Rugby’s credibility is suffering

October 24, 2011
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Respected sport scientist and long standing friend of RuggaWorld, Dr. Ross Tucker, offers his views on the Rugby World Cup and specifically referees and how their performance is damaging the game’s credibility.

Article originally published on The Science of Sport website

So 24 years of waiting is over for New Zealand, who beat France 8-7 in a pulsating and perhaps unexpectedly competitive Rugby World Cup Final today.  It may have been the lowest scoring final ever played, but it was suspenseful and adventurous, certainly more than the previous two finals.  France produced a performance worthy of the showpiece match of the tournament, having come into it with two losses and the anticipation of a blowout victory to New Zealand.  Rather, it was France who played the adventurous rugby, and only some ineffectiveness in attack and New Zealand’s resolute defending prevented them from winning their first title.

Instead, New Zealand won their second, but it was significant in that they have been, for the most part, the best team going into each of the six World Cup tournaments, sometimes by a large margin.  Having failed to win the World Cup on five occasions despite being the favorites had earned New Zealand the tag of “chokers”, a team that peaked between World Cups but failed to deliver when it mattered.  Two of those famous defeats came at the hands of France (in 1999 and 2007) and so when this French team stood firm and began to control the match following a second half try that brought the score back to 8-7, a blanket of anxiety settled over Eden Park in Auckland.

Choking vs panic

There were times when New Zealand appeared close to panic in this final – they were flustered, made unforced errors, chose poor tactical options and generally seemed to be hanging on and defending a one-point lead with desire rather than application.  At this point, it seemed to me that had New Zealand NOT won this World Cup, it would have been because of panic, rather than choking (an explanation that is just too convenient to use, and unfairly earned, not only by NZ rugby by also by SA cricket).  Their composure deserted them, though the injury to their flyhalf, which meant that they played most of the final with a fourth choice pivot, certainly influenced their tactical approach.  As did their lead, and they seemed more concerned with defending the one-point advantage than playing proactively, which set the final 30 minutes up as France with the ball, New Zealand without it.

For an explanation of how choking differs from panic, and why a team that loses a match is not necessarily choking, read this piece by Malcolm Gladwell. I’ve never really been fond of simply throwing out the excuse of “chokers” every time the more favored team loses – sometimes you are just outplayed or out-thought by a team who are better than you on the day.  The margins in international sport are so small that this can happen fairly easily, and it’s too simple to say “New Zealand choked”, when in fact, France may have simply been unbeatable on a given day, as was the case in 1999.  For a comparable case in tennis, Federer’s loss to Tsonga in Wimbledon earlier this year is the best I can think of – sometimes, however great you are, the other team/player just rises to a level that no one would match, and it’s your bad fortune to be there at the time!

The influence of the referee in rugby

However, the tactical and technical nature of the game is not what I want to focus on in this post – that is something that rugby websites around the world will do enough of (see this example for a match report).

Instead, I thought I would give some of my thoughts on a topic that follows every rugby match, and that is the debate and criticism of the referee. The reality is that the referee in a rugby match has become incredibly influential in determining how the game is played.  The result is that rugby has a growing credibility problem, where every match threatens to degenerate into objections about the performance of the referee, rather than assessment of the relative performances of its players.  Whenever the result on the scoreboard can be dismissed as being the result of someone’s opinion or bias, there is a problem.

And this has happened in virtually every close match in the 2011 Rugby World Cup, which will be remembered not solely for the on-field performances, but for weak referee performances, some of which have been questionable, some outright poor.  The most controversial of these probably came in the Quarter-final, where Australia beat South Africa 11-9 in a match that was later alleged to have been “bent” as part of the condemnation on the performance of referee Bryce Lawrence (more on my views of that allegation later)

Rugby presents a unique challenge in that the referee is required to make a specific decision about a contested tackle almost 200 times a match (once every 30 seconds), and this decision is multi-dimensional, instantaneous and open to interpretation.  As a result, these decisions (and there are so many of them) influence the game to the extent that accusation, criticism and allegation are inevitable.   It’s part of sport, certainly, but rugby seems more prone to accusations that “the ref helped ABC win” than any other sport.  The problem is that from this point, it’s a short journey to allegations of fixing, corruption and cheating, when the problem may be simple incompetence or interpretation of the tackle rules of the sport.  Either way, the credibility of a result is called into question.

This situation exists because so much of the contest in rugby revolves around competing for the ball after a tackle, in the breakdown contest.  The attacking team needs to recycle possession quickly, whereas the defending team are at worst trying to slow it down to re-organize in defence, at best trying to win the ball on the ground.  The result is a huge contest, the outcome of which goes a considerable distance towards determining the match result, but which is itself determined by how the referee interprets how both sets of players test the boundaries of the law (because this is what players will do, understandably – it’s like football players trying to play close to the offside line)

A unique situation?

I cannot think of another sport where the interpretation of the rule by an official so clearly influences the way that teams play the match.  In football (soccer), the most contentious decisions are those when a penalty appeal is made, offsides is ruled, or when foul-play is adjudged.   They are fairly clear-cut, and far less frequent than in rugby.  And certainly, they can influence matches in a big way – I’m not downplaying how significant a referee decision can be.  In the NFL, decisions can be similarly significant, but usually involve clear transgressions of rules.  Tennis, there’s no influence, particularly now that television replays are used.  And similarly, cricket umpires are often criticized and single decisions can be very influential, but with TV assistance, the incidence of these has certainly come down.  If there is a sport that I’m missing, please let me know.

The rugby situation – too much interpretation

Rugby is different – the most contentious decision in rugby is one that is made on average twice a minute (five times a minute if you use ball in play time rather than total time), and it influences the next minute, rather than being a decision in isolation.  Consider that a typical match has about 170 rucks (or contests for the ball in a tackle) , and you realize that there are probably 100 decisions (because not all are contested the same way) where the referee must interpret, in a split second, a dizzying array of laws, and where each decision has implications for what follows.

Different referees have a different sequence or approach to the decision, but they must judge, more or less in order: how the tackler interacts with the tackled player, when the tackle actually occurs, that the tackler releases the tackled player, that the tackled player releases the ball, when the ruck is formed, that players arriving to join the ruck remain on their feet, and that they join from the correct position and do not seal the ball off to prevent the contest.  Add in that there are often multiple tacklers, so the referee has to decide who the tackler is, and you appreciate that within half a second, there’s a lot to judge.  Then the next problem is that many times, four or five things happen more or less simultaneously, and so it really is a judgment call.

Ultimately, what the decision comes down to is a) assigning roles to the involved players, and b) deciding on the order in which events occur – every tackle has similar events, and the job of the referee is to sort through the order in which they occur,  and if he sees a different order to you or I, then his decision will be accordingly different.  And this is precisely what happens to make these decisions so contentious.

I’ve been fortunate enough to work with the SA Sevens team for the last three seasons, and at every tournament, the IRB Head of Referees, all the coaches and technical staff of competing teams, and all the referees have a sit-down meeting a few days before the tournament starts.  The meetings involve discussion around how the referees have been instructed to officiate and usually include clips of tackles and rucks from previous tournaments.  Now bear in mind that this is Sevens, where the contest involves fewer players and with less congestion than you’d see in 15s, and then consider that even so, there rarely agreement in these meetings.  The situation in 15-man rugby is of course even more complex (though the tackle contest may be more significant in 7s, but that’s for another discussion!)

For each clip, one coach will point to the tackler, another to the tackled player, another to the arriving player, another to the offside line, each one pointing out a different possible transgression PER RUCK!  Mostly, it boils to disagreement about the order in which events happen, and which player should be entitled to do what.  Eventually, even in slow-motion, it takes consensus or a swing vote to sort through the order of decisions that a referee must make.  Even then, it’s often a 50-50 call as to whether a player released the tackled player or the ball and so on (if you are reading this without much knowledge of rugby and you’re confused at how complex it sounds, well, that’s exactly the point!)

A general approach to the decision and its implications

The reality is that rugby, by design, prioritizes the contest for the ball on the ground, and therefore the spotlight falls squarely on the man who must judge whether players are transgressing those laws.  Simple on paper – there is a very distinct set of rules governing the tackle.  But here’s the problem – the rules may be clear, but the judgment of them is not.  So much is open to interpretation, and it is interpretation that happens in an instant, while on the run.  The result is that a match can very, very easily look ‘influenced’ by the referee, who generally speaking, can take one of two extreme approaches to how they cut through this organized chaos to make a decision.  Call it “conservative” vs “liberal” decision-making, but at its simplest, a referee is going to lean one of two ways.

The first approach is to over-police the contest (the conservative).  The result is that the referee will appear to punish legitimate contesting for the ball, and will reward penalties frequently, forcing players to back right off, killing the contest for the ball.  This favors the team in possession.  Alternatively, the referee can under-police the breakdowns (liberal), and allow much more to go unpenalized.

Importantly, when this happens, the result is that the defending team will usually be favoured, because the referee will fail to prevent them from slowing the ball down, and slowing it down creates a disproportionate advantage.  I believe this is what happened in the South Africa – Australia match, where the rucks were highly contested and too much was allowed on the ground.  The result is that the defending team is advantaged.  But, significantly, the problem in that particular match is that the defending team was mostly Australia.
The stats reveal this - South Africa had 131 rucks, compared to Australia’s 44.  That is, for every one opportunity for South Africa to contest and slow down Australian ball, there were three chances for Australia to do so.  So, by allowing too much contesting, the referee effectively gave Australia three times as many chances to push the limits of what was legal (and some would say exceed those limits).

When one team is as dominant as this (in terms of possession), and the more liberal referee is making the extreme “decision” to under-police and allow more, then it will always appear that he is deliberately biased.  The reality is that if the possession was equal, and if both teams have the same number of rucks, then nobody would really notice the referee because BOTH TEAMS would get away with slowing the other team’s ball down! You’d get a very messy match, but the liberal referee would be far more “anonymous” because his leaning affects both sides equally.

Instead, this match was one-sided, and South Africa seemed to be on the receiving end of an unfair performance.  I do think that Lawrence was poor, and I do think that his poor performance affected SA more, but it wasn’t deliberate.  And as for match-fixing?  Not based on decisions that didn’t go our way, no.  Rather, I think that the referee was poor and didn’t do enough to control the rucks, but my point is that this may be because he was either instructed to allow the contest, and “over-applied” the instruction, or he just has a natural inclination to be liberal towards the contest.

In the case of Bryce Lawrence, it would not surprise me if he was told to allow a contest for the ball, because earlier in the tournament (in the Aus v Ireland match), he was criticized for penalizing Australia TOO MUCH at the breakdown.  I strongly suspect that what happened next is that he was asked to be a little slower on the whistle, and he erred on the other extreme, and didn’t do enough.  In the end, it appeared that South Africa were hard done by, but as I have said, that’s more because whenever one team dominates play, an error like Lawrence’s appears to favour the team without the ball (Australia).

Analyzing referees – navigating with a broken compass

It may not surprise you to learn, for example, that many international teams now attempt to analyze referee trends, so that they can attempt to guess whether a given referee is likely to decide one way or the other.  At the most basic level, for example, you can look at whether a particular referee tends to award a penalty to the attacking team or the defending team to get an idea of that referee’s “in-built bias”.  This partly reveals whether that referee’s priority in assessing the breakdown is whether the attacking team player releases the ball (penalty against the attacking team) or whether the tackler releases the player (defending team).  You can then go further to see whether the referee is more or less lenient on the tackler or the tackled player and the arriving supporting players from either team.

The problem with this approach is two-fold.  First, it’s subjective.  When analysing clips, you have to judge not only what the referee does decide, but what he does not.  This means you have to make a call yourself, and this brings us back to the point about disputable situations, especially because on TV, you don’t see what the referee does.

The second problem, more significant, is that the referees, in my experience anyway, are too unpredictable to code in this way.  They are influenced by individual players and teams, and they change their approach too often, probably because they are very susceptible to suggestion and to the instructions coming down at them from their superiors.

