Arguably Nigel Owens’ worst performance as a Test referee, in Wellington NZ last Saturday, yet again drew attention to the complete mess rugby has got into by not adhering to its own Law Book.
If ever an All Black captain was to have been sent off it should have been Kieran Read for an overtly dangerous “clean-out” of Francois Louw.
Read came in from the side of a (so-called) ruck, dived off his feet and made contact with Louw in the neck and head area – sending the strapping Springbok flanker flying, which obviously required some force.
Granted it was during a period that the match was building to a crescendo but Owens did not blow on his whistle, did not stop the play, did not award the Boks’ a penalty and certainly did not reach for his pocket of playing cards.
This at a time that World Rugby, along with other sports bodies, has put out clear missives that contact with the head is outlawed because of studies showing the serious and lasting effects of concussion.
Read is a fine and admirable sportsman and one helluva No8 forward but he should have got his marching orders – at least a yellow card.
Owens also missed a blatant no-arms shoulder hit (they call it a body-stop in hockey) by Jack Goodhue on Warren Whiteley that had the Bok eighthman and stand-in skipper on the canvas, but the Welsh referee either did not see the infringement, or did, and simply waved play on.
There were other blind spots, knock-ons, forward passes and, to be fair, possible penalties against the desperately defending Boks in the last hectic minutes which were not called by Owens.
You have to ask what on earth were the assistant referees, Frenchman Pascal Gauzere and Australia’s Nic Berry watching? Should the TMO, England’s Rowan Kitt, not have intervened to point out, at the very least, Read’s impersonation of a scud missile?
Yet in the same sequence one of them was able to intervene to have Willie le Roux binned for an innocuous misdemeanour while missing the more dangerous act.
Now juxtapose this with a match that took place thousands of kilometres away in a different hemisphere between the Leicester Tigers and Wasps.
Leicester’s Will Spencer was shown a red card for a dangerous tackle on Tommy Taylor and ended up being banned for four weeks.
The disciplinary panel found that “on the balance of probabilities this was a reckless tackle that resulted in direct, forceful contact to the head of Tommy Taylor.”
No matter that Spencer is a bean pole and the smaller Taylor dipped into him. It looked accidental but, hey, it’s the law.
So how now Kieran Read? His action of illegally entering a ruck (so-called) was surely, at the very least, reckless?
Fans were quick to point out (as they can and do on social media) that yet again it was different strokes for different folks when it comes to the All Blacks. There certainly is a universal view that when it comes to the 50/50s the All Blacks get the rub of the green.
However I am more inclined to lay the blame on the doormat of World Rugby in Pembroke Street, Dublin.
For too long the game’s high court judges have sent down edicts which are at odds with the Laws of The Game.
Take the neck roll outcry involving David Pocock. The very structure of the ruck has been so transformed that it hardly resembles what stands in the book. The Wallaby loose forward, a solid block of immovable concrete, is the supreme master of the hands-in that is permitted but also the best example of what has gone wrong.
Players going for the turnover bend down to grab the ball with their heads down. So what happens? The cleaners hit into them around the head area or like Pocock they get grabbed by the neck (where else do you grab?) and twisted off the ball.
It is in fact the rule that causes the danger to the player.
Too many laws are simply not applied; such as the hindmost foot, yet violent clearing out (sometimes of a player nowhere near the ball) or the legalised obstruction which is the driving maul, is okay.
Too much is left to the referee’s subjective discretion and, being human, they err or come to conflicting conclusions.
So here goes, one more time… all we ask for is consistency, the same outcome for the same indiscretion… just blow the bloody laws as they stand in the book.