to play safely. I spoke to the captains about continuing the game on the adjacent pitch before the ambulance arrived, around 15 minutes after I stopped the game. Both captains agreed that whilst this was possible the concern for the injured player and bad-tempered fallout from the circumstances of the injury meant that the game should be abandoned.

I haven't heard if there was any on-going problems, hopefully the injury isn't as life changing as this one. I am sure that the happy outcome of the day's events was in good part due to the prompt action by the para-medic fireman. It does worry me how many games, even in the leagues, that have absolutely no medical coverage, maybe the RFU should spending more time addressing this than Mike Tindall's nocturnal adventures.

Friday 11 November 2011

Error Tolerance, Zero

I'm getting back in to swing of things following ankle problems, man flu and Irish weddings. This week saw a last minute appointment to a medical student match verses the 1st team of the team I reffed last week. I can't be sure of the level but the appointments manager suggested it was a little higher than appropriate but the promise of an assessor would fix that. My comeback almost ended in the first half as my thigh took the full force of legs swinging through the tackle. I dropped like a stone but the expert medical attention concluded it was a dead leg and I was able to run it off. It must have been serious, I wasn't able to think to blow my whistle to stop things!

Doing first teams helps with simple things, everyone is playing in position, the bench is full and they know the replacement regulations. My pre-match assessment suggested that the visitors would be bossing things, with a much bigger pack, however the medics started very strongly, driving two line-outs +10m to score twice in the opening 15mins. The were getting some fast ball and moving it wide quickly only for some very obvious forward passes to ruin things. As the first half progressed, the medics lost a lock and a big centre and started to loose moment as possession dwindled. They turned around 12-7 to the good but two tries early in the second half saw the visitors take control, their scrum was now dominant and the medics were struggling with first phase possession. The home side's centre managed to catch a couple of interceptions but not with enough space to do anything with them, typically getting isolated. The medics took another try to bring them in touching distance with 10mins to go but a penalty and then a try sealed it for the visitors.

There had been some minor niggle and I had penalised the visitors captain when he took umbridge at a perfectly good gang tackle. At the final whistle there was 6-8 man punch up as things boiled over, I was 30m from the action with the ball, so I didn't get a good view of who was responsible. There was a least one split lip and it looked spirited. 

My report cards were pretty good but both marked me down on one feature. The home side thought I handled mauls badly, why I asked. It amounted to one incident. Black is caught with the ball and maul forms around him, black are driving forward with some gusto, but there is a yellow player, literally suspended in the middle trying to rip the ball and/or pull down the maul. The ball wasn't going to appear, black are clearly going forward  but we are not going to see the ball soon. Lets get restarted with a scrum to black, seems a fair and equitable thing to me, but on that one piece of evidence I'm poor at managing mauls. They seemed happy when I allowed them to rolling two 10m to score. 

The other side criticised  my control of open play, why? I missed a knock on, 20m further on I saw a knock on but this was against them. Sorry, but if your prop wasn't so slow and fat he might have got out of the way and not obscured my view. 

Despite my less-than-obvious failings I am happy with the how the game ran, its always disappointing if there is a punch up and with less well brought lads than the medics it would have boiled over earlier. However, if a team goes out looking for it trouble will eventually arrive and its up to me to deal with it when it does.  

Rugby Club Bars

My host's home ground having been swindled away by Chelsea (apparently) are tenants at this larger league club. Grotty changing rooms but a modern, welcoming bar, an OK pint of London Pride and an excellent lasagne. 

Rugby Club Bars

The best facilities on the circuit, the students even bought me not one but two pints of TEA. Sadly the real ale selection has dropped from six beers to only three

Wednesday 9 November 2011

More on that Tackle

Much will continue to be said about Warburton red but you have to split the argument in to two parts.

a) Referee were instructed to red card tackles were the players legs are lifted above the horizontal and the player driven or dropped to the ground so that the head/shoulders make contact first.
b) Do players/coaches/spectators/referees things this is acceptable behaviour on the field and what should the sanction be?

a) The Warburton tackle ticked all the boxes for that to be a red in the eyes of the referee. The way a referee will judge at a tip tackle is start with a red and work back. Dropping because he realised it was a tip is not a defence. Making some effort to control the player coming to ground is, and that is what Stephen Jones looks to do. Players cannot always control the outcome of where a players body goes in a tackle, but they must try to tackle in a manner which is safe and when it goes wrong control the tackled player to minimise injury.
The video images of Stephen Jones tackle are pretty poor, the referee is just about right given he is judging it in real time without slo-mo replays.

b) A bit of rough and tumble is all very good until someone gets turn, its a valid for grown ups as it was in the school yard. The referee is ultimately responsible for player safety and there must be a suitable sanction to dissuade players from dangerous play. The negative consequences of this are there for us all to see in that semi-final. If you are going to take away red cards for this then what else and how are you going to protect referees that are not able to punish it adequately? Saying that dumps are different to spears brings in more subjectivity that opens up the ref to further criticism. The focus, presently, is what is dangerous? Landing on your head/neck from a height is. How do we discourage it? Red card.

For anyone who thinks it isn't dangerous, please read this.

Monday 17 October 2011

How to avoid a tip tackle

The momentum of going into a tackle can result into a players legs going somewhere you don't expect them, this can become a 'tip tackle'. Wales' Sam Warbuton fell foul of this in the most talked about tackle at the weekend. Here we see Gavin Henson tackling Tait, the England player's legs are lifted and if Henson drives through or drops him he would be red card today. Henson has the strength to control the player and bring him to ground safely. Humiliating Matt Tait in the process.

Another example of Mr Rolland's judgement on tip tackling, more of a 'traditional' spear tackle but the man is consistent.

The question must be how many of this delightful compilation you would not red card?

That tackle and the Red Card

As a referee, London Welsh wasn’t a happy place to be last Saturday, well most Saturdays actually. There can be no better place to watch a Wales international short of the the Millennium Stadium itself but as I saw the circumstances of the Warburton tackle I realised I would be justifying the action the referee for the rest of the day. My conversation with the Welsh RFU panel touch judge for the home game was the one exception.

