The value of ‘managing’ refs


Just how much influence do players really have on the game and their outcomes? Or are games actually played in a bipartisan way?

Matthew Burke, Rugby Heaven

Sitting back on Monday night watching the news unfold for the day, I caught an interview from Wests Tigers coach Mick Potter and his comment about how their loss to the Storm was directly related to some of the opposition’s ability to influence the referee.

So I thought about the question: just how much influence do players really have on the game and their outcomes? Or are games actually played in a bipartisan way? The captain should be afforded the luxury of being able to chat to the referee or umpire in all forms of sport, but at what point does the captain, or, for that matter, senior players have the ability to sway a referee’s judgment? You might be saying, no way this happens on the field, but I think it does. They often describe it as the ”rub of the green”, where things just seem to go your way as opposed to the opposition’s.

Having captained my state, I remember seeking out advice from former skippers I played under. Phil Kearns said you had to bring your own style to the table. What’s my style though? It’s like going for the job interview with experience required, but how do I get the job if I don’t have experience? You have to wade through some of the mud to finally find your way. I think Waratahs captain Dave Dennis is finding his way in some sticky mud at the moment, but eventually you do get out of it.

John Eales was the diplomat, yet firm in his approach. He threatened to take the team off the field in the 1999 World Cup final because of foul play from the French. That takes some front. George Gregan went to the other extreme and liked to tell the referees what they could be doing better. Each had their merits.

Advertisement For me, it was about being diplomatic. The minute you show some kind of dissatisfaction and argue the point with the way the ref is adjudicating, a barrier is put up. This usually occurs when that ”rub of the green” is going in the opposition’s favour. Looking back on my appointment as captain, I was too far removed from the action to have that influence upon the referees. In theory, I tossed the coin and chose which way to run but Chris Whitaker and Phil Waugh were the generals chirping at the referees, looking to gain any advantage.

You only have to look at All Blacks captain Richie McCaw to fully understand how to ”work” a referee. I wonder how many yellow cards he has received; not many I’d suggest. How does he subtly get away with staying on the field where others have to watch the dreaded hand-in-pocket routine? During the 2011 World Cup final, I shook my head at some of the decisions that went against the French. In retrospect, I can only stand back and clap the home team for managing the referee better in that pressure-cooker environment.

Players get anxious in big games. They are human, and no doubt the referees fit into the same boat. This is their biggest stage, their Everest, and they would be feeling the nerves, too, so who’s to say a little TLC doesn’t keep you in the good books while you are in the depths of battle?

In my experience, the perfect role is someone who is around the ball the entire game. For me the halfback is the perfect position, and for the Wallabies, it’s Will Genia. He has done a good job. Like Gregan did for years, it’s about keeping the opposition on their toes as well as a reminder to the referee. I understand James Horwill has that job at the moment, but perhaps Genia assumes the pseudo role once the whistle is blown.

Genia, or all of us, might be able to take a lesson from one of the Wallabies’ greatest captains in the way he controlled the game. I remember playing an away game for Eastwood against Sydney Uni in the early 1990s. We lost, but it wasn’t the game that stuck in my head, but the comment made by our captain, Scott Reid, back inside the clubhouse. Reid said to the referee, Bernie Carberry, ”Oh and by the way Bernie, his name is Nick, not Sir,” referring to Uni’s Wallabies captain, Nick Farr-Jones.

It does happen.

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  1. I have been saying this for yeeeeaaarssss, the most important man on the field is the ref. You need to win him over, especially the fickle ones, to even be able to compete.

    Look at Ali Williams and Walssssshhh.

    They are humans and have prejudice like any other human. We have suffered far too long under the SANZOO system of prejudice and its only recently we see Saffa teams starting to win the one they normally lose by 3 points.

    Yep then look at RWC in Aotearoa and tell me there was no cheating and I will call you a doos.