For example, we tried this in the Sevens setup,but it was a futile quest, because the referees changed their approach too often.  We worked out that what was happening was that the IRB were evaluating the referees and providing feedback on their performances (which is a good thing, of course), but this feedback was influencing the way that referee approached their next match.  The result was that for each referee, if you plotted a graph showing how they made decisions, it would look like a zig-zag curve of mountain peaks and valleys – one week they leaned one way, the next week they went the other.  And so trying to pre-empt how they would decide was like navigating with a broken compass.

Yet again, what this showed is the “unstable” nature of the decision-making process.  Again, 170 decisions per match, each one in a fraction of a second at speed, with five or more variables to assess is going to introduce some “interpretation”, and the problem is that this can lean one way or another very easily.

Emotion – the inherent bias when working backwards

The other factor in all this is that emotion and passion are such significant influencers of how we interpret this watching on television.  Fans (and even neutral spectators) have an inherent bias (it’s what makes them fans!) and the result is that when they assess a referee performance, they exist in a world of black and white – the referee is either right or wrong.  Unfortunately for rugby, the decision is rarely black and white.  It is grey, because of the previously mentioned decisions around judging the order in which events occur, and who does what in the tackle, and so there is always conflict between what fans see and what is actually happening on the ground.

Consider an example from football (soccer):  A player scores a goal but is offside when he received the pass.  The referee/assistant see this, and the goal is correctly disallowed.  On first viewing, a fan who feels that his team has been robbed can make all manner of accusations including match-fixing and bias, but a replay will prove him wrong in most cases.  Similarly, in tennis, the ball is either in or out, and in the Hawkeye era, there’s little dispute over those calls.  NFL, there are debatable calls (pass interference, roughing the passer etc), but they’re much less frequent and different in nature to the ongoing, continuous rugby tackle calls.

Rugby, however, has a much more subjective decision happening 170 times a match, and that’s why I laboured the point about how “grey” the decision-making process can be earlier in this post.  The end result is that people who watch matches can make the logic mistake of working backwards.  They then interpret their observations to fit their theory, and of course their desired theory is that their team must win!

It’s a lot like bent science, in fact, in that you start out with the finding already “known” (in a fan’s mind, there is only one team that can win – they “know” the result before the match!).  Then you have a series of “experiments”, also known as the tackle situation, where the outcome of each must be known too.  The entire match is an observed experiment, and unwittingly, people mix emotion with interpretation and they will come up with accusations of bias because their observation will always fit their model.  This is the danger of looking for proof of what you already believe, because you will always succeed at finding it!

Don’t trust the passionate perception

I made this mistake myself when working with the Sevens team.  Every single decision was “wrong” as long as it went against our team!  Such is the desire to win, that I stood on the sidelines and could not believe that a penalty should not be awarded to us.  We lose the ball, it could only be because the other team cheated, and the referee missed it!

Only in the cold light of day, often the next morning, sitting in the hotel lobby, did I have the opportunity to review the match, sometimes to talk to the referee and he would explain what he was seeing as he made the call, and then it became much clearer to me that what was “obvious” to me was in fact “obvious” in exactly the other direction!  I was wrong, pure and simple.  But at the time I could not see that I was looking at it incorrectly.  I learned to have a deep mistrust of my own perceptions in those emotional, stressful situations, and learned instead to wait, hold the opinion and rather decide when removed from the passion and emotion.  It was a valuable lesson.

Sometimes, of course, the referees did make mistakes – more than once, I still believe we were wrongly judged and that it cost matches.  Sometimes, referees even admitted it, and apologized.  But we have also been the beneficiaries of the decisions, and that’s the result of rugby’s tackle rule.  It certainly needs to be fixed, but this was a difficult lesson to learn, but an important one.

The reality is that fans need to step away from the emotion, and if they did, they may, in the case of South Africa anyway, recognize a few other reasons why it was New Zealand, and not us, lifting that trophy in Auckland yesterday.

The solution – analysis and a scorecard

As for the solution, my bias as a scientist is to measure and analyse, so that’s where I’d look for rugby’s problem.   And transparency would help – no one really knows what the IRB does with referees – they are accused of being a “protected species”, which may not necessarily be a bad thing, but I do feel that some more open discussion would help.  At the moment, it’s all left to the media, and in this day and age, the “media” now includes social networking, and so the public WILL have their say, and they are rarely going to be diplomatic in the absence of information.  Rather control the perception by making some information available  (it’s a lot like the Caster Semenya case – the secrecy around her testing and treatment only fueled the flames and allowed people to make up the “truth”.  And that version is always worse than the real truth).

And for rugby, the solution to me is that the performance of referees needs to be evaluated more transparently.  A panel of independent officials could analyze matches, producing a report on the match.  This report could analyze every single one of the 200 decisions a referee has to make in a match.  How many of the 200 were incorrect?  20? 30?  And of those 30, how many were clear, conclusive errors, and how many were interpretive calls?  One has to build in this human interpretation element, because it would be wrong to think that one can accurately judge off TV when the referee is 5m away from the decision he is making.

And of those conclusive errors, do they favor one team?  If you find for example that 30 decisions out of 200 are wrong, and 90% of them go against one team, then you have some weight behind accusations of bias or fixing.  But until that kind of evaluation is done, people speculate, and speculation is almost always worse than the truth.
Especially when the passions of die-hard fans are involved.  Just ask any referee…


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  1. avatar Ross Tucker says:
    October 24th, 2011 at 10:35 am

    Hi folks

    Sorry for the long piece – it got away with me! I’ll try check in during the day if there are any comments, it’s always good to discuss this stuff, better to have the first word than try to have the last. I’ll try do it quickly, but bear with me if I’m slow in responding!


  2. avatar Morné says:
    October 24th, 2011 at 10:39 am

    Thanks for this Ross, it is worth the read – even if a bit long!

    Just as a note to everyone – the article will be stuck on the top of our page for a couple of days as I believe there are various points of interest that can be discussed!

  3. avatar namboer says:
    October 24th, 2011 at 10:57 am

    Reply to Ross Tucker @ 10:35 am: Reply to Morné @ 10:39 am:
    …And so I can come back each day to try and read to the end, Dr. Tucker even tops you Morné! :mrgreen:

  4. avatar Boertjie says:
    October 24th, 2011 at 11:02 am

    Reply to namboer @ 10:57 am:

    Hehehe. Me too.

  5. avatar DavidS says:
    October 24th, 2011 at 11:14 am

    Same here Doc

  6. avatar Oranje Orakel says:
    October 24th, 2011 at 12:11 pm

    gOOde read!

    Short articles are for people with a short memory span and big ego’s

    Anyway the organised crime ring aka IRB has finaLLy kiLLed my interest in rugbyUnion with their condonement of BryceLawrence’s handling of the South Africa/Australia game in RWC 2011.

    I chOOse not to be aSSociated with a coRRupt game.

    ChEErs aLL

    Have bEEn a blast on RW

    Had some reaLLy gOOde moments!

    But in the end Bryce Lawrence, Craig Joubert Marius Jonker and aLL the other oFFicials that Interpret the laws of rugbyUnion in such a way that a specific team benefits- ea the outcome of the game is influenced, they are aLL cut from the same cloth!

    oFFicial sanction by IRB, permanently removing Bryce Lawrence wiLL at the very least indicate a wiLLingneSS to have a fair RWC in future.

    -Silence- ……..

    sorry not gOOde enough

    “When the truth become silent, the silence is a lie”

    Some RuSSian intellectual who frEEzed his nuts of in Siberia- I just cant remeber his name

  7. avatar Morné says:
    October 24th, 2011 at 12:29 pm

    I think I will deal with a couple of issues one at a time.

    I made the point in the past (as Doc made above) about the challenge for referees in rugby union. A study I read 3 years ago suggested that refs have to make close to 600 or something decisions in a rugby match. Now note, making a decision in his mind does not mean blowing his whistle each time – making a decision means looking at something and deciding on a course of action which can be to stop play and blow your whistle.

    It is a massive challenge for any human being, and that is just one part of being a referee.

    Consider that refs need to manage 30 individuals on a pitch while ensuring the game does not become a start/stop farce, then it should become clear just how difficult a job this is at the best of times.

    Holding this view, to this day I refuse to accept that referees cheat deliberately.

    From experience I also know (as it’s mentioned above) that refs are studied by teams and coaches to identify their own weak points or strengths or in other words, how far you can push the referee.

    In other words, coaches and players will look to deliberately ‘bend’ the laws (or cheat in plain English) and ‘hope’ they get away with it.

    This in itself is a massive problem in union which needs sorting out. I mean how can you expect to manage 30 players when they are out to deliberately cheat or ‘see what they can get away with’?

    This leads to my next point, and the so-called ‘experts’ view and knowledge on the laws of the game. Now I don’t regard myself as some guru on laws, I get it wrong a lot of the time – but I have made an effort to read up, study and keep myself up to date with the laws, law changes etc every single year – and I cannot begin to tell you guys how little these so-called (most of them, not all of them) actually knows about the game of rugby. That goes for coaches and players too!

    I suggested once that both coaches and players need to complete a law exam before they are allowed to play the game – ignorance is no excuse.

    I will leave this train of thought with one last thing…

    It is clear ref’s have a hell of a lot on their plate, the obvious solution is to look at their challenges currently, identify areas of concern and quite simply, lift their load once identified! Doc Tucker mentioned above how hawk-eye in tennis helped umpires, and the referral system did the same to an extent in cricket. I am not saying let’s copy those systems, I am saying develop union’s own methods to help referees make better, more informed decisions – and if that is an extra ref on the park, the use or extension of use of technology and the TMO – then let’s bloody well do it. It is obviously needed.

  8. avatar Timeo says:
    October 24th, 2011 at 12:52 pm

    That last paragraph hits the mail on the head.

    All they have to do is to make the referee scorecards openly available. In most cases the referees are correct and the fans wrong, but when mistakes do happen they need to be openly admitted. It will go a long way towards increasing trust.

    Instead they increase suspicious by actively avoiding the very obvious.

  9. avatar Kevin_rack says:
    October 24th, 2011 at 1:12 pm

    Good article!
    I am definitely one of those fans! Yep!
    Refs are human too and open to bais and prejudice just the same us the fans!

  10. avatar Ross Tucker says:
    October 24th, 2011 at 1:43 pm

    Hi all

    OK, so I appreciate the frustration, but I would not go so far as to say it is a corrupt game. If one is going to accuse Lawrence, O’Brian, Joubert, any ref of deliberately manipulating the result then I do think you have to have better evidence than just examples of when they didn’t give penalties in matches. It’s just too easy to see ghosts :ghost: when you work backwards. The whole point is that the tackle situation is too open to interpretation, and “errors of omission” (not giving a penalty at the ruck) can never constitute deliberate cheating when you have such an interpretive situation happening so fast.

    As for official, public sanction, I can understand why the IRB wouldn’t do that. They’ll always defend their own, because really, they have to. The credibility of the organization would unravel very fast is they publicly ‘flogged’ their own official. I do think that transparency would help, a scorecard, because the referee can explain what they saw. But it is a bit much to expect very public criticism to come from within.

    Because as Timeo says, if you don’t disclose the truth, people make it up and that’s almost always worse.

  11. avatar Boertjie says:
    October 24th, 2011 at 1:54 pm

    Reply to Morné @ 12:29 pm:

    Maybe you are touching on a point I’ve
    made ad nauseam:

    More input powers to the TMO, who sees
    the game from a totally different
    perspective, being high up in the stands.

    He should be allowed to provide input to
    the ref, as is the case with the assrefs.
    From what he sees, not what he sees on TV.

    Of course the TMO must then be a good, qualified
    ref – not someone that gets put there because
    he’s not good enough with the whistle.

  12. avatar its a 15 man game - embrace it! says:
    October 24th, 2011 at 3:17 pm

    Thanks Ross this is a very sober article on a very emotional topic.