My first instinct on seeing the replay was “oh dear, he is going to get cited and banned for the Final”, a yellow card was inevitable. It was a surprise that Rolland issued the red, not from the action of Warburton but on what referees typically do under such circumstances. A yellow and a retrospective ban is the form and is something we have seen 3-4 times in the RWC, but I’ve seen an Aussie red carded in 3N match for the same thing. The argument of consistency has been made and is a valid one but needs to be applied to the action of the other referees in the tournament. The resultant bans for player show that red cards should have issued at the time.

The IRB in their infinite wisdom has decided that the ‘tip tackle’ is supremely dangerous. It is covered by this;
Law 10.4(j) reads: Lifting a player from the ground and dropping or driving that player into the ground whilst that player’s feet are still off the ground such that the player’s head and/or upper body come into contact with the ground is dangerous play

The upshot is that if you take the player up, you bring him down safely; you do not drive him down (the extreme Melamu/O’Driscoll example), you do not think, “bugger I’ve tipped him I better let go of him now” (as Warbuton did) but you control how you bring him down (as Henson did to Matt Tait in 2005). Intent does not come into it, terrible things happen by accident and we must take the consequences.
What differentiates the referee’s actions on Saturday was he didn’t bottle the decision, he saw what he saw and knew how the IRB had directed him to act and he went to his pocket. The only mistake he made was not consulting his assistant referees, I doubt the outcome would be different but it would have bought himself time to make it clear in his mind and shared the responsibility for call.
Imagine a conversation like this.

REF, “this is what I saw, red 7 lifts blue of the ground and through the horizontal and drops him, he fails to bring him to ground in a safe manner, a dangerous tackle. Do you have anything to add?”
AR1 “nothing to add, it was a dangerous tackle,”
REF, “I am going to award a penalty and issue a red card to red 7”
AR1 “agreed”

The whole world knows what the Ref is thinking, the Ref has a few extra seconds to think about the consequences of what he is doing and he gets the moral support from the touch line. If the AR disagrees him, he will not contradict the Ref, there are code words used, if he thinks otherwise then he could have replied, “ nothing to add, it was a reckless tackle.” Reckless verses dangerous tackle communicated a suggested downgrade to yellow but the referee still has the option to keep it red.

The first responsibility of the referee in any game is the safety of the player and with high momentum impacts between flesh, bone and earth there is a lot that can go wrong. As players and spectators we all love the “ooff” factor of a big hit is exciting and part of the psychological ascendancy that a team looks to establish, however, we all want players to walk off the field. “Dominate do not destroy” is part of my front row talk and it applies to all players, who must have a responsibility to fellow players for their safety.

Much of the criticism of Alain Rolland has been that he has ruined the tournament, Wales were a better team than France and almost certainly would have won with 15 men, thus making a much more competitive final. However, the referee is tasked with managing that game, nothing more. He must make it safe, he must make it fair and he must must punish dangerous play within the parameters he has been given. What ever the consequences for Wales, Alain Rolland full-filled this function and throughout the rest of the game I found him to fair and consistent. Wales did enough to win that match, a little better luck with kicks and we would have still be looking forward to a Final on Sunday.

The broader topic must be how we want the game to be managed by the IRB. Many of the same people saying the red card spoilt the game and the tournament were bellowing for Mealamu to have been red carded for the O’Driscoll tackle. As fans we must be consistent, if we accept that red cards are to be a part of the game we can not apply them selectively. Perhaps red cards should only be used for a foul play; punching, gouging, head butts, ‘genuine’ spear tackles? The latter will keep the debate open on where the line should be drawn.

Tuesday 11 October 2011

Top Ref Slams Lawrence

I think is pretty unheard of in the modern game for a senior referee to criticise another in such a public manner

Lawrence baffles Watson

Friday 7 October 2011

Rugby on a Cricket Day

It was wall to wall rugby last week, wake up, watch rugby and 4 games to officiate at including my first appointment as an assistant referee.
Game one was  another first as it was a Daily Mail Cup U18 game in SE London, it was a new competition for me so I made sure I brushed up on the tournament rules. Both were state schools but one had a long rugby tradition but the home side where relatively new to it. The pre-match pitch inspection showed that the 5m line-out line was actually 10m in and thus the 15m line was at 20m. There were no flag posts either. I’m sure it wouldn’t happen at Whitgift. I agreed with both coaches that I would judge where the line-out would start and ‘throw not 5m’ would not be aggressively policed.
The game was fast and aggressive, the visitors where by far the most skilful but the controlled mayhem from the home side kept them in touch. This mayhem didn’t always help them, 3 yellow cards saw the home side play half the game with 14 men. The first should probably have been a red. The second row looked to strike a player with his head during a scrum. The other two where reckless straight arm high tackles. The scrums where troublesome as two opposing props constantly went in crooked, hard to apportion blame but they had been coached well on how to cheat, penalties where shared between them. The game ended with one try apiece, two penalties to a conversion and penalty saw the home side edge it 11-10. Their reward, a match against last year’s winners!
That evening saw me run the line for a development game under lights. A good performance from the man in the middle, I helped him out with some advice on what was happening on the opposite side of the scrum. We were not miked up so interactive communication was impossible. It was interesting to hear the disparaging coaching comments, I was able to introduce them the concept of “straight-enough” at the line-out.
The following day I was back to same school for an U15 match, this time the opposition was one of the top rugby schools in the area. The coaching staff even had ipads for match analysis! A bad fall on the hard ground saw a home player complain of back-pain, he was on the touch line but play started to get dangerously close so the coaches agreed to end the match, 43-3 to the visitors, only one more score before I would have been forced to call it a day anyway. The game did allow me to fulfil a teenage ambition, accompanying the PE-mistress around the back of the gym!
The final game was the first ‘proper’ game, a Surrey League 2 match in weather more suited to a cricket match. Strong running from the visitors and a more organised pack saw them easy winners at 32-3, the home side found some form in the final quarter but it was too late. They were pressing hard for a score but dropped the ball or conceded the turnover, evitably the visitors gave away a couple of penalties and the captain was sent to the bin for handling on the floor. “I thought could, I was the tackler?”, no you were laying on your back on the wrong side and picking up the the ball and throwing the ball back to your scrum half, is cheating in my book. Even after this the the home side failed to capitalise. After 80 mins of rugby in 30 degree heat the beer was cold and plentiful.
I’m please that all three games felt comfortable, teenage hormones and fast league rugby pushed me but I’m happy that I didn’t miss much and everyone was happy with the game I have them. The confidence that has developed over the last two season means I can stand further back and see more of the game and manage it without whistling too often.

