More refs, or fewer laws?

With controversial officiating hogging the rugby headlines, the AOR team debates whether it’s time to increase the number of referees, or trim the lawbook.

Tank Lanning – More referees
Consistency is what most coaches ask of officials. Fair enough, but how about objective, correct decisions based on the black and white of the law book?

Subjectivity of officials asked to interpret the laws rather than just blow them as is, is a proper issue. Yes, simplification of the law book will definitely help, and it must happen, but I fear we have passed the point of no return.

Rugby has become a complex game, made more so given the laws being implemented around player safety. And the number of those are likely to grow.

And as long as we keep intent in the laws – surely vital – we are always going to need officials on the field, thus keeping some form of subjectivity.

So in order to keep it to a minimum, I say increase the number of eyes on the game. But in our high-tech, connected world, not all of them need to be on the field.

I’d start with a centralised TMO body sitting in a state-of-the-art multi screened facility overseeing all tournament specific referrals. With the same people overseeing all decisions, including those initiated by the TMO, we would get both better consistency and objectivity.

We could then empower said TMO group with policing the offside line – key to keeping space in the modern game – using a line superimposed on a few of their screens.

The touchlines could also potentially be policed remotely, allowing the AR’s to focus on the game.

On the field I’d have an extra specialised ref come on to officiate the set piece, and introduce a simple white card system allowing the skipper or coach to query two calls during the match.

Yes it might slow the game down initially, but players would soon learn to play according to the actual laws, and not various interpretations thereof. 

Zelím Nel – Fewer laws
To be more precise, there should be fewer exceptions and sub-clauses. Though scrum penalties remain a source of contention, most would agree that it’s been much less so since we stopped expecting referees to discern the dynamic physics of the set piece.

By simplifying and streamlining the cues, the bloke with the whistle effectively watches to see which prop loses his bind first and then penalises that team. It doesn’t mean the decision is correct in every instance, but there’s a measure of consistency that coaches can plan for.

The same editing process needs to be applied to the rest of the law book. For example, it is illegal to be off your feet at the ruck – penalty. Instead of making exceptions because a ruck contest often collapses, enforce this law.

Therefore, the first arriving player that falls to the ground (before the ball is played) must be penalised, and where players from both teams go to ground simultaneously, the team going backwards is penalised.

This will result in a ruck contest that rewards ballistic force less than wrestling technique as the first arrivals inevitably occupy their time trying to put their opponent on the deck to win a penalty.

With this in mind, failure to successfully bind onto a ruck opponent is a penalty, no exceptions.

Make the offsides line run through the point of the tackle, regardless of how long the ensuing ruck is.

A player may not be lifted in the tackle, period. Body angles and landings are irrelevant. There’s a clear difference between being tackled off your feet and being lifted off your feet.

A tackler that makes contact with the neck or head of the ball-carrier at any point during the process has committed a high tackle. Penalty.

A ball that is closer to the try-line after it has been passed than it was at the instant the passer released it has, factually, travelled forward. Blow it thus!

OK, you’ve read what they think, now let us know which way you’re leaning, or join the #BigDebate on Twitter!

- Big Debate

Let's chat

  • Johan

    There is a famous meme, that is perfect for this argument: “Why not both?”
    Neither argument impedes the other and both will help improve refereeing in rugby.

    I have always hated commentators’ famous saying in rugby: “You have to adapt to the referee”…
    How stupid is that?

    Is there any other sport where you adapt the rules according to the officials?
    Is the line only sometimes “in” in tennis?
    Some referees allow 1m offside in soccer?
    The wide line shifts in cricket depending on the umpire?

    I know these referees also make mistakes, but no one is telling them the batsman needed to adjust to the new rules…

    Rugby also has so many rules that a few extra pairs of eyes would help a lot.
    I would suggest dedicated ARs watching the offside line, that would free up current ARs to watch players off feet playing the ball, entering the ruck from the side, skew throws at lineouts and in scrums, etc. etc.

    Combined with clearly defined rules, rugby would be much less of a mess and fans can’t always blame the referee

  • Andrew

    As Johan says why not both? Blow the bloody laws correctly must be the 1st step. No 2 make it easier for refs, ARs must police the offside line they are in the best position, they can see right across the field. No. 3 Add a 2nd official to help with set phases..

    Centralized TMO that is not subject to the vagaries of the various biased media outlets. VAR worked in the Football world cup because they control the replay they see and focus on the incidents independently.

    Finally Zelim is spot on simplify the laws.

  • Nick

    he ‘interpretation’ is often or mostly the problem.
    Like Zelim says, Players should stay on their feet at the ruck. Simple. Besides the tackler and tackled player who generally lose their footing [and then role away], nobody should be off their feet. Nobody should have their hands in once the ruck has formed either.
    In many cases if the law is simply applied we won’t have any probs.
    Greater complexity and auxiliary personnel won’t help. Certainly at the lower levels of the game where you’re lucky to get just one half decent ref.

  • John Comyn

    Aussie rules have 7 umpires. 3 on the field, two on the touch line and 2 behind the goalposts. So an extra ref on the field to manage scrums is unlikely to be disruptive. I agree with Tank’s suggestion in terms of the off-side rule being left to technology. The rush defence & the laws around the ruck are killing the game. Also, like Zelim says, simplify the laws – no grey areas! They have even made the forward pass a complex thing that is open to interpretation for crying out loud!

  • John Comyn

    Talking about refs – anyone know who is reffing The Cape Crusaders / Stormers derby?

  • Chris Mouotn

    Spot on, Johan, why not both? Rugby would make huge strides if the offside line is policed correctly. Let the referees keep their eyes on the game and the eyes in the sky watch the offside line and where the ball crosses the line during a kick. The latter might have cost the Sharks a win against the Chiefs, as the ball clearly crossed the line in the dead zone.

  • Wesley

    No no, its part of the game we are told countless times. Suck it up. Take your loss or win like a man. No complaints on the ref or laws are allowed. :)

  • Barry

    To my mind, the biggest issue by far is the lack of consistency in the application of the laws. The variances are so huge from game to game and region to region that it damages the product!

    Look for example at any successful international big brand and you’ll see at their core is a consistency in product and product delivery.

    Take Mac Donald’s for example. You can buy it anywhere in the world, but make no mistake their products Director wields a big stick. If you buy a Mac Burger in Beijing, it comes on a sesame bun, has 100grs of cardboard burger, a pickle, ketchup and regular crappy fries and is wrapped in that familiar grease proof paper. Buy it in New York, same thing, buy it in SA, same same. The reality is that international brands do not tolerate variances in product or interpretations, and that’s why they are successful!

    Now in rugby the brand rules go straight out the window, every ref gets to have his own interpretation, Mac managers that do not follow brand rules get fired, referees do not!

    It is time we got testy with our “brand rugby”. We want international standards applied consistently in every corner of the globe and we expect “Brand Ambassadors” (refs) who do not comply to be fired!

    Mac Donalds have achieved it, Coke has, Mercedes Benz has, so why is it the Pro Rugby expect us to tolerate less?

  • Dean Bright

    I agree, surely referees should be held to standards. If they don’t meet those required standards then bring someone else in. I’m not saying throw that referee away entirely. Have him brush up on his skills at a lower level and when he has been “rehabilitated”, bring him back.

    Great idea from Tank. You have the technology, use it. All other sports in the World are.

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