    I tried to watch the Cheetah game this weekend as though I am a Sharks fan (which I am not). Jonkers performance in the Sharks VS Cheetah game in the Super 15 was by far the worse I have seen, but just like the Boks, despite all the possession and could ball the Cheetahs could not win the game.

    So this time instead of going into the game with the bias built up in the last big encounter I tried to openly support the Sharks.

    After the match I felt real frustration but purely at the young Cheetah players for making the wrong choices and mistakes at crucial times.

    The result of my experiment ties in nicely with what you are arguing for:

    There is no ‘scientific’ evidence (or a way of measuring it) currently to prove a ref is good or bad or biased etc. So all we can do as fans is to watch a game with less emotion ; which in turn will kill rugby as a spectator sport!

    The alternative is a clear ‘tick list’ compiled on every referee after every game to determine his competence and/or bias etc.

    This of course should happen concurrently with a new look at the laws.

  13. avatar its a 15 man game - embrace it! says:
    October 24th, 2011 at 3:36 pm

    the last thing we need is for no kids to become refs because its such a hated profession with every dog and his mate happy to have a go.

    I simply dont think any ref is stupid enough to risk his career on single games.

    Like Ross says – the losing fan can point to at least 10 instances where he was nailed and he will be right! Problem is the winning team supporters are drinking beer and high fiving another – until the day THEY lose!

    :shake: :P

  14. avatar Ross Tucker says:
    October 24th, 2011 at 4:40 pm

    Hi “it’s a 15-man game”.

    Good illustration. I think we under-estimate the significance of emotion in skewing our viewing of the match. There are experiments from the field of psychology that have shown pretty conclusively how deep seated sub-conscious biases are, and in the case of sport, it’s a conscious, very powerful bias. Politics best illustrates this.

    The only way you can prove deliberate bias by a referee is to show unequivocally that his errors were clear and consistently in favour of one team. And then you need to show the money trail to confirm it.

    Consider this – if Bryce Lawrence was trying to fix that QF match, but if South Africa had taken even one or two of our many chances to score, then what would he have done? Let’s say we score a try, the score is 16 – 11, what does he do then? Does he make ever more outrageous decisions, does he yellow card a South African to try to fix that scoreline?

    Anyway, he was poor, and it probably cost us (here, I hate to be fatalistic, but had we gone into the lead, there’s no telling how the rhythm of the match might have changed, whether we would have sat back, defended, whether Aus would have played with the ball more – look at how NZ and France did the opposite to what most thought yesterday). But deliberate, provable cheating? No way.

  15. avatar Timeo says:
    October 24th, 2011 at 4:41 pm

    In my opinion Joubert’s failings in the final were worse than Lawrence’s in the quarter-final.

    Lawrence’s judgements involved a complex sequence of events. Did Pocock had his hands on the ball before the ruck formed? Was he on his feet? Did he enter correctly? Was he a tackler or arriving player?

    In the final McCaw was off his feet on the wrong side of the tackle a number of times and not penalized. The judgement Joubert had to make was pretty simple. Player on the ground on the wrong side and not moving immediately : penalty. Timing, angles and actions of other players could all be discounted.

  16. avatar Treehugger-shark says:
    October 24th, 2011 at 4:51 pm

    Very good article, a lot to retain, dont think i am capable of that, they should just simplify the game, so many rules and regulations or laws now, to much for a ref to keep an eye on and the cause of a lot more whistle blowing.

  17. avatar DavidS says:
    October 24th, 2011 at 5:27 pm

    Okay I’ve read it in full Ross during my break. I write an exam tomorrow so this response is a little short but regard it as a summary. No need to answer if you feel it’s light.

    1. The breakdown rules are not that difficult or open to interpretation and actually DO allow for a fair ball contest. There are a few basic rules.

    A. Once the tackled and tackler player are on the ground the tackler must first get on his feet to contest the ball.

    B. The tackled player is allowed, from a prone position, to place the ball without competition.

    C. So long as the ball remains in the air it is a free for all to compete.

    D. Once it is on the ground NO hands are allowed.

    E. Once three players attend a tackle it is a ruck. No hands are allowed in a ruck.

    F. A player in a ruck may not collapse in an obstructive way to protect the ball from legitimate competition.

    G. A player entering a ruck must do so through a gate.

    H. Where a ball my be grappled for the players so doing must remain on their feet.


    Bryce Lawrence consistently failed to apply B & D

    Craig Joubert last night forgot F & G

    Just EIGHT breakdown rules.

    There is nothing magical about them.

    2. The problem is there is no room for interpretation if the rules are correctly applied by all referees. The problem is that players are taught what the rules are. When they then face a referee who does not know the rules or “interprets” them you have an unfair contest between a team wanting to play according to the rules, whilst (as we unfortunately saw from some misinformed souls even on this site) other teams are congratulated for “playing the referee”. Players should never be in a position where they are knowledgable on rules but end up getting beaten because a referee opens their own interpretation of rules by “flowingly” not applying the rules selectively, the way Bryce Lawrence and Craig Joubert were guilty of this world cup.

    The issue of counting rucks and comparing them with opposition rucks to determine penalizable offences is easily dealt with by simply averaging the numbers so one could for instance determine whether Lawrence allowed penalizable offences to go unnoices at 1/10 Australian created rucks as opposed to 3/10 South African ones, which certainly opens a referee to accusations of bias (conscious or unconscious) but regardless bias is a type of dishonesty.

    It is a damning testament to the poor state of world referees that the IRB has to sit down referees after each tournament and “brief” them on how to ref and what to watch out for… it means the IRB itself is not even assured that from match to match its referees are applying the rules consistently.

    The problem with inherent bias is that it is not necessarily inherent.

    Even prior to the Bok match with Australia there were misgivings concerning the refereeing. In particular Wynne Barnes, Nigel Owens and Bryce Lawrence were singled out. On this website for instance the match France / Japan was poorly handled. Others included Samoa / Wales, Scotland / Romania, Scotland / Georgia, Australia / Ireland, Wales / Ireland and that is just off the top of my head.

    One cannot say that dispassionate South Africans watching those matches could in any way be regarded as biased. Thus when these fans then look at the Lawrence handling of the Springbok match one cannot necessarily attribute your personal empiric experiences to the vast majority of people who watched the game and felt it was wrongly handled. Heck there was even a report in an Australian newspaper that morning which quite unequivocally stated it was an undeserved win by Australia.

    3. By excluding the idea that the referee has a difficult job at the breakdown as well as the contention of inherent emotional investment, I would hold the view that perhaps the conclusion you have reached is not necessarily correct and that the problem lies deeper than policing referees.

    Okay sorry guys but unfortunately work and exams and other things are keeping me very busy so I’m really sorry that’s as short as I can keep it and unfortunately I can’t wait to read an answer though I would dearly like to…

    It’s 31′C in Jhb today!

  18. avatar Ross Tucker says:
    October 24th, 2011 at 6:14 pm

    Hi David

    Thanks for comments. You make a number of good points, but I think you miss a number of points too. Nobody has ever said that there is anything “magical” about the breakdown rules, but they are open to interpretation, I don’t think there is any doubt about that. If it’s as easy as listing the rules on paper, then anyone can referee any match. The fact is the the referee may well have a very clear template and list of rules to govern with, but he must still make judgments call for each situation as to how the order of events unfolds, and that’s the most crucial issue. As mentioned, when sitting in those IRB meetings with the referees,and from having one on one meetings with plenty of the international referees, the key issue is judging who arrives when and who fulfills each role. If that is done accurately, then applying a little list is easy. But it’s not as easy as that. If it were, anyone would do it perfectly.

    I also don’t agree with your logica about averaging missed calls. You can’t average matches, because then referees can oscillate from one extreme to the next and they’ll look good on average. Remember, on average, humans have one testicle and one breast, but very few people are average…Point is, if you are going to analyze a referee performance, you must do it on a game by game basis, not on average. Trends is different, but if it’s an issue of match-fixing, then trends don’t matter too much.

    Then regarding inherent bias, I think if you talk about inherent bias, it is very much inherent (by definition). I think what is perhaps true is that just because someone is biased, does not mean that they are incorrect – I think this is probably what you’re getting at and I agree with you.

    But here, the context is to explain that a lot of the debate and criticism is motivated by an emotional response to what the desired outcome is, and then people work backwards to re-affirm their starting belief. In science, that’s bent research, because you already know what you’ll find when you start the experiment, and it is flawed thinking.

    Having said that, there is still some kind of ‘absolute’ right or wrong in many decisions (not all), and so yes, even people who are emotional may be right. For example, those who have alleged match-fixing may well be right. There’s a chance, of course there is. However, based on the fact that the referee in that match failed to apply laws, I don’t see that there is evidence to suggest it. Therefore, while it may be true, it’s not because of the “evidence” presented. Again, in that match, because it was so one-sided, the failings of the referee resulted in the appearance of gross bias, when he was actually just poor.

    So nowhere in my article did I say that this match was not poorly handled. I agree that it was, and I even said it in the piece. I realize it was long, maybe it was buried. But yeah, he was poor. But was he deliberately cheating? Not on the assertion that he missed calls.

    Then I’m not quite sure what you mean with your Point 3. When you say “by excluding the idea that the referee has a difficult job at the breakdown”, it makes no sense. I have not excluded the idea. Just the opposite. I have explained or included that the referee has a difficult job. The contention of inherent emotional investment, as I’ve pointed out above, is simply to provide a word of caution to people who are quick to shoot out the “he cheated” allegation, and to explain that what fans so quickly attribute to fixing, or corruption, or cheating, may be simply down to incompetence, interpretation or complexity of the decision-making process. And having spoken with the referees, that’s the case, regardless of what the list of rules says.

    So I have no idea what you’re getting at with a problem that “lies deeper than policing referees”, if it’s match-fixing and corruption, then I disagree. Unless you have more proof of that than simply saying how easy it must be.


  19. avatar Stormersboy says:
    October 24th, 2011 at 6:59 pm

    Hi Ross

    Very good article, excellent synopsis on the complexities.

    As usual the really good anaylis comes from this site.

    Knowing all this though doesn’t mitigate the fact that we were dealt a real stinker in the QF, something that we will not soon forget. How to prevent such an influential interpretaion in the future?

    2 refs, one in each half? This will assist in the forward pass poilcing that reared it’s head again this WC. If Wales had beaten Aus in the 3rd place playoff it would have been unfair due the obviousl forward pass that was allowed, leading to the try.

    How about a ref in each half as they have in hockey? An “intervention” option from the 4th official if something is missed?

    Keen to hear your thoughts.


  20. avatar Stormersboy says:
    October 24th, 2011 at 6:59 pm

    Reply to Stormersboy @ 6:59 pm: Sorry about the spelling. Didn’t proofread.

  21. avatar its a 15 man game - embrace it! says:
    October 24th, 2011 at 9:30 pm

    Reply to Stormersboy @ 6:59 pm:

    cannot spell and from the nick I gather you dont know much about rugga either

    :Rule 9: :lol: :twisted:

  22. avatar Stormersboy says:
    October 24th, 2011 at 9:42 pm

    Reply to its a 15 man game – embrace it! @ 9:30 pm: :applause: You get the “slow clap” for that one!



  23. avatar its a 15 man game - embrace it! says:
    October 24th, 2011 at 9:52 pm

    Reply to Stormersboy @ 9:42 pm:

    just beware you guys give us that horse manure coach of yours and that overrated headless chicken as captain for the boks!

    Please dear lord let them stay at WP


  24. avatar Stormersboy says:
    October 24th, 2011 at 10:01 pm

    Reply to its a 15 man game – embrace it! @ 9:52 pm: You can have AC

    We’ll keep Schalla thanks!!