New Rugby Brand

I can't help but think that the English sin-bin will be bigger

We are American Rugby | American Sin Bin

Tuesday 27 September 2011

What is a Forward Pass?

I can't imagine it is going to shut people up in the pub but as this is from the IRB we must take it as gospel

Monday 26 September 2011

Argies vs Sweaties

Wayne Barnes is quickly losing vacation destinations if the ITV commentators are to go by. Its 4 years since he could happily go out after dark in New Zealand and now catching a cheeky tin of Tennants Super is denied to him.

I've just watched the game and I think Barnes called it right, look at these two stills, the back foot of the ruck is just ahead of the 5m line. I've tried to pause the action just as scrum-half Lawson moves his hands, ruck over, ball out. Contepomi (no12) is pretty much where he needs to be as the ball starts moving, a foot over at most and well within the boundary of human error. He is very fast off the mark which is what is deceptive, but the speed of the scrum half's service is ponderous and telegraphs to the Argies what is going to happen.

Some referees would have pulled Contepomi up for what happen but Barnes was right, albeit more from luck than judgement but I guess he isn't that fond of deep fried Mars bars anyway. Wayne Barnes didn't cost Scotland the game, it was their complete inability to create tries.

Assessed in the Sun

I was looking forward to the season kicking off properly, a Surrey Conference 1 match between two Old Boys sides. Thus, it was disappointing to arrive at the ground to discover the visitors had cried off and it was now a friendly. Further excitement ahead of the game was that I was due to be assessed by the Society, the first time in about two seasons. 
The weather was unseasonably warm so the prospect of an open game on an extremely large pitch was a little daunting; I've played game on smaller pitches than the in-goal! Further disappointment was avoided as the visitor's  prop finally arrived, but spent most of the rest of the afternoon rolling around hurt. How can props be so fragile?
The first half saw the sides evenly matched, good open play but a very high penalty count, White drew a final warning from me about 30 mins in as they killed the ball. There was no consistent pattern, but in a league game it would have brought a card earlier. The teams went into the break with the home side 13-10 to the good. The second half was an avalanche of White, hard running from their centre with excellent support at the break down saw the home side run out 56-10 winners. Fitness and fresh legs on the big pitch certainly was a factor, I could feel the running taking its toll on my own legs.
Thankfully it was a very positive report from the assessor, the best thing she could say saw that the game was well within my comfort zone and that I wasn't stretched. Some minor development points but these were clearer secondary signals and changing my position more often at the line out. Over all I am very pleased, hopefully these will improve my future games and get me promoted. Those teams up there need me to give them a good game, as JP Doyle might say.

Monday 19 September 2011

Referee Wisdom

Nigel Owen "The easy part [of being a referee] is picking up the law book and learning the laws, the difficult part is going out there with a whistle and knowing when not to blow it"

Rain, Shine and telling the Time

A great way to kick off on the right foot with your referee is to tell him kick off is at 2pm and tell everyone else it is at 3pm.
Last Saturday was the second game of the season and the second last minute appointment. The home side where a mixed social team and so were the visitors but the average age between the two was about 10 years. The youngsters choose to kick-off and used the slope to finish the game off in the first half. They clearly were able and willing to play the game at pace which caused a couple of questions when they took quick penalties. I am willing to take a sympathetic approach to back-10m with older sides, so long as players keep out of the way. However, standing still or moving in to make a tackle are getting the opposition a second go. The next point is that there is no Law covering a second quick penalty, this falls under Myths of the Game. It is a game management tactic, no penalty can be taken until the referee has given the mark, I won't give the second mark quickly because a succession of tap penalties become very messy and confusing for all involved. Order and not chaos is what make a great game and ensure that all get my full attention. 
One of the lesser used Laws is 11.4 OFFSIDE UNDER THE 10-METRE LAW; Red 10 fields a kick and hoists an up and under, instead of going 30-40m upfield, it goes up and down. Black 12 fields it 5m forward but every player around him is off-side and can't tackle him. 
The scrummage was tricky all afternoon, there was an early penalty for not driving straight, but Black were complaining about Red not taking the hit when I penalised them for driving early. This was a tough one to spot, something the Black prop gave me tips on in the bar later; its all in the foot work. A new prop in the second half caused me huge problems, he simply refused to bind. He started on the tight head and after a reset conceded a penalty then moved to the loose head where the same thing occurred. At this level, I am going to coach and re-set first, make it clear what I want and then penalise. I'm comfortable that was the correct course as the prop in question was returning after many years out. He got the message in the end but for safety's sake penalising someone without correcting their technique isn't going to benefit them. On Saturday in a level 10 league game it will be straight to penalties and potentially a card if he fails to comply.
After avoiding any rain all last season, the weather managed pay-back but despite that, it managed to be a great afternoon of rugby, open, clean and with a great spirit, which fits in with my philosophy.

JP Doyle deals with difficulty

London refs where treated to a pep-talk from the pocket rocket that is JP Doyle the Irish-English premier referee on Thursday. He spoke about focusing on the how you wanted your game to played and dealing with difficult  moments on the field. The two clear messages to come out of the talk were to believe that you will give those players a better game than anyone else by applying your own game philosophy. What ever that philosophy is, it should focus on making the game better for the players and spectators, if you are refereeing for yourself and not them, then you are refereeing for the wrong reasons.

