It has long been suspected that referees are guessing when it comes to calls at scrum or ruck time, but blatantly making laws up as they go along?
Given that I write quite a bit on the game of rugby I make a conscious effort every single year to brush up on the laws of the game. The IRB website is a brilliant resource to find all you need to know about the laws of the game and you can even sign up to do a couple of exams.
The reason I do this is because there is nothing more frustrating to me than listening to a commentator on television that forms conclusions on game situations by stating what he believes are the actual laws of the game and getting it completely wrong. I have however become used to this to some extent but I was quite shocked to read recently how some descriptions or law applications used by referees every single game is not mentioned once in the official laws of the game. In other words, referees are just making up stuff as they go along.
Paul Dobson from Rugby365 is regarded as an expert on the laws of the game and it was in his piece recently about the applications of the laws in the scrum where evidence of these ‘make up as we go along’ laws were exposed.
Here are some extracts of that piece;
There is nothing in the law which speaks of or suggests or describes a hit. The nearest that exists is a condemnation.
Law 20.1 (I) Charging. A front row must not form at a distance from its opponents and rush against them. This is dangerous play.
Sanction: Penalty kick.
Is a hit charging? It could certainly be construed as such and if both sides do it, then both sides are wrong, which does not make it right.
In fact the law says that the engage call, and presumably the same applies to set, is not a command but an indication that the front rows may come together when ready.
‘Come together’, not hit.
In fact the hit may just be the root of the scrum problem.
It follows, if the law makes no reference to the hit, fading on the hit and not taking the hit could just be nonsense.
Standing up in a scrum as an infringement does not exist in law either.
There are two bits of law which deal with going up.
Law 20.3 (I) Player forced upwards. If a player in a scrum is lifted in the air, or is forced upwards out of the scrum, the referee must blow the whistle immediately so that players stop pushing.
Law 20.8 (I) Lifting or forcing an opponent up. A front row player must not lift an opponent in the air, or force an opponent upwards out of the scrum, either when the ball is being thrown in or afterwards. This is dangerous play.
Sanction: Penalty kick
There is no sanction for a player standing up, presumably because there is no infringement.
It is unlikely that it ever will be an infringement because a player usually stands up because of pressure. If that pressure is, as it is most likely to be, on his neck, he is a player in danger. If it were a law that he could not stand up, a player who injures his neck in such a circumstance would have the right to sue the law-makers.
There is nothing in the laws of senior rugby that says it is illegal to wheel intentionally or deliberately. That law exists in Under-19 variations (Law 20.11 (a)). It does not exist in senior rugby.
The wheel does exist in law.
Law 20.11 SCRUM WHEELED
(a) If a scrum is wheeled through more than 90 degrees, so that the middle line has passed beyond a position parallel to the touchline, the referee must stop play and order another scrum.
(b) This new scrum is formed at the place where the previous scrum ended. The ball is thrown in by the team not in possession at the time of the stoppage. If neither team win possession, it is thrown in by the team that previously threw it in.
Running or walking around are terms used when a scrum is wheeled. The terms do not exist in law and the concept is vague enough to be suspect..
From the above it seems that referees came together and decided amongst themselves how they will manipulate laws to suit them (or hide their inability to efficiently apply the laws).
In discussions on this and other forums I have personally stated that I do not agree with the popular sentiment that the laws of the game are too complicated or that there are simply too many of them. The laws of the game are simple and in my view quite easy to understand.
The game however is suffering from the thousands of interpretations of the laws (read personal manipulation) and some referees inability to manage a game. My view on the laws of rugby has not changed in 8 years where I still believe referees should move away from trying to interpret the laws (or make stuff up as they go along) and simply apply them.
You can read the full article on Rugby365 here