  25. avatar StrongBok says:
    October 24th, 2011 at 10:15 pm

    Hi there,
    Thanks for the Great read, and put together nicely.
    Also good posting from the members. I just think because of the game going at the rate of knots it is these days and looking at where we are within the technological age we must embrace it and develop reffing through it. Its something that will make matches completely fair and “big brother” will keep everyone in check and the game will become smoother after some time of getting used to. Also even if the time of a game is the same as soccer, a full 90 minutes so it allows for reviewing on real dodgy moments etc. The yanks games like NFL goes on for ages and it really becomes an event and not just a game of 80 minutes of that was illegal, how come the ref or linesman didn’t pick that up. Even if we went the route of like in cricket where each team is allowed TMOs this will keep everyone on their toes and the game will be more flowing.

    Time for change time to embrace technology in Rugby as it is a very complex game and the ref only has one angle to see things.

    Thanks again for your article.

  26. avatar StrongBok says:
    October 24th, 2011 at 10:30 pm

    Sorry, using TMO calls and going with technology the Better teams will win matches and you have the Springboks going through as in the Case against Australia and the French winning their first cup. The game will swing on its head and we will have True Champions. ;)

  27. avatar its a 15 man game - embrace it! says:
    October 24th, 2011 at 10:50 pm

    Reply to StrongBok @ 10:30 pm:

    better teams win matches? fok this means SA would not have won anything since 2004?

  28. avatar DavidS says:
    October 24th, 2011 at 11:30 pm

    Reply to its a 15 man game – embrace it! @ 10:50 pm:

    You know what Brenden…

    You are one to test everyone’s frigging patience…

    You all write and ask everyone to move on and start all over yet you just keeping writing the same old drivellll

    Well screw it… two can pretend to “move on” and not.

    So what are you saying?

    That Samoa was better than us?

    What about that test against Uruguay when Tonderai Chavanga scored four tries? Are they better than us?

    What about New Zealand not having beaten us without Dan Carter in their side since 2005?

    What about saaaayyyy Argentina who has a set of forwards and a set of backs to help them…

    Are they all better than us?

    I wish you’d drop the hyperbole…

  29. avatar bryce_in_oz says:
    October 25th, 2011 at 2:37 am

    Reply to Stormersboy @ 6:59 pm:

    Agreed… that’s not too dissimilar to what the NRL (Australian rugby league comp)do with two referees, two touch judges, video referee, timekeeper in a game with less aspects of the game to ref.

    However if they’d (P’OB and crew) just have followed through with their past promises to give the assistant refs more power during the game, that and the TMO should be enough.

    I can count on one hand the amount of actual touch-judge decisions this RWC!

    A simple solution in conjunction with the above is to bring in more standardised education across the hemisphere’s, accountability where it makes a difference (ie the hip pocket).

  30. avatar bryce_in_oz says:
    October 25th, 2011 at 2:40 am

    Reply to Stormersboy @ 10:01 pm:

    For sure… player of the RWC for the Bok’s (along with Victor)… as for the ‘headless chicken’ tag… when last did he even give away a penalty let alone get carded… but that’s Brendan for you :wink:

  31. avatar Deon says:
    October 25th, 2011 at 6:55 am

    OK first of all, before we turn to the technology, I think there are still human resources that are not properly used, ie the assistants. Why can’t the assistants inform the ref of things that they pick up. No need to stop the play, just tell the ref what is happening when the play is stopped.

    Kind of a heads up to watch a specific team or player and how they are pushing the laws. There has been some calls in Aus to do what they do in league and that is have 2 refs. I do not see the need for that, as there are already 3. The other 2 just needs to get more authority or if they have it already start using it.

    The WC was poor in sense of forward passes and scew put ins at the line out. That is where the ref relies on the assistants, so they are not even doing the job they should be doing.

    I only coach “little” league at this stage, but what is nice is that we discuss before hand with the refs, what we want them to focus on. So for instance he would not allow any forward passes (remember these are 6/7 year olds) and what was amazing for me is how quickly they learn not to put themselves in position to either receive or make a forward pass.

    If these boys can realise that refs will not allow certain things, they would soon stop doing it.

    The saddest thing about the WC referees is that all the work done with the ELV’s and subsiquent changing of the laws has been undone through interpretation/instructions. The IRB basically nullified all of it.

    I would prefer that they take a fresh look at the laws, starting with the scrum forming and then go back to the breakdown. Allow hands in the rucks and rucking and then let us see who has the guts to try and compete for the ball.

  32. avatar Stormersboy says:
    October 25th, 2011 at 8:21 am

    Reply to bryce_in_oz @ 2:40 am: Exactly, he’s been immense of late. My SA player of the year.

  33. avatar Stormersboy says:
    October 25th, 2011 at 8:24 am

    Reply to bryce_in_oz @ 2:37 am: I didn’t realise they did it over there. It must make a big difference as there are firstly 2 styles, so it’s harder to be extreme in your interpretations and secondly you are always closer to the action.

    Line judges would help too but they will always be seen as subordinate to the refs and therefor subject to overrule, but in certain cases it would certainly help IMO.

  34. avatar Morné says:
    October 25th, 2011 at 10:32 am

    Well a sober approach would be to look at what we can change and what we cannot.

    Supporters will always be emotional, as will coaches and players in the situation as Ross eluded to himself whilst he stood on the sidelines as a coach or consultant to the team.

    That will never change and nor should it.

    The laws

    Although laws can be adapted slightly to evolve with the game, it will never, and should never change fundamentaly. The Stellenbosch rules (full set) and how the best was kept and the worse discarded is a great example – it improves the game.

    Law interpretations/directives/better decision making

    This is the crux of the matter, and it starts at the top, meaning the IRB and Paddy O’Brien.

    Firstly, if they decide that certain laws (let’s say tackled area) needs to be interpreted in a certain way, that directive needs to be handed down to all refs no matter which hemisphere and it is to be judged (refs) accordingly on a scorecard. In major competitions like Heineken Cup, Super Rugby, ¾ Nations, 6 Nations and international tests – a panel of top referees (about 6 to 10 – one from each tier one nation) as-well as the coaches and captain of each team (for their respective matches) need to complete a scorecard on specifics of the game. This will have to include general law applications as well as special directives (of which EVERYONE needs to be aware of). Give this panel and captains and coaches 3 days following the game (to be able to analyse videos as to avoid emotional comments or scores).

    Refs scores will count most towards the actual scoring process, coaches scores a bit less and captains the least.

    For example, if a ref (out of a scorecard of 0 to 5) scores a 3 on the scorecard for a specific area of scoring, it will count towards 3 full points. If a coach scores 3, the actual score recorded (on the final scorecard for the ref) will be half of that (eg 1.5) and the captains score of 3 a third or 1 point.

    Once the scorecards are completed a final tally is calculated for overall performance, as well as specific areas of play. Refs should be judged on both, overall and individual scores especially in identified problem areas like rucks or tackles.

    So if his overall score is 8 out of 10, but his score on the tackle area 4 out of 10 you know you have a problem to sort out and the referee can be informed which areas of the game he needs to improve on.

    This data then also needs to be compiled in a report every season, trends need to be identified and analysed by experts (read the science guys here) and the IRB should be advised by an independent panel on how to improve either the use of technology or adapting laws/directives.

    For instance, if it becomes clear that all refs have a problem in a specific area like the rucks or tackled ball, it should be clear it is not the individual’s fault but either the law or directive that needs looking at. Scrums specifically is an area of concern here (guesswork at the best of times) and also penalising foul play (all possible cards should be confirmed by TMO before issuing a card).

    The human element

    More than scientific approaches or scorecards I believe we need to address the human element of the role of refs, and that is their ability to manage individuals in a pressure situation.

    Are refs taught or equipped to handle or manage people effectively? Are they continuously assessed in this regard? Are psychometric tests done on refs to determine whether they have the mental capacity to handle pressure situations or manage themselves and individuals in pressure situations?

    This is a hugely important area of refereeing for me – the type of person or personality, and their ability/willingness to improve, learn and upskill themselves all the time.

    Shockingly, I heard an interview with John Smit recently where he said in his 14 years of playing rugby at an elite level, only 2 refs ever came to him and asked him how they could improve their skills (in reffing) the scrum. What they are missing, what they should look out for and if they are improving.

    This type of mindset and ability to critically assess your performance as a referee is massively understated and refs should be encouraged, even forced, to upskill themselves in their own way and time outside of IRB protocols which should form part of their KPI’s at the end of every season. Like asking Bryce Lawrence: ‘So Bryce what did you do to upskill yourself this year? Any courses you went on? Any practical assessment or programs followed?’

    To which a Bryce should reply: ‘Ja sure hey, I spent my off-season with a university team and analyst looking at 1000 hours of video’s of games compiling a report on rucks and tackled area situations which we practically applied to the university’s first rugby team pre-season sessions’…

    Stupid example but you get the idea I hope. Point is we should expect more from the top referees in the world, like Mark Lawrence in his off-season or when he did not have any official commitments going back to his home town and offering to referee school matches to keep himself sharp…

    Okay enough from me now.

  35. avatar its a 15 man game - embrace it! says:
    October 25th, 2011 at 10:44 am

    Reply to DavidS @ 11:30 pm:

    sorry princess i forgot to put a smiley after the comment.

    shit did that bastard bryce lawrence steal the sense of humour from this site as well?

    *insert smiley*

  36. avatar its a 15 man game - embrace it! says:
    October 25th, 2011 at 10:50 am

    Reply to Morné @ 10:32 am:

    yeh i also like the idea of transparency. I guess people will give refs much more leeway if the fans know what went down.

    This debate and the rate at which every doos and his donkey is allowed to have a go at refs is really damaging the game.

    You go live in a small town and try find 15 refs for a d ay of schoolboy rugby…..

    It was tough this year – I bet next year will be much worse. In Griffons league alone 3 refs retired (not one of them over 35 years of age) as they dont want to put up with he shit from players and coaches and parents no more.

    This in my opinion is a greater concern than the whingeing of pro teams against top of the ladder refs.

  37. avatar Morné says:
    October 25th, 2011 at 10:56 am

    Reply to its a 15 man game – embrace it! @ 10:50 am:

    One huge problem imo is that most refs have the personality of a doorknob.

    I follow and actually interact with two refs on Twitter, one an international ref and the other a local up and coming ref currently reffing at CC level.

    Great thing is, you can ask them anything and they respond, even if you tell them they got a call wrong.

    It is this interaction I value.

    In fact, I asked the SA Ref why they don’t do post-match media sessions with the media to explain some calls or situations.

    He said they tried it once actually, amazingly enough, media could not engage them in anything or had any questions (believe it or not).

    That taught me one thing – my perception of the media or some experts when it comes to laws is nothing, zero – because when presented with an opportunity to engage the ref on laws their are shown up so they rather just shut up.

  38. avatar its a 15 man game - embrace it! says:
    October 25th, 2011 at 11:02 am

    Reply to Morné @ 10:56 am:

    SA clan is the worst. Only Bob and Willemse seems to do research and actually follow rugby. Bladen and Andy Cap not bad either.

    But we have very shallow analysis here. Its almost as if the TV presenters are chosen to represent the ignorant views out there instead of acting to educate the viewing public?

    Yes maybe some refs lack personality – but i bet most of them can engage a better conversation than most players!

    Whats perplexing to me is the level of abuse against refs, yet a very small part of fans actually question skills levels of players? Is the ref an easy target?

  39. avatar Morné says:
    October 25th, 2011 at 11:05 am

    Reply to its a 15 man game – embrace it! @ 11:02 am:

    I read a comment once where it was asked why refs and/or coaches are so quickly and easily blamed.

    The guys answered: ‘It means you don’t need to know anything about the game to have an opinion’.

    Thought it was a great comment – does not apply to everyone of course or in all situations – refs and coaches must be questioned from time-to-time and a lot of the questions and criticism is justified.

    It applies to most commentators you mentioned already – I mean can you imagine an opinion like Ross’ article discussed (unlike the current drivel) on a magazine show like Boots & All or SuperRugby?

    Not a chance.

  40. avatar its a 15 man game - embrace it! says:
    October 25th, 2011 at 11:11 am

    Reply to Morné @ 11:05 am:

    maybe something to approach etv with?