Doyle had some interesting clips showing iRB refs responding to challenging situations. One of the good examples was Wayne Barnes giving two red cards in a Harlequins v Leicester game. 

Barnes has seen the incident clearly as it happen, he's gone to his AR, described what he's seen. He doesn't ask for any input from AR, he is using the time to clarify he thoughts and given the technology, explaining to TV why and what he going to do. He is calm, assetive and clear through out. 

Steve Walsh also featured. 

This clip sees the Waratahs get frustrated with Walsh and it all starts to get personal. Walsh's response to the dissent is unnecessary, the sarcasm only irritated the players further. 

Finally this clip of Dave Pearson

Clearly there is a lot going on here, it kicks off behind the referee, he is following the ball but the assistant referee, Sean Davey is watching the fight closely. Pearson approaches the AR to find out what is going on but then starts to suggest his own interpretation to the AR. Davey is trying but failing to give a perspective that Pearson fails to grasp. 

All three of these referees are highly experienced in pressure matches and the clips show us that remaining calm and focussed on an un-impassioned consideration of the evidence isn't always achievable. Barnes successfully uses the space of a chat to the AR to collect his thoughts and come to a clear and concise course of action. Getting time to deal with a situation on your won term is the most valuable thing you can manage, run through what you've seen, communicate clearly with other officials and players; deal with evidence, not emotion.

Rugby Club Bars #10

A great community club, three sides playing at home so there was plenty of life in the bar. Referees always like it when the bar staff know to give you a pint or two without asking for payment. The field captain didn't seem keen to talk but there was plenty of convivial chat with the team captain. A good pint of Green King IPA

The World of Rugby Referees

This is am excellent radio show from the iRB's very own media super-star Nigel Owen.

Nigel Owen's Whistleblowers

It looks are the grass roots of Welsh Rugby Union refereeing and it is fantastic to see the media give a whistle view of the game.

Its only available on the BBC iPlayer so you can only listen to it in the UK unless you follow these instructions.

Wednesday 14 September 2011

Referee Warnings

We would all agree that the ITV RWC commentary is rubbish, even worse than Stuart Barnes. Whilst watching the match, I’ve taken to listening to John Taylor and Brian Moore on TalkSport. Love him or hate him as a player, his analysis is informed and passionate. As far as referees are concerned the ‘informed’ element is only half baked. I know he has done the ELRA ref course but he hasn’t had pitch time and is lacking in continuous professional development.

His bug-bare for the World Cup is referees giving warning to captains after a number of penalties. “Is that a final warning, or what?”,  “will the next penalty be a yellow or not?”. He believes the ref communication is not being specific enough. He is probably right, but that is the point, the referee doesn’t want to restrict himself. The sanction of a card is game management tool, the treat is as effective as its use. When to use a card isn’t always black and white, a succession of penalties in mid-field is not the same as one or two 10m out from the goal line. In this regard the referee does not want to make a promise it would be inappropriate to keep.

Lets consider after 20 mins, Blue are under the cosh, four to five penalties have been conceded and two successful kicks have been made. The ref is going to give an warning, if he makes it specific then he is duty bound to yellow card someone; what ever. Next thing, Blue are on the Red 5m line, attacking and there is crossing, a penalty offense, but the referee has ‘promised’ a YC, the Red captain is expecting but it is hardly fair. The open warning gives the referee flexibility to judge a suitable sanction; in this case, Red clear their lines with a kick. If Blue kill the ball 10m out from their own goal-line then the referee still has the option to go straight to his pocket.

Another case might involve what I think of as the time-fade of warnings. The same 20 mins from Blue and a warning from the ref. The warning works and Blue’s discipline improves, its 15 mins until they give away another mid-field offence, Red has concede two or three penalties in this time. Blue’s compliance with the warning is rewarded by no card, they’ve listened and co-operated. The card can still come if they revert to form but for the time being they retain 15 men. Again if the specific warning was issued then the Red captain will expect the card. If the offence is in the red-zone and/or is cynical or dangerous, then the ref still has the flexibility to go to his pocket.

Issuing specific, open ended threats of a card binds the referee and reduces his option for delivering a fair game for all players. The use of cards is always there for the referee but needs to be contextualised.

Tuesday 13 September 2011

The Funniest NZ RWC Video.. bar none

World Cup Thoughts

Its a policy of this blog not to comment on the performance of top referees, no matter how bad they appear to be, they still know more about this game than me.

The big controversy in week one is the Hook penalty that TV cameras showed going between the posts. As a Welshman I would love it to have made it, but I doubt very much if it did. You can’t see it cross in front of the right post, it probably past outside and above the post. The two assistants referees were the best placed to judge and they seemed in no doubt as to if it made it. One dimensional TV pictures don’t tell the full story. I am sure it was Barnesy that referred to the TMO for a drop goal, a couple of years back. He knows it is available and he was happy to trust his view point and his ARs.

Courtney Laws was banned for two games for dropping a knee on an Argentine prop. Personally, I thought he deserved a card for the late tackle on the Argy no12 who left the field as a consequence. Rugby is a rough game but players have a duty of care to fellow players, Laws was at best reckless and that, in itself, deserves sanction. A two game ban is well below the threshold for kneeing an opponent. 

Back from the Summer

The end of the last season saw LondonRef upgraded yet again and I’m now a level 10, hopefully I can add a +1 at Christmas and consolidate that by season end.
With the Rugby World Cup in full swing, it seems odd to be starting the new season last weekend. It was a last minute appointment, only 3hrs before kick off but close at hand. Still it meant a rummage through cupboards to find my kit. No, I hadn’t cleaned my boots since last season either. Changing at the ground, I realised that I had forgotten my ref watch, a pain but not insurmountable.
The two sides were familiar to me, though this was a mixed friendly, I recognised the visiting tight-head, he’s normally a chopsy old timer with a weak grasp of binding etiquette. I pointed this out to his captain in our pre-match chat and asked him to keep him in line. A point he told me he ‘appreciated’ over the post-match beer.
The game was great fun, closely fought and spirited for an early season friendly. The home side picked up a few free-kicks from scrum engagements going early but lost out by failing to stay on their feet and roll away at tackles. The visitors operated much more as a unit, getting quick ball and their big physical centre making hard yards. Final score was 17-13 to the visitors, with good running rugby from both sides.
It was a easy game to manage, despite a couple of flair-ups and the view from the bar was they appreciated me trying to keep the game flowing, again, focus on materiality and keep the penalty count down. A much bigger challenge coming next week with one of the top vets sides in the district. Must remember my watch for that one

Tuesday 6 September 2011

Exclusive! Martyn Thomas' Phone Hacked

transcript: "Listen old boy, its all been a ghastly shower, dirty laundry in public and all that.
Lets say we sweep this under the carpet until after the RWC, after all the 1st Class tickets and hotels are booked. Once I've enjoyed my RFU jaunt down to the colonies, I'll go quietly. No expensive legal fees and bad press, you understand? Just as we discussed at the East India? "

Friday 10 June 2011

Brutality in the Sun

Its just about time for the end of season and one last outing at the Rugby Rocks London 10’s. A nice mix of social and vets with some good rugby on offer and the game mostly played with a super spirit. Unfortunately the heat boiled over in the mid-afternoon in a game I was due to ref but was swapped out of.
It was an Old Boys side verse a team mostly made up of players from my old club. I will stress I did not see what happened next but my description comes from discussions with the four refs that did. It seems an Old Boys elbow clocked someone, not for the first time. That provoked a fluffy of fists from both sides, who threw the first punch is unknown, who finished it was the Welsh boys. I arrived as two Old Boys were receiving treatment from the medics. One had a cut mouth and missing teeth and the other had a suspected fractured eye socket. Both were taken to hospital and discussion surrounded whether the police should be called and if the Welsh side should be thrown out of the competition.
The disappointing thing is that despite a ref and two assistants none of them saw enough of the action to identify the assailants. The best account came from the senior ref watching casually. So no one was red-carded as they should have been.
Only one player was clearly identified, the Welsh no8, a player I knew well from my playing days.  Sadly, it is a pattern of play that is all too familiar to me. Most weeks he was involved in some punch up, I remember one year he laid out the no8 from the same team in both fixtures. Apparently, he never started it, no, he is just protecting his mates but he always in the thick of it. The depressing thing is he is not some angry young man, he is in his mid-50’s. Learning to play rugby in the valleys in the 70’s this may be how the game was played. These days its not acceptable, its rare to see it at the top of the game and there is no reason basic thuggery should be acceptable lower down.
This character is a revered clubman; youth coach and past committee man: the only reason his ban for battering someone who provoked him in the club house was over turned.
When you play, or even a spectator and there is some hand-bags its a bit spicy, you may welcome the extra edge its brings to the game. However, as a ref you are responsible for player safety and seeing two players taken to hospital following what is common assault is something that need to stamped out.
The side in question wasn’t playing as a Welsh team, they were a mixed group, but they were wearing the club shirts. Its disappointing for me as a Welshman but from my experience with Welsh teams at the Schools Sevens there is pattern emerging that a basic level of violence is an acceptable part of the game.
No one will be arrested or banned for what happened, there won’t be enough clear cut evidence. The ref team slipped up on that one, a team of three should have got one of them but it was a social afternoon and no one was expecting this. It is clear that one pugilist should retire.
The good news is that the two injured players were not as badly injured as first thought, indeed no teeth were missed and the eye injury was superficial. 

Thursday 21 April 2011

Saturday 9 April 2011

Scrum V talk Refereeing

Another match, another referee gaff. That is very much how the pundits and press see it but on the headline controversy in this match the officials got it right and however the decision was reached it was the right one. Despite his claims, Kingsley Jones makes it look very easy to criticise referees because he has the benefit of 20/20 hind-sight.
The BBC team do a thorough job of picking up every mistake that Ulster v Scarlets Referee Graham Knox makes, yes there was clearly some inconsistency over side entry and offside, but some of the others I wouldn't class as material errors. What I take exception to is the studio comments from Jason Mohammed and Kingsley Jones, both are 100% accurate but completely wrong. The Laws of The Game do define the role of the TMO but as with all aspects of the LoTG they should be used in context to give players a fair and enjoyable game.
The Scarlets player clearly knocks-on before he crosses the goal-line, with a second pair of eyes the FAIR outcome is this is picked up and the try disallowed. It is sensible that the exact scope of the TMO's remit is flexible to enable the CORRECT decision to be made. We don't want to get to the situation were we winding the game back 3-4 phases looking for a mistake but the knock on was a material part of that try being/not being scored. Even the most one-eyed Scarlets fan would concede that right and fair decision was made.
There is a clear gulf between what media commentators view as the role of the referee and what we see our role being. To the pundits refereeing is black and white, an infringement in Law blow the whistle. Our view is to give the players a game that enjoyable and equitable using the LoTG as a frame work.
Mr Mohammed before you start quoting the letter of the Law be sure you are aware of the following;
6.A.4 (a) The referee is the sole judge of fact and of Law during a match. The referee must apply fairly all the Laws of the Game

Friday 8 April 2011

Rugby Club Bars #10

After a feisty game in lovely sunshine, London Ref was looking forward to beer and a chat. However, as a team without a home of their own, the hosts drank at the soccer centre next door to the university ground they use. As if being full of soccer players wasn't bad enough, there was no bitter, not even keg! Ref had to settle for plastic lager. Fortunately both teams were happy to share their (positive) thoughts on the game and keep my glass topped up.

Wednesday 30 March 2011

Walking with Giants

As LondonRef moves up the grades he can claim something in common with the best refs in the world; refereeing my old side London Welsh Occies Vets. Wayne Barnes recently took charge of these fellas in a merit league match vs Ealing Vets on the playing fields of Richmond, dog-shit and all. Its a long way from the World Cup Final he is likely to take charge of next year (Safe money, England won’t be in it).