    Imagine the show starting with a discussion on players stats?

    An in depth look at ref interpretation and the laws?

    A quick weekly father-to-sun skill to learn?

    An interview with an old bok about his playing days?

    A visit to a well performing school?

    So many things. We educate ourselves on these blogs but it lacks the visual element (and due to high internet costs cannot be accommodated either) so TV will be a great medium to have a rugby talk show with an educational undertone…

  41. avatar Morné says:
    October 25th, 2011 at 11:19 am

    Reply to its a 15 man game – embrace it! @ 11:11 am:

    There is definitely a market for that, I have no doubt. Look at how popular Master Plan on DSTV was – experts in the studio almost all of the time.

    Then compare that to your typical ‘Toks & Tjops’ SA vibe or version of a rugby show…

    Both have their fans I suppose.

  42. avatar Stormersboy says:
    October 25th, 2011 at 11:29 am

    Reply to Morné @ 11:19 am: I really enjoyed Master plan. reminds me of when Joel and jake White used to analyse games on Supersport before he became coach.

    I actually learned something from them. Not the usual recycled stuff.

  43. avatar Ross Tucker says:
    October 25th, 2011 at 11:31 am

    To stormersboy at 6.59

    The two ref idea has come up, and it is a possibility, like for hockey. But here is the problem- rugby has a problem of law interpretation, and because of differences in how the SAME situation is interpreted (think north vs south hemisphere for example), the addition of an extra ref COULD in fact double the inconsistency!

    In science, one would take about “intra-ref variability” to describe how the same ref might make a different judgement of the same situation from one match to the next, or even from one situation to the next. Then we talk about “INTER-ref” variability to discuss hoe two different refs would interpret the same situation. And the problem for rugby is that BOTH are high, so there is not enough consistency.

    Now, if one introduce the second ref,given this high variability, it could lead to even more chaos. For example, the same offense in two different parts of the field might result in two opposing decisions. Players get away with infringing in one half but not the other. Although, maybe that’s better than getting away with it in both halves!

    But I think that the 2nd ref would add to frustration AS IT STANDS, although in principle, this is something to look at. Perhaps the second ref is there only to rule on certain elements.

    But the fundamental requirement right now is ironing out the process of the decision. Because as clear as those rules are on paper (as David said above), it’s clear that the variability from one ref to the next is high enough to show that in practice, the rules are difficult to apply!

    So get the interpretation right, then add decision makers!


  44. avatar Stormersboy says:
    October 25th, 2011 at 11:41 am

    Reply to Ross Tucker @ 11:31 am: Thanks for the response Ross, I agree with the added inconsistancy risk. Funny how it comes down to humans interpreting the situation.

  45. avatar its a 15 man game - embrace it! says:
    October 25th, 2011 at 12:18 pm

    Reply to Morné @ 11:19 am:

    yeh both have their fans but then both need to be catered for – not only in world cup.

    toks `n tjops is one of the reasons I am happy SA lost.

    a new low.

  46. avatar its a 15 man game - embrace it! says:
    October 25th, 2011 at 12:20 pm

    Reply to Stormersboy @ 11:29 am:

    Kafes chalkboard is the only analysis we get to see. Naka did his thing on SABC durign the world cup but his broken english makes him had to stomach even though his analysis was informative.

  47. avatar bryce_in_oz says:
    October 25th, 2011 at 12:32 pm

    Reply to its a 15 man game – embrace it! @ 11:11 am:

    “Its almost as if the TV presenters are chosen to represent the ignorant views out there instead of acting to educate the viewing public?”

    Without a doubt…

    Having been in RSA for this RWC I was shocked (to some extent) by the amount of swill that was simply repeated over and over on almost every RWC show…

    At least in Aus they do ‘attempt’ to temper the moronic Greg Martin’s and court-jester Kearnsey’s with innovative analysis by Rod Kafer and industry specific pro’s like the Super 15 tech analysts…

  48. avatar Timeo says:
    October 25th, 2011 at 12:58 pm

    Reply to Ross Tucker @ 11:31 am:

    More referees with overlapping jurisdiction should help to reduce those variabilities.

    Currently the referee is a dictator on the field. When the law is subject to the dictator, it becomes arbitrary.

    If refereeing is more like collective governance, where they will have to justify their rulings to their peers, the interpretations will tend to converge.

    The rule of law, rather than the rule of the referee.

  49. avatar Sauce says:
    October 25th, 2011 at 1:15 pm

    The current breakdown mess is doing irreparable damage to the game – for everyone – fans, unions and coaches.

    I have my own left field view that it stems from the fact that the IRB hates the scrum.

    In order to reduce the amount of resets they fiddled with the breakdown rules to change it from what used to be a free for all which either resulted in the team in possession running another phase or a scum reset to the team going forward.

    Now in the past were you could just plough in and get hands on the ball, teams used to commit numbers to the rucks and gaps would open up to the backs – plenty of quick ball existed back then and you didn’t have forwards running at 10 and 12 because they needed to secure the ball.

    But this resulted in large packs smashing each other in the scrum for 80 minutes and a very stop start affair.

    Under the new laws warts and all – very ably described by the author – in an effort to remove the scrum from the game the breakdown rules needed to be altered to either allow for quick ball to the team in position or essentially an infringement to either the attacking team being slowed down or the defending team having legitimate claim to the ball. Preferably not a scrum.

    It is mighty rare to see a scrum reset from a ruck – it does happen. But essentially it’s been marginalized as a reset from ruck time to keep the game smoother and less stop start.

    The amount of times i here a commentator marvel at the fact that its only the second scrum reset in the game after 30 minutes is not because the rugby’s been great – its just a penalty gets the game going much quicker than a scrum – so instead of a reset to the team advancing – rather give a penalty.

    Scrum resets are becoming fewer and fewer not because scrumming is improving but because its quicker to penalize a team for an infringement and get the game going again. And how many games in the past year have been decided by an innocuous 3 points for a technical infringement at scrum time? Far to many i suspect.

    Aus lost to Ireland because their forwards got smashed off the park in every set piece. The All Blacks got wobbly in the final when the Frogs started dominating at scrum time and poaching line-outs.

    Sure i like to see a running game – but i love to see the fatties smash each other suitably in the loose and the tight.

    Anyway Rant about the scrum over.

    Great article. As to the issues of refs they blow the rules they have been told too. The IRB needs to fix the rules and make the breakdowns easier to refs.

    Its pretty simple.

    Until that happens anything open to interpretation is going to be contestable by fans, players and coaches – instead of being beaten by a better team – you are beaten by a team who played the ref better and that is definitely not the point of the game.

    The IRB, for the record are knobs. They are the guardians and they are failing dismally.

  50. avatar Stormersboy says:
    October 25th, 2011 at 1:38 pm

    Would the simplest solution be to allow competing on the ground for the ball? get in there and get it. If you can get it, you can keep it.

    We had that rule before, and it actually worked.

    Or am I oversimplifying things?

    Obviously there will have to be rules around rucking but IMO that is easier to police.

  51. avatar Sauce says:
    October 25th, 2011 at 2:14 pm

    Reply to Stormersboy @ 1:38 pm: Agreed, never happen because how do you restart the game without a scrum?

  52. avatar JT_BOKBEFOK! says:
    October 25th, 2011 at 2:16 pm

    Reply to Stormersboy @ 1:38 pm:

    No team with ball in hand will then risk going into contact… Does that mean the team will then avoid contact by throwing it around? NOOOO – it will be some more KICKING ;-)

    The Laws are there but are NOT being applied! Apply all the Laws to the letter and after a few stop start games the players will start playing to the ref/laws again!

    IMO Strict to the letter of the law aplication and all this BS will end! Players/Coaches will adapt quickly as they usually do.

  53. avatar Stormersboy says:
    October 25th, 2011 at 2:22 pm

    Reply to Sauce @ 2:14 pm: Scrums would obviously still happen if the ball doesn’t come out. Same as it does now?

    Also forward passes and knock ons will still result in a scrum

    Reply to JT_BOKBEFOK! @ 2:16 pm: Why not? It doesn’t mean they can’t retain posession, it just means that they’ll have to commit more to the breakdown, and protect the ball carrier more, leading to less players in the line, and then more running rugby IMO.

    Different ways to see it

  54. avatar Sauce says:
    October 25th, 2011 at 2:41 pm

    Reply to Stormersboy @ 2:22 pm: More often than not a ball not coming out results in an infringement / penalty – on the rare occasion that a scrum does happen – its because both teams have committed numerous infringements and the ref would be unfair pinging either team.

  55. avatar StrongBok says:
    October 25th, 2011 at 2:52 pm

    Reply to Deon
    you are quite right in your post regarding technology and the assistants, I agree.
    How ever, how many times do even the linesman miss things and also mess up the run of play. I think having 2 refs just might help. But extending the rugby game to a full 90mins and use technology to the hilt and offer each team so many calls to view should they have seen something the ref didn’t.

  56. avatar Sauce says:
    October 25th, 2011 at 3:00 pm

    Reply to StrongBok @ 2:52 pm: Technology should only be available to the officials – not the players – but the TMO could be active – ie he can alert the ref real time to potential infringements with option for review form a different camera angle

  57. avatar JT_BOKBEFOK! says:
    October 25th, 2011 at 3:04 pm

    Reply to Stormersboy @ 2:22 pm:

    Attacking team needs to commit more players to the breakdown to ensure ball retention… Hence fewer attacking options because the defenders will outnumber the attackers in open play.

    The ONLY situation where you drag in defenders in open play is at a maul – here you move forward and force the defending team to commit players to stop the maul creating space out wide.

    I coach my players to try and steal the ball when defending but NOT to commit more than 2 players at the ruck **(unless of course the opportunity is there to ruck them off the ball) – why? We want to prevent being outnumbered when they attack wide.
    ** You can only ruck the oppo off the ball when they commit less than you to the ruck and are on their feet which is another thing that pisses me off about the law interpretation BS. Off your feet is a penalty – finish en klaar! These “rucks” where the oppo can’t contest is BS and should be stopped!! :Boertjie GOM:

  58. avatar Stormersboy says:
    October 25th, 2011 at 3:54 pm

    Reply to JT_BOKBEFOK! @ 3:04 pm: Good to have you in this discussion as a coach.

    I was envisaging a situation where you could compete for the ball on the ground. I would expect that both attacking and defending teams have to have more teams in a ruck, thereby creating more space out wide generally?

    You think this is unlikely?

  59. avatar JT_BOKBEFOK! says:
    October 25th, 2011 at 4:21 pm

    Reply to Stormersboy @ 3:54 pm:

    yes – currently if you can’t steal the ball immediately with 1 guy you probably won’t get close because the attacking team seal off the ball by going to ground.

    Defending teams will try to identify a ruck to attack and win a turn-over but will generally keep the defensive structure and let 1 or 2 guys try and make the steal causing the attacking team to commit 3 plus players to the ruck minimum to secure the ball add the ball carrier and you have 4 v 2 at the ruck which means 11 attackers v 13 defenders…

    How do you use rucking to manipulate a defense to score? Watch the brumbies of 2001 – here the rucking laws were in favour of the attacking side and they used that perfectly by playing multiphase rugby creating a lobsided defense and attacking the the “other” side.

    A MAUL on the other hand is a thing of beauty :pot:
    Here you can set up a strong one with 5 players and this will drag in defenders if you get go forward – that could end up with a 5 v 5 in the maul and a 10 v 10 in open play add to that the forward momentum and the 10 attackers will have a good chance v 10 defenders going backwards.

  60. avatar Stormersboy says:
    October 25th, 2011 at 4:24 pm

    Reply to JT_BOKBEFOK! @ 4:21 pm: Thanks for this. Very informative!!

  61. avatar JT_BOKBEFOK! says:
    October 25th, 2011 at 4:34 pm

    Reply to Stormersboy @ 4:24 pm:

    best way to create space is the direct way – off-load in the tackle, especially if you can pull in 2 defenders to tackle you and make the off-load :twisted:

    This is something some SA teams do not do enough because we are afraid to make a mistake and lose.