Chatting to my old muckers at the weekend they were clearly in awed by the experience; these players will only grudgingly acknowledge a  referee as being any good. To be truthfully at the level they have played in the past they would not be getting the best the game can offer. Like many Vets they contain players who have played at much high levels and been accorded referees as such. When you have seen what a National Panel referee can do and you now have a 40 year old never-going-to-be, you are going to be frustrated but that is the nature of the game.

The most fascinating aspect of their critique was the he only gave 4 penalties in the entire match. I think in my early encounters with LW Occies this was closer to 40. Have they suddenly got better, or did Wayne miss all that going off their feet and handling in rucks? I suspect it is neither. How did he handle the inevitable discussion about “didn’t you see that, every time sir?” 

Barnesy gave an excellent talk to the Ref Society last year which he outlines how he approaches refereeing games. Using his judgement of materiality he looks to see if blowing his whistle is fair and equitable and I guess, does it increase the enjoyment of the game for all those involved. Making sure this runs smoothly requires good communication skills either in pulling players back from the brink of committing an offence or letting them know you saw it and why you didn’t blow.

I’ve tried to use a lot from that talk to improve my game this season and by my reports it seems to be working. It is also important to consider who he was reffing, a Vets merit match requires a different touch to my student cups games or a Tri-nations decider in Ellis Park.

There are two ironic outcomes from this, the first is some of the same players have regularly hurled abuse in the bar for Mr Barnes reffing Wales like he reffed the Occies, hopefully they will be  more understanding next time. The second is that, despite dominating the early part of the match, London Welsh ran out of steam at the end of the match and lost. The game was one of the fastest and most open they can remember. So some things never change, it was the ref’s fault they lost the match!

Monday 7 March 2011

Rugby Club Bar #8

Friendly club out in the sticks, two local beers; Hepworths. Both teams stopped around and shared man of the match and dick of the day

Monday 7 February 2011

Rugby Club Bar #8

Out in the countryside for a colts game. A good, sturdy club house with plenty of memorabilia though the fire wasn't lit the welcome was warm; a bottle of sports drink was offered on arrival and a pint of London Pride was presented with little delay. There was even a Creme Egg for LondonRef Jnr.

Sunday 6 February 2011

Rugby Club Bar #7

This week was a friendly, inner suburban club with a scruffy but much loved club house. It was one of the rare occasions where an alickado pops into the changing room post match and asks what I'd like to drink. A pint of London Pride duly appeared and there was no charge for the subsequent pint. The home captain made an effort to come and chat, shame the visitors didn't even make it to the club house.

Friday 4 February 2011

Thursday 3 February 2011

Rugby Club Bar #6

Another student bar and yet again I'm on own. I'm beginning to get a complex, the visitors had to catch their bus back but at least popped in for a take-away. The home captain popped up to pay expenses but didn't buy me a pint. Still, a nice bottle of Fuller's London Pride and a quick chat with the soccer ref.

Red steal the win, an omen for Friday?

An eventful afternoon with two University 2/3rd teams both showing great commitment and if moderate skill. Red scored first but yellow soon replied with three cracking tries. The scrum is looking like a key area of attrition. Yellow have a hugely strong Saffa loose head whilst red have a smaller but technically proficient Welsh tight head, with a high opinion of himself. The first quarter brings 3 scrummage penalties; driving up (yellow), driving in (red), standing up (red). After this they start getting the message, hopefully that they have a ref that has an idea what's going on. It wasn’t the end of the penalties but things settled. Truth is that the Saffa was single handedly destroying the oppo. I needed the “dominate, don’t destroy” chat at one point.    

Towards the end of the first half, red score wide out. I'm standing close by for the conversion, about half way between touch and mid-field. As the kicker is running up I see that the touch judges haven't made it to the posts, so its going to be my call. My angle isn't good and the light is poor. Initially it looked to be going wide but the wind seemed to push it through, I am reasonably confident its a good kick and I give it. From the yellow players' reaction is immediately clear that it missed. I stand by my decision. The first half ends 19-14 to yellow.

Yellow score first in the second half, 26-14 but its a fair contest until the final quarter. A scrum on half way see red break and as I’m start running to follow them a body appears at my feet and my face hits the dirty. I struggle to blow my whistle to stop play but it seems red are crossing the line to score. I can’t give it and bring play back for a scrum. Red’s forwards are applying some good pressure and even score to bring it to 26-21. More pressure and yellow kill the ball 7m out; yellow card and No4 is out for the rest of the game. A red scrum 7m out sees the No8 break but he careers into me but keeps running, crosses the line and drops it, I’d called advantage for the bump so it comes back for the scrum which red score. 26-28 and we are into the last 5 minutes.

A sweeping wide move sees yellow score again to make it 31-28 with the conversion missed, surely its all over. With less than 3 minutes on the clock, play moves into the yellow 22 and red earn a scrum, its won scrappily and the 10 takes it on a broad banana run which sees him round the defence and score. 31-33 with the conversion missed I blow for time.

Yellow are now furious about the earlier conversion and I have some sympathy - I was probably wrong. My defence is that they needed to make more of an effort to provide touch judges. Despite this the feedback from both teams was positive and it was a game with some great rugby and plenty of enjoyment for all. I hope the 6 Nations has some matches with as much excitement…and Red stealing the win of course.

Monday 31 January 2011

Flashy and Forceful

imageTwo games last week and both ended up being disappointing. The first was a mid-week student game, out in West London and happened to feature the same visiting side as a week earlier. They had been big winners then but given the strong sports tradition of the home side I expected a closer contest. The traditions didn’t extent to the groundsman, who seemed of have marked the grass for every sport except rugby. The additional pitch stripes did make spotting forward passes much easier, not that seem to amuse the visitors too much

As the side’s behaviour was fresh in my mind, I prepared myself, strong scrum, width and speed on their counter attack and captain and No8 that don’t know how to keep quiet. In the first half, they certainly found things tougher; the home side where physically smaller, but threw themselves in to the game with great spirit and where only 12-0 down at half time. Having the advantage of the substantial wind and slope in the second half they could expect to even things up.

The wet and windy weather meant that last week’s spectacular mis-passes  from the fly-half were going all over the place and contributing to the scrum count. The home side fell apart in the second half conceding 6 tries, including an impressive chip and collect that would not have looked out of place on an international field. Final score 46-3 to the visitors.

My weekend game was a merit league match, first place vs second. However, this too proved to a one sided affair, with the home side running away with it. Brute force and team work were the defining features of the home side. A few beefy Saffas, who inevitably spent the whole game refereeing the game for me. However, it was the visitors who conceded my fastest yellow card. Attempted interception from Blue, knocked on, but I played advantage, the Red fly-half stops in his tracks and screams at me about the missed knock-on. You can go for rest matey!

The second half became very disjointed as injuries took their toll, one was nasty as a Red player was left with a hyper-extended neck injury which, thankfully only left him with a painful stinger. Scrums became uncontested after Blue loose head attempted to hook the ball back in and the scrum collapsed injuring the shoulder of his tight head. Blue finished as 43-5 winners. I had some good feed-back from both sides, but I think each expected the whistle sooner for infringements I was running advantage or judged immaterial.

Rugby Club Bar #5

An ageing but well loved/used bar at this South London Old Boys club. 3 rugby matches and some hockey players and even Lacrosse made for lively and crowded bar. Hook Norton bitter and Young's (very) Ordinary. The home skipper and some friendly alickados made for some good banter, especially with regard to scrums.

Wednesday 26 January 2011

Rugby Club Bar #4

Shocking afternoon. The students I reffed today had NO BAR! Won't be going back there anytime soon!

Monday 24 January 2011

Splashing About

imageNo one drowned this week, but it was a close thing. Plenty of games have been called off because of the water logged pitches in recent weeks. Indeed the venue for this match was swapped with the opposition, playing rugby in the mud is slowly being phased out. Despite the change of ground, the playing surface included three distinct puddles, the largest about 2-3m across! I warned the captains that I would blow quickly unless the pile ups happened in the shallow end!

The matched ended up as a great and good humoured tussle, the visitors (though technically the home side because of the ground switch) got the better of the first half, the first try was well worked with the player tackled on the line. The player landed with his back to me, though I was positioned slightly in front of him. I couldn’t see the ball, but judged it to be on or just over, it was only when he rolled over to get up, that I realised the ball was probably just short.  I wasn’t going to reverse it and even with a TMO I wouldn’t have gone upstairs. There was surprisingly little complaint from the home side which was surprising given my previous experience with that team. Half time ended 15-3 to the visitors.

As the second half got underway, it be came apparent that the the home side were tightening up their game, they had a significant forward advantage and there two second half tries came from push over tries. Given the current discussion at the top of the game, these was well executed and the opposition took the pressure and didn’t drop it, stand up or disintegrate. Scrummaging under the current laws is possible if the players want to play to them.

The second try came after the yellow card was brandished for killing the ball 3m out under the posts. The ruck was a big pile of bodies but the purple arm across the ball was clear to see. If you are going to commit an offence in that position, don’t wear fancy matching under-vests.

With the game balanced at 15-all the home side where again camped on the visitors line, the ruck developed into a pile of bodies. The purple player at the back was on the wrong side, but couldn’t escape. It was going to be an attacking scrum until the scrum-half decided to intervene, 2-3 stamps onto the side ribs of the prostrate player. No question of a yellow, but a real question of whether it was red. Once again it had been a good natured game I warned the player that they might not be so lucky with another referee and in the end I didn’t fancy the paper-work.

Great feed-back from the players and score that was a fair result for what the two sides brought to the game.

Rugby Club Bar #3

A familiar bar for refs in this area as it is where we hold our monthly training sessions. Got served quickly, pint or two of Fuller's London Pride. Home captain also bought me a Lucozade without prompt too, or may be he left his own on the bar. Note the cabal of visiting alickados in the corner of the bar

Friday 21 January 2011

Well we've got to stand somewhere

Ronan O'Gara yellow carded for scuffle

I didn't see this live, I was watching the Ospreys implode on the red button. Yet again we see see how little commentators understand about the referee's duty to manage the game and tempers.

Rugby Dump

The commentator is heard to say "everyone is in again" suggesting there had been trouble before so the referee will be concious that tensions are high and firm action is needed. O'Gara firstly comes in at the side to take the 9 out, whether Black 9 was standing as a blocker is relevant, neither action is material and as the Assistant Ref says its hand-bags. O'Gara has had his shot, Mignon can have one back as far as I'm concerned. O'Gara then pins the 9 to the floor and forces his fist into his face. Not very nice. Personally I would have asked the AR for a recommendation but Pearson the referee clearly has already set the conflagration in the context of the rest of the match and decided that someone needs to be carded to calm down everyone else.

As different match with a different lead up, then O'Gara would have stayed on the pitch, but it looks a fair decision to me. Lemy was lucky to stay on too, in the replay he is looking to separate the players but in the first run he looks to be running across to join, especially with the swinging arm and head lock. Good job the AR was looking the other way.

Once again its bollocks from Stuart Barnes, who have thought!

Thursday 20 January 2011

Medics Need Resuscitation

Back in my day the medical students of this illustrious London college swept all before them, winning the London Hospitals Cup each and every year. Yesterday they were beaten 78-0, and it is the third time I’ve reffed them this season in the league, each time its been a heavy defeat. The fact they are the arch rivals of my alma mater has nothing to do with that what so ever.

The game was barely a minute old when the visitor scored their first try but for the next 30 minutes the Medics held the tide, they worked well in the tight and scrambled defence saw them keeping out the Black tide. There were some minor issues with props not binding but there was a fair and safe fight in scrums, despite the physical disadvantage of the home side. The final ten minutes of the half saw three good tries, which finished off the contest. By now the visitors were securing fast ball and the excellent fly half was able to deliver double mis-passes which added width the home side could not cope with.