  62. avatar Timeo says:
    October 25th, 2011 at 4:41 pm

    Reply to JT_BOKBEFOK! @ 4:21 pm:

    I’m guessing you are working on a tactic to set up mauls from open play without turning over possession.

    Let us know how it works out.

    The problem I see is that when a ball carrier is held up and the referee shouts “it’s a maul” he seems to remember only the turn-over law and forget all the rest. Collapsing, holding on and laying all over the ball becomes perfectly legal.

  63. avatar Ollie says:
    October 25th, 2011 at 4:51 pm

    My 10c worth:
    1. Remove the hit from the scrum, and ensure the bind is on before allowing the shove.

    2. If points are scored allow the defending team to request a video check of the last phase(s?) if they think an infringement occurred. They call what they think the infringement was an the video ref can analyse. Max 3 wrong per team.

  64. avatar JT_BOKBEFOK! says:
    October 25th, 2011 at 5:14 pm

    Reply to Ollie @ 4:51 pm:

    agree with 1 but disagree with 2.

    Add to these changes:
    3. bring in a 5 secound use it or lose it law for rucks – I HATE it when a team wastes time like that!!

    4. Knock-on and off-side player plays it is NOT a PK IMO. It is a technical error and should be “penalized” with a FK.

    5. Scrum penalties – the ref is guessing 49% of the time so make it a FK offense and not a PK offense. 3 points for slipping a bind is ridicilous!


    7. Forward pass is a forward pass if the ball travels forward – none of this hands showing backwards BS! Cut out ALL interpretations and stick to FACT! If you run fast you must make sure you pass the ball back on a steeper angle thne say a prop would have to at a slower pace! :dead horse:

  65. avatar JT_BOKBEFOK! says:
    October 25th, 2011 at 5:17 pm

    Reply to Timeo @ 4:41 pm:

    What I try is for my ball carrier to stay on his feet a split secound longer in contact to get the support to him to get forward momentum before going down and creating a ruck – minimises the turn-over danger.

    If it ends in a maul and we have the momentum – fine but Mauls are mainly reserved for Line-outs.

    PS: a dumy maul from a line-out works wonders ;-)

  66. avatar Morné says:
    October 25th, 2011 at 5:54 pm

    Reply to JT_BOKBEFOK! @ 5:14 pm:

    With you, no player reviews.

    If the ref or Ass ref has doubts, they can refer to the final movement before the try was scored – pass, knocks, off-side etc.

  67. avatar Ross Tucker says:
    October 25th, 2011 at 6:18 pm

    Must say this is a very informative and quality discussion, again, good stuff.

    Re the rucks, my closest experience comes from Sevens and there obviously if you commit 3 guys to the ruck, you’ve depleted half your team, so a long time ago, most guys realized that the essential skill of the ball carrier would be to work incredibly hard in contact to force that committment from the defending team, whereas in defense, you need to do the opposite – be effective with one or two guys, the rest staying out and retaining the line.

    I think that as 15s evolved in the post-ELV days, the same happened, and it was noticeable how often teams did not commit to the ruck at all. Rather fan out and retain integrity of numbers in the line. That explained a trend that could be observed when you look at scoring stats in the game. I forget the exact numbers, but in 2009, in the Tri-Nations, only once in the entire tournament was a try scored off more than 3 phases (I think – I will check later). The year before there had been plenty, and that’s partly because of the ELVs, but also because teams figured out that with the ELV, it became more difficult to steal the ball. The rule that the tackler had to show daylight between his hands and the ball meant that ruck turnovers were cut hugely, and so all of a sudden, it became a game of possession again (in 2007, it was not!).

    The result was that defending teams had to figure out how to combat multiple phases (which were far more likely as a result of the ELV), and the solution was to commit even less to the rucks. I also manage the game analysis work for the UCT Varsity Cup side, and that was a key performance index for us – committing fewer players to rucks when on defense. It became vital.

    It’s interesting to see the ebb and flow of how the interpretation at the breakdown influences the broad strategic approach of coaches and teams. Hope that all made sense, it was typed in a rush. I must come back later with those stats from the Tri-Nations in 2009 and 2010, because they make for fascinating reading, especially to give context to P Divvy’s selections and gameplan in the RWC. More later…


  68. avatar Timeo says:
    October 25th, 2011 at 6:23 pm

    Reply to JT_BOKBEFOK! @ 5:17 pm:

    To decrease the turn-over risk when your ball carrier gets trapped upright and the referee calls a maul you may want to think about coaching them to stay upright and push while getting the ball on the ground and ruck over it.

    Everyone that can get his hands on the ball works it to the ground. Everyone else stays upright and push and look not to kick it through.

    Just a though. No practical experience but it should be much easier than trying to work the ball backwards through the hands.

  69. avatar Morné says:
    October 25th, 2011 at 6:32 pm

    Reply to JT_BOKBEFOK! @ 5:14 pm:

    Oh yes…

    As far as forward passes go – I am tired of explaining simple science to a bunch of forwards… :twisted:

  70. avatar StrongBok says:
    October 25th, 2011 at 6:52 pm

    Reply to StrongBok @ 2:52 pm:

    Sauce I was meaning something like they have in cricket, so no player can get away with murder and the better team will win outright every time.

  71. avatar Boertjie says:
    October 25th, 2011 at 8:21 pm

    Reply to JT_BOKBEFOK! @ 5:14 pm:

    3. bring in a 5 secound use it or lose it law for rucks – I HATE it when a team wastes time like that!!
    :agree: :yeahright:

  72. avatar Ollie says:
    October 25th, 2011 at 11:10 pm

    5 sec count will just create one more complication that will make things worse

  73. avatar bryce_in_oz says:
    October 26th, 2011 at 1:51 am

    A few of Joubert’s inconsistencies…

  74. avatar Kevin_rack says:
    October 26th, 2011 at 5:02 am

    Firstly well done to the guys at Ruggaworld for running a well balanced mature and well informed rugby blog.

    Saying that I will now go unbalanced, immature and as Byroz puts it emotional saffa.

    You are a naive fool to think that manipulation of results does not happen in rugby especially RWC time. This I refer to as Golden Watch Rolex rugby. This win for NZ is their version of our 95!! Yes the French scored that try.

    Think of Hansie. What a shock, I could not believe the fixing and the fact it continues today. Boxing, cycling, cricket, Fifa do i need to carry on. In time I believe rugby will have its own Hansiegate.

    Please explain:
    Bok Samoa game. I knew it would be a repeat of the 1995 thuggery yet it was worse. I counted 6 automatic red card offenses, let alone all the other dirty play. We all saw the punches, shoulder charges and late hits yet no citings??

    Please explain:
    Bryce Lawrence and the sharks game, South Africa/Ireland, South Africa/Scotland, Boks/France 95, All Blacks games…all seem to have elements of inconsistencies (of course no accountability) that would lead you to think that these games were manipulated.

    Please explain:
    McCaw could clearly be seen lying on the French side (the black jumper with 7 could not be missed) on the ground handling the ball. This was like watching Pocock against the Boks but better. Joubert even asked him not to do play the ball on the ground. Sorry but that’s not a request but a penalty. How can a player break the rules consistently yet get away with it. He even made the deliberate knee on Para look innocuous.

    There is no consistency application of the laws which leads to fans believing in double standards.

    As South Africans we know all about the lack of accountability and the issues that brings. When mistakes are made, these need to be acknowledged and changes made.

    I am willing to entertain the ideas that emotion clouds ones judgement, are you willing to entertain the thought that officials, like in Football (Korea v Italy), seek the finalists that will deliver the greatest returns???

  75. avatar bryce_in_oz says:
    October 26th, 2011 at 5:47 am

    Reply to Kevin_rack @ 5:02 am:

    And all that for the simple fact was if the Boks and Welsh had just kicked their miss-penalties they would have both made it to the next round… :wink:

    I could care-less about the results now but would like to see a total refurb in the reffing dept and that starts at the top…

  76. avatar bryce_in_oz says:
    October 26th, 2011 at 6:28 am

    Pay them more money (all three of them and the TMO) and make them accountable for constant blatant mistakes…

  77. avatar Kevin_rack says:
    October 26th, 2011 at 7:21 am

    Reply to bryce_in_oz @ 5:47 am: that does not take into account the non existant forward passes and the constant hands in the ruck for their try and then Schallas near try let alone Vickermans knee on Brussouw.

    Not matter what the Boks what have done the game was not going to be theirs…that to me is manipulation of the results.

    Golden Watch rugby bought to you by Rolex.

  78. avatar bryce_in_oz says:
    October 26th, 2011 at 7:38 am

    Reply to Kevin_rack @ 7:21 am:

    Rubbish… they lost quite simply because…

    -they don’t know how to adapt to a ref’s interpretation
    -their only plan for Pocock was to play Brussouw
    -they failed to clean-out opposition on own ball
    -they failed to counter-ruck on opposition ball
    -they missed half their penalty kicks
    -they failed to take drop-goals when they could not break advantage line with 70% possession
    -they failed to use their maul from 5 m’s out when they could not break the advantage line with 70% possession in the last 20mins
    -they failed to use more tactical kicking when they were winning 30% of Aussie LO ball in the last 20mins
    -They missed far too many tackles (as they have all year)

    But you keep telling yourself it was all the ref… the game was there for them to lose and they did…

    New Zealand fans would choose to play the Bok’s over the world number 2′s any day of the week…

  79. avatar Kevin_rack says:
    October 26th, 2011 at 8:42 am

    Reply to bryce_in_oz @ 7:38 am: dont get emotional on me

    New Zealand fans would choose to play the Bok’s over the world number 2′s any day of the week… according to Byroz’s world but not reality. :poop:

  80. avatar bryce_in_oz says:
    October 26th, 2011 at 8:55 am

    Reply to Kevin_rack @ 8:42 am:

    Nope according to All Black fans over here the Wallabies are a better side than the Boks plain and simple.. look at the world and 3N results and rankings the past two years… no emotion needed.

    And it’s not going to change next year in the 4N either with a new platform needed to start building again by the new Bok coach. It will be the Wallabies and All Blacks contesting for the title and the Boks and Argentina playing for the wooden spoon.

  81. avatar Kevin_rack says:
    October 26th, 2011 at 9:07 am

    Reply to bryce_in_oz @ 8:55 am: your anti saffa bias is so typical of half the aussie supporters out there who are from a generation that still thinks in apartheid terms. Get over it Byroz!

    Your rant proves to me that bias overwhelms logic and is the issue of many older aussies.

    I believe we have just got rid of a generation of old school players to be replaced by some very good modern day players.

  82. avatar its a 15 man game - embrace it! says:
    October 26th, 2011 at 9:41 am

    Reply to Kevin_rack @ 9:07 am:

    all due respect kevin but you are the one still blaming the ref for our loss yet you say Bryce is having a rant?


    Oh and Bryce, i see your new loverboy team WP, like my country cousins – have not reached a CC final this year in any age group….

  83. avatar Ollie says:
    October 26th, 2011 at 9:42 am

    Reply to Ollie @ 4:51 pm:

    Reply to Morné @ 5:54 pm:

    Problem is that the (ass.)refs are not pointing out everything and still “missing” things.

    So I still think my point makes sense. However, 3 calls might be excessive. 1 Call per team/match maybe. Get it wrong once and you don’t have another chance to refer.

    This would ensure that the teams who feel that there was an infringement leading up to points against them have the chance to set it right. but they must mention what he fault was and when it occurred. It’ll take only a few seconds longer than a normal referral to the TMO as it will follow the same procedure.

    This will also promote the ref’s to be sharper as they will not won’t to be shown wrong in public.

  84. avatar Ollie says:
    October 26th, 2011 at 9:44 am

    Reply to Morné @ 6:32 pm:

    I’m no physicist, but even I get that one.

    Besides, there are far more unnoticed infringement in the rucks and unnecessary penalties in the scrums than debatable forward passes. Clean up the major messes first.

  85. avatar bryce_in_oz says:
    October 26th, 2011 at 10:20 am

    Reply to its a 15 man game – embrace it! @ 9:41 am:

    Sharks and Rebels through and through…

    But remind which was the top ranked South African team in the toughest comp in the world last season?

    Most the WP U21 youngsters were playing senior CC this year?

  86. avatar its a 15 man game - embrace it! says:
    October 26th, 2011 at 10:29 am

    Reply to bryce_in_oz @ 10:20 am:

    It was WP with perfect mix of youth and experience and home ground advantage who could not make final.

    Great Draw/Money/Resources/Players.

    It will take a long time for them to be in such a favourable position again…

    Cheetahs average age 22 this year and we also made under 21 semis. Its no longer an excuse higher up – not since O Connor anyway.

    I bet its Rassie fokking around with Boks that made their youth program suffer.

  87. avatar bryce_in_oz says:
    October 26th, 2011 at 10:29 am

    Reply to Kevin_rack @ 9:07 am:

    Anti-Saffa bias… I’m a Bok fan first?

    IRB World Rankings 2011 IRB World Rankings 2010
    1 Nz 1 NZ
    2 Aus 2 Aus
    3 Fra 3 RSA
    4 RSA

    3N 2011 3N 2010

    1 Aus 1 NZ
    2 NZ 2 Aus
    3 RSA 3 RSA

    2010-2011 Australia have won 5 from 6?

    So I stand by what I and my Kiwi mates say in the previos post… Australia have been a far better side than RSA in the last two years…

  88. avatar its a 15 man game - embrace it! says:
    October 26th, 2011 at 10:34 am

    thought about this last night: someone on here mentioned the 5 seconds rule to count with ruck.

    I’d say allow everything (hands in ruck ; coming from the side; etc etc) but if the defending team cannot steal the ball in 5 seconds then everyone on the ground must release it for the attacking team to have access?

    Surely then the ref simply looks at who takes the ballin to prevent attacking teams from ‘smothering’ the ball in order to get a penalty (as if opposing team was holding on after 5 seconds surpassed?

  89. avatar its a 15 man game - embrace it! says:
    October 26th, 2011 at 10:37 am

    Reply to bryce_in_oz @ 10:29 am:

    that goes without saying. saffas however often think they are the best even when everything indicates otherwise.

    I guess we inherited this ugly trait from our english brothers

  90. avatar bryce_in_oz says:
    October 26th, 2011 at 10:40 am

    Reply to its a 15 man game – embrace it! @ 10:34 am:

    We’ve already trialled something similar under the ELV’s and it just turned into a big game of wrestling and was more stop/start than ever?

  91. avatar Ollie says:
    October 26th, 2011 at 11:00 am

    Reply to its a 15 man game – embrace it! @ 10:34 am:

    Same rule applies to the previous 5 sec suggestion, just an extra thing for the refs to stuff up.

    I can see the arguments now,
    “McCaw came in after 5 seconds was up”
    “No he didn’t, it was 4,5 secs. I timed it”
    “But you started timing only after the ruck was formed”
    “Yes, but that is when the 5 seconds start”
    “No it doesn’t, it’s when the tackle is completed”

    In the meantime the slow motion is of Bryce Lawrences lips going
    “1 a Mississippi, 2 a Mississippi……..”

  92. avatar Ross Tucker says:
    October 26th, 2011 at 11:18 am

    To Kevin

    All fair points and to answer your final question in your original post, yes of course I am prepared to accept the possibility that a match might be deliberately manipulated, that officials seek games that produce the best returns. One would be naive not to.

    However, what I am saying is that you cannot arrive at this point simply by looking at “errors of omission”, because a) the interpretation of the rules and the referee variability is too large to allow this to carry meaning and b) because fans will always work backwards to justify a pre-existing opinion.

    That emotionally-induced bias (something I learned very quickly NOT to trust) does not necessarily mean you are wrong, of course (even paranoid people are correct occasionally!), but it does mean that you need more than just a perception of wrong decisions to allege corruption.

    That’s the first point.

    The second is that I would argue very strongly that the path for NZ IS more difficult going through Aus than SA, based on the last three years of rugby. That’s a matter of debate, as you and Bryce have discovered, but given the rankings and the head-to-head, it’s a difficult case to make that the route is easier playing Aus than SA.

    The third point is that in terms of the global game, an SA-NZ match is better. The two most valuable brands in rugby playing one another in a semi-final (bettered only if it were a final) is far more lucrative for the sport than NZ vs Aus. And people will suggest that the “local derby” nature of a NZ vs AUS match means more spectators making the shorter flight over, but that’s irrelevant, because actual attendance at matches or in the city is insignificant in the bigger picture of the commercial rights of the tournament. And the question for rugby is what does the money-holder (and here, read Northern Hemisphere) want, and the answer is an SA vs NZ match.

    So then who is fixing the match? Is it the IRB, even though the more lucrative game is the SA vs NZ match? Well, remember a few years back, everyone accused the IRB of being a “Home Union Run” organization that looked out for Eng, Wales. The “old farts in suits and ties” who had the UK interests at heart. Now suddenly it’s a NZ-run enterprise? With a French President? Doesn’t make sense to me.

    So maybe it’s the local organizing committee. Possible, that they’d want the home team to win. No surprise there. Happens all the time (cricket is designed to favour home teams by preparing pitches, for example). But here, I just don’t see how one individual could be relied on to do it.

    Take that SA v Aus match. Bryce is doing his best to fix the match, to help Aus win. He’s being paid, or bribed or something. Yet here we are and it’s 11-9. One drop goal and he has failed. So not only is he an incompetent ref, but he can’t even fix a match? And let’s say that we had taken ONE out of the 7 or 8 opportunities we created for ourselves, suddenly SA are winning and Bryce has to do something. What would he have done? Given another two penalties to AUS to help them back into the lead?

    Maybe, but then remember that the penalty that eventually won the match wasn’t even awarded by Bryce Lawrence, it was given by the touch-judge, Roman Poitre! So is he in on it too? Because then we’re back at a high level conspiracy, once again directed against South Africa.

    Then of course the other option, and this is the case in cricket which you did bring up, that the match is being fixed by bookmakers (maybe Bryce was the recipient of a leather jacket and a bank account in the Caymans ala Hansie). But here, there would be evidence of suspicious betting patterns, surely, and as far as I know, the odds on an Aus victory didn’t change before that match, and were actually more or less the same as for SA? So that’s a really tepid betting ring if it is.

    There are just too many things that have to come together to fix a rugby match, let alone a knock-out match in a World Cup. Cricket is easy to fix (spread-betting), football a little harder, rugby the hardest (but not impossible).

    Rather, i think the explanation for Lawrence is very simple. He was too harsh at the breakdown in his previous big game (Aus v Ire), and so he was told by his bosses (maybe his father), to allow more of a contest. So he did. And as a result, he made the mistake of letting too much go, he was anonymous.

    Under any other conditions, nobody would have noticed, because in an equal match, each team gets 70 rucks, it’s a free-for-all, but both teams are killing the other team’s ball, makes for a lousy spectacle, but no one really notices. But in the SA vs AUS match, it’s not even. SA have 131 rucks, Aus have 44. That means that Bryce, who has decided to remain “anonymous” and not use his whistle, is going to give a three-fold advantage to the team that is defending more, because they have three times the opportunity to slow the ball down. Hence, it looks like deliberate fixing, when all it was was incompetence, and maybe a deliberate attempt to let the game go more.

    So yes, absolutely it could be fixed, but I just think there are a dozen things to eliminate first, and then prove “Golden Watch”.


  93. avatar Boertjie says:
    October 26th, 2011 at 11:29 am

    Reply to Ollie @ 11:00 am:

    Don’t make it so complicated.
    At stationary mauls some refs say “used it once”
    Same rule to apply to rucks when the ball
    is out and the 9 stands around like a
    traffic cop directing his players.

  94. avatar Boertjie says:
    October 26th, 2011 at 11:36 am

    Reply to Ross Tucker @ 11:18 am:

    So not only is he an incompetent ref, but he can’t even fix a match? And let’s say that we had taken ONE out of the 7 or 8 opportunities we created for ourselves, suddenly SA are winning and Bryce has to do something.
    Soccer is for sure different – and there were
    many cases of bribery etc. Just last week there
    was a story on this about Safa refs.

    But rugby? Too many things that are very
    hard to controll, as you pointed out.
    So until irrefutable proof I will not side
    with the conspiracy seekers.

  95. avatar Ollie says:
    October 26th, 2011 at 11:48 am

    Reply to Boertjie @ 11:29 am:

    Indeed, simplify the rules is the way to go. But saying the ball must be played immediately is also difficult. I currently don’t have an issue with the speed that the ball is played from the base of the ruck, it’s an issue with what is allowed at the ruck and what blatant errors are not being blown.

    Step 1, blow what you see, not what you interpret or what type of game you want played.

  96. avatar Boertjie says:
    October 26th, 2011 at 11:55 am

    Reply to Ollie @ 11:48 am:

    I did not say immediately.
    Which I suppose again leaves it at
    the discretion of the ref.
    Then again all the laws were tweaked
    to have more action.
    A team slowing the game down at rucks
    - and even keep a pick-and-go ruck
    going for 3 minutes to kill time -
    just flies in the face of all the
    other laws.

    Question: Why make the “use it” call at
    stationary mauls, yet not at stationary

  97. avatar Boertjie says:
    October 26th, 2011 at 11:58 am

    Oh and BTW: Introducing referrals
    in rugby as in cricket – now cut
    down to one per innings – is just
    not on.

    So much simpler to give the TMO
    more rights. Can also cancell
    out most forms of bias.
    Unless of course they were both
    appointed by POB the SOB.

  98. avatar Ollie says:
    October 26th, 2011 at 12:29 pm

    Reply to Boertjie @ 11:58 am:

    Giving it to the TMO is fine, as long as they workout a system for the TMO to interject without him becoming a distraction to the ref. For example, the TMO starts talking to the ref just as a ruck is forming.

  99. avatar JT_BOKBEFOK! says:
    October 26th, 2011 at 1:55 pm

    Explains a lot :S

  100. avatar Ollie says:
    October 26th, 2011 at 2:03 pm

    Reply to JT_BOKBEFOK! @ 1:55 pm:

    THat Kaino one was a shocker.

    As far as I am concerned there has to be an investigation done to get don to the bottom of it. Either the rules or too difficult and the play to fast or the refs are not schooled properly (I’ll stay away from the other possibility for now)

  101. avatar bryce_in_oz says:
    October 26th, 2011 at 2:22 pm

    Reply to Ollie @ 2:03 pm:

    Silence is deafening from the top!

  102. avatar Ross Tucker says:
    October 26th, 2011 at 4:43 pm

    Just to introduce another variable:

    There is evidence from a number of sports that home-ground advantage influences referee decisions WITHOUT there being an overt or deliberate bias. Even the crowd noise in football (soccer) affects professional referees in a laboratory setting – there’s nothing to gain, no reason to be biased, but you get quite large differences in decision-making in favour of the home side. Again, this is not deliberate, it’s human nature and it’s sub-conscious.

    Couple of posts here:

    And a video here (it’s the first of the three);

    So all those commentators debating the referee performance may be onto the right observation, but for the wrong reason. This is one of the main reasons, incidentally, that home-ground advantage exists, and it’s as true for South Africa as it is for New Zealand, or England, or any team. A colleague who works for the NZRU has emailed me regarding the Super 15, and their data shows that home teams win more penalties than visiting teams, which is the same as in football.