The first half ended with a yellow card for the Black hooker, as he attempted to pull down a maul using the head of the Red lock. Despite being down to 14 men, Black still racked up 4 tries, 1 in the first half and three at the start of the second. Red had by now completely lost all shape and as a few fresh legs appeared from the training match adjacent, some extra dynamism appeared. Unfortunately for Red, their best player, No8, was badly supported by his pack resulting in too many turnovers. There was to be another yellow in the dying minutes as Red flanker (one of the the fresh legs) brought his boot down on an errant leg in a ruck.

Despite the hammering the home side gave me a good score card and surprising the winning side were the ones to conceded two penalties for back chat.

Wednesday 19 January 2011

Rugby Club Bars #2

Student bar again this time and the contrast could not be different to Saturday, would you believe there are 4 home team here today? A friendly bar man, referees get their first pint free but a chat with him resulted in a second free one too. They had sold out of all draft beer so it was a decent bottle of Old Specked Hen.

Couple of New Links

There are a couple of new referees blogging out there;

lsrfur-blog is a fellow London Society who is young and keen and viewed as a Referee With Potential
therugbyref operates someone in the South of England and is a couple of notches further up the ladder.

Please have a read about these guys too

Out of the way old man

Bethan Rugby ShirtThere is an old saying, “Youth and talent is not match for age and skulduggery”; this was put to the test on Saturday as I took control of a student team verses an adult league team. The students train with the opposition so they were clear this was to be a full contact training match of four quarters. My enthusiasm dropped markedly on hearing this.
From the kick off it was clear that the students were up for it speed and accurate execution saw them quickly rack up three tries. The skulduggery was provided by the grey and balding no6 who was warned about where he put his feet and lashing out at being held back. He was quickly off the field as the the home captain rocketed into him on the floor (with a dropped knee that I missed). This was the second time the captain had done this and yet again I erred about carding him, had it been a competitive game I would have but I choose not to as I wasn’t sure it would have achieved much. On reflection, he should have walked, he had already been warned. Clearly, if I had seen the knee then a red card would have been the sanction.
The home side were able to finish the first half 33-0 as all possession was pushed wide quickly; 3-4 to one overlaps were frequent and surprisingly often squandered. The second half was less one sided as the substitutes were rotated and increasingly the students started to appear on behalf of the visitors. I became concerned in the final quarter as a new prop appeared, he clearly wasn’t up to it, small with poor technique. However, as this was a training match, I was able to talk with his opposite number and he agreed to protect him. Young props have to get experienced somehow and this was a good opportunity for him to cut his teeth. I am glad I spotted this and worked constructively with the team, but I warned his coach that he needs a lot more coaching before he is let loose in proper match. The next prop and referee may not be so obliging and the consequences disastrous. Final score 48-0

Sunday 16 January 2011

Rugby Club Bars #1

An occasional series showing the post match facilities. Here we have a brand new student bar, at the venue for the Women's World Cup. It wasn't until the last day of that tournament I discovered the excellent range of real ales available; all small independent breweries. Today's tipple was Irvings Type 42, a strong best bitter. It being students, I had buy my own pint.

Saturday 15 January 2011

Muddy Rugger

Lost my game today because rugby isn’t played in the mud anymore. Have got a second game at my favourite ground. Great facilities and selection of post match beer

Monday 10 January 2011

Running off the Xmas Pud

Saturday was my first level 10 match and the first game of 2011 and whilst all 31 of us needed to blow away a few cobwebs, it went well. The venue was club I seem to be sent to surprisingly frequently, at least 2-3 per season; its not particularly close either. Still it has warm changing room, friendly alickadoos and proper first aiders. Moving up a level also meant playing on the first pitch rather than their awful, inclined, mud-swamp of a second pitch.

The first half progressed well with the visitors just about getting the edge with their organised pack. The home side admitted to using a lot of youngsters who “didn’t use the top 2 inches”. The surprising thing was how long it took for the first scrum, I am aware I do give a lot, this goes back to an assessor telling me to blow early at rucks before frustrations boil over. However, in this case, whilst the rucks weren’t particularly tidy, the ball was coming back were it deserved to be fairly quickly and handling was sharp enough to hold down the number of knock-ons.

Both front rows seemed to behave themselves but the visitors did seem to twist it regularly. The back row binding was a problem from both sides and materiality was a useful tool. I did penalise but only when the flanker got in the way, made the tackle or forced an error. The flanker captain of the visitors questioned my consistency with the “stay bound” instruction and I pointed out to him that the only way he could see that the opposite No8 was detached was if he himself was breaking early. Sheepish retreat.

The visitors got some luck from the kick-off,  Blue caught the ball close to their 22 and the fly-half’s poor pass to his centre rebounded of his shoulder and into the arms on the oppo for an easy run-in to score under the posts. The visitors were starting to complain about stamping, indeed, one forwards showed me a stud scrape on his hand, which I am sure he deserved, however it is frowned upon these days as it scares away Sky viewers. So when I over-heard a home prop boasting about the arm that he stamped on, he and his captain were warned about the outcome if I caught him doing it.

I have to admit to two errors, one technical and one judgemental. The home side were awarded a penalty on the visitors 10m line and attempted a cross field kick to the their winger, unfortunately the defending winger caught it and called for mark, which I instinctively gave (d’oh!). Luckily no-one noticed and  they failed to remember the incidence when he later called for a mark from a kick-off and I called play-on. Next up, in the dying minutes the home side are 10 pts down, 10 m out and pressing for a try, the defencive player is trapped on the wrong side in a ruck and I’m about the blow for an attacking scrum when the scrum half brings his foot down sharply on the player’s calf. Clearly deliberate and close to the knee joint, I showed him Yellow but it should have been Red.

The post match feed-back was positive with a couple of minor issues with rucks (as always) and strangely communication. Physically, I’ve been tested harder in some level 11 games but I’m happy that I came through this well.