  103. avatar Thomas_Bulls says:
    October 26th, 2011 at 4:46 pm

    Was Donald’s kick over?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

    Check this clip:

  104. avatar Boertjie says:
    October 26th, 2011 at 5:20 pm

    Reply to Thomas_Bulls @ 4:46 pm:

    I had doubts, but thought te TJ’s
    were closer to judge.
    Maybe the slomo was not replayed
    on purpose?
    Frogs can be forgiven if they shit

  105. avatar Timeo says:
    October 26th, 2011 at 7:19 pm

    Reply to Ross Tucker @ 4:43 pm:

    My impressions from Super rugby has been that the SA referees tend to favour New Zeeland teams over Australian teams.

    Perhaps an analysis of this is possible from all those years they used neutral referees in S12 and 3N. Home and away should cancel out.

  106. avatar Timeo says:
    October 26th, 2011 at 7:25 pm

    The referee (R) is responsible for the general supervision of the game and has the final authority on all rulings. During each play from scrimmage, the referee positions himself behind the offensive team, favoring the right side (if the quarterback is a right-handed passer). He also counts offensive players.
    On passing plays, he primarily focuses on the quarterback and defenders approaching him. The referee rules on possible roughing the passer and, if the quarterback loses the ball, determines whether it is a fumble or an incomplete pass.
    On running plays, the referee observes the quarterback during and after the time he hands off (or laterals) the ball to the running back, remaining with him until the action has cleared just in case it is really a play action pass or some other trick passing play. After it has been established that the running back will keep the ball, the referee then checks the running back and the contact behind him.

  107. avatar Timeo says:
    October 26th, 2011 at 7:27 pm

    The umpire (U) stands behind the defensive line and linebackers observing the blocks by the offensive line and defenders trying to ward off those blocks — looking for holding or illegal blocks. Prior to the snap, he counts all offensive players.
    During passing plays, he moves forward towards the line of scrimmage as the play develops to (1) penalize any offensive linemen who move illegally downfield before the pass is thrown or (2) penalize the quarterback for throwing the ball when beyond the original line of scrimmage. He also assists on ruling incomplete passes when the ball is thrown short.

  108. avatar Timeo says:
    October 26th, 2011 at 7:28 pm

    Head linesman
    The head linesman (H or HL) stands at one end of the line of scrimmage (usually the side opposite the press box), looking for possible offsides, encroachment and other fouls before the snap. As the play develops, he is responsible for judging the action near his sideline, including whether a player is out of bounds. During the start of passing plays, he is responsible for watching the receivers near his sideline to a point 5-7 yards beyond the line of scrimmage.

  109. avatar Timeo says:
    October 26th, 2011 at 7:29 pm

    Line judge

    The line judge (L or LJ) assists the head linesman at the other end of the line of scrimmage, looking for possible offsides, encroachment and other fouls before the snap. As the play develops, he is responsible for the action near his sideline, including whether a player is out of bounds. He is also responsible for counting offensive players.
    During the start of passing plays, he is responsible for watching the receivers near his sideline to a point 5-7 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. Afterwards, he moves back towards the line of scrimmage, ruling if a pass is forward, a lateral, or if it is illegally thrown beyond the line of scrimmage.

  110. avatar Timeo says:
    October 26th, 2011 at 7:30 pm

    Field judge
    The field judge (F or FJ) works downfield behind the defensive secondary on the same sideline as the line judge. He makes decisions near the sideline on his side of field, judging the action of nearby running backs, receivers and defenders. He rules on pass interference, illegal blocks downfield, and incomplete passes. He is also responsible for counting defensive players.

  111. avatar Timeo says:
    October 26th, 2011 at 7:30 pm

    Side judge
    The side judge (S or SJ) works downfield behind the defensive secondary on the same sideline as the head linesman. Like the field judge, he makes decisions near the sideline on his side of field, judging the action of nearby running backs, receivers and defenders. He rules on pass interference, illegal blocks downfield, and incomplete passes. He also counts defensive players. During field goal attempts he serves as a second umpire.

  112. avatar Timeo says:
    October 26th, 2011 at 7:31 pm

    Back judge
    The back judge (B or BJ) stands deep behind the defensive secondary in the middle of the field, judging the action of nearby running backs, receivers (primarily the tight ends) and nearby defenders. He rules on pass interference, illegal blocks downfield, and incomplete passes. He covers the area of the field in between himself and the umpire. He has the final say regarding the legality of kicks not made from scrimmage (kickoffs).
    With the field judge, he rules whether field goal attempts are successful.
    In the NFL, the back judge is responsible for ruling a “delay of game” infraction if the play clock expires.

  113. avatar Timeo says:
    October 26th, 2011 at 7:34 pm

    Slightly edit from the wikipedia article.

    7 officials with clearly defined roles. Should not be too difficult to adopt a similar system for rugby. The only real challenge is advantage plays.

    In relation to rugby, officiating controversy in Gridiron is minuscule.

  114. avatar Ross Tucker says:
    October 26th, 2011 at 10:48 pm

    Interesting definitions. The one thing that will come up (it shouldn’t) is the cost of training and then employing the referees if you add even two more. That would drive the per match cost of officials up by 70%, but the bigger issue is are there enough competent referees in the game to cover the demand when you have say 7 Super 15 matches and a host of Northern hemisphere matches taking place on a given weekend? At the moment, that’s a resounding “No”, so the IRB would really have to look hard at how it finds and trains refs. In the NFL, money is really no object – the richest TV deal and commercial value in sport takes care of that!

    Then just regarding the home-ground advantage, that exists for every country. In SA, the home-ground advantage is very large, and that’s partly because of the altitude factor for the inland teams, but also, no doubt, because of referees. It’s a universal trend, true in any sport, any country.


  115. avatar Timeo says:
    October 26th, 2011 at 11:38 pm

    I should add the wikipedia link that the info is from:

    Note the last paragraph about the referees being part-time:
    “…..many of them are owners, presidents, or C.E.O.s of various companies.”

    If rugby refereeing becomes more competent and consistent, the job would be more pleasant and sought after also.

  116. avatar Yetirat says:
    October 27th, 2011 at 12:10 am

    I have to say, as much as I’d love to believe it, I can’t honestly see how any ref would choose to “bend” the rules to influence the outcome of a game. Think about it, if you were doing your job and you had tens of thousands of people standing around your PC scrutinizing every little thing you did, would you honestly risk your job by doing something you knew was wrong?

  117. avatar bryce_in_oz says:
    October 27th, 2011 at 4:17 am

    Reply to Timeo @ 7:34 pm:

    I don’t speak for everyone… but I’m happy to watch 85mins of rugby and could think of nothing worse than seeing a game becoming the spectacle that Gridiron is…

    Reply to Yetirat @ 12:10 am:

    More accountability would certainly add to that… whether it be as simple as having a 5-10minute video briefing with the ref after a game…

  118. avatar Kevin_rack says:
    October 27th, 2011 at 4:45 am

    Reply to Yetirat @ 12:10 am: good to have your inputs here, always found your views balanced.

    The rules should be less complex. But really how hard is it to police playing the ball on the ground or offsides.

    Technology can assit with offsides. There was a small trail done with a white offside line on the viewers screen but that was dumped very quickly.

    I found this video from another blogger very informative. This is feedback from experts:

    I ackowledge I have a ref issue. :Dawie: made worse especially after the Sharks/Saders game and my mate Bryce.

    Before the RWC I did not believe we were serious contenders but what I did believe is that the Samoa game would be a repeat thuggery of 95, NZ would be in the final and they would face a northern hemisphere team and the French did not have a player or plan to stop Ritchie and this would decide the final.

    Reply to Ross Tucker @ 10:48 pm: home grounds refs has been an issue for some time that has not been dealt with.

    I can concede to Byroz some of his points but I am yet to find an explanation for the Samoa game and the violence that went unpunished.
    Take Michael Rhodes incident, he tackled a player around the head, the player stood up and punched him repeatedly. So a precedent is set, if you are fouled you are allowed to retaliate?

    No, here the rules are not applied consitantly as the other player should have been banned according to the law. Laws are black and white and not open to interpretation or personal bias.

    There actaully might be no manipulation at all but the double standards create that impression.

    Its great we have this debate so well done to Ruggaworld exploring issues other blogs fail to do.

  119. avatar DavidS says:
    October 27th, 2011 at 8:57 am

    Ross this is a soccer ref issue…

    Amazing research about referees being unconsciously biased…

    Now surely the guys at SSI could have look at rugby too… or extrapolate the data for rugby purposes.

    At no stage am I suggesting that there is an intentional attempt to sabotage teams (although as we have seen with cricket and even with soccer that is a possibility… I mean how does an international quality referee get so inconsistent and honestly atrocious?).

    If one for instance looks at other professional sportsmen (because referees are that too) imagine all the data a guy like say Sebastian Vettel has to compute when he goes through a S corner! There is speed, wind direction, curvature of the track, condition of his own car, debris on the track, grip on tyres, revs, cars in front, cars behind, pit crew instructions, debris on his helmet, condition and reaction of his own brakes. To take it further, consider the cricket umpire on an LBW call. Those happen rarely comparatively in a game though but when it does, all these considerations come into play like, was it a legal ball, how far from the wickets did the bowler bowl, how far forwards was the batsman, how high up the roll, where was his bat, was he hit in line, was the ball turning in the air, did it turn off the pitch. Close on 80% of their calls challenged end up being confirmed on computer… which tells me it can be done.

    The fact that referees have to sit in pre tournament seminars to be told “how” to ref games is incredibly worrying. A damning indictment of the IRB and the chaos that fool Paddy ‘O Brian has created in international rugby.

    As a start… who the heck gives the IRB the right to place their own emotions and views on what is and what is not acceptable rules interpretations and how to police rugby? Surely that in and of itself renders the entire refereeing process flawed from the start when someone is telling refs how to “interpret” the game… if that person’s personal interpretation is not above his own bias (which it can never be) that person can influence the outcomes of matches by simple dint of instructional referees how to blow matches and “interpret” rules which in my view already constitutes corruption… and THAT may be intentional…

    I understand fully what you are saying but I disagree.

    There IS room for stating that the atrocious handling of the game was corrupt on some level. Even if we say referees were “briefed” on how to “interpret” the IRB rules we are saying that their view of the game was affected before the match started.


    I am pretty busy right now, so I am yet again trying to summarize how I am seeing it.

    Thanks for your input and insight. It’s always brilliant to have someone with your caliber of insight, intelligence and experience sharing their knowledge!



  120. avatar Timeo says:
    October 27th, 2011 at 1:08 pm

    Reply to bryce_in_oz @ 4:17 am:

    The actual play in football is fantastic but it is ruined by the dead-time, especially the artificial dead-time they inject for TV commercials.

    When it comes to refereeing though, I’m always amazed by how little they miss compared to rugby.

  121. avatar bryce_in_oz says:
    October 27th, 2011 at 2:21 pm

    Reply to Timeo @ 1:08 pm:

    Agreed on all accounts…

  122. avatar Timeo says:
    October 29th, 2011 at 2:39 am

    Reply to Ross Tucker @ 10:48 pm:

    I think if the tasks are divided and clearly defined like that it becomes a lot easier to perform. Like with mass production, lower skilled individuals can deliver a higher quality product.

    And if the quality of refereeing improves it will become a more pleasant job and referees will not retire so soon and the cost of recruiting and training will go down.

  123. avatar superBul says:
    October 30th, 2011 at 8:57 am

    I never saw this article, i am so busy with my new Business venture i gave very little attention.

    This is a great article and great comments. The comments here is some of the best i have ever read. Look i was furious with Bryce but i understand it a bit more now. Not that i changed my mind , i still see him as a person who robbed us from a great chance against NZ.

    Morne why did you not post it for us on R-T too? I have not seen you there lately, any problems? If i would like to copy this there will it be okay?

  124. avatar Morné says:
    October 30th, 2011 at 9:04 am

    Reply to superBul @ 8:57 am:

    Hey dude, no there are nor problems, have just been hectically busy of late. Copy and paste by all means.

  125. avatar superBul says:
    October 30th, 2011 at 11:30 am

    Reply to Morné @ 9:04 am:
    Same problem on my side , hectic. RWC also took time that i did not really have.


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