The abuse of Romain Poite has no place in our game

Unless you’ve spent the last seven days holidaying in a different part of our solar system, you will have seen one of rugby’s most contentious and high-profile refereeing decisions play out in Auckland last Saturday.

For the benefit of the interstellar travellers out there, the weekend’s Rugby Championship clash between South Africa and the All Blacks saw Springbok hooker Bismarck Du Plessis yellow-carded for a crunching tackle on Dan Carter. French official, Romain Poite, asserted that Du Plessis’ massive hit was illegal. Successive video replays showed this to be false, but the Frenchman had made up his mind and crucially instructed Television Match Official (TMO) George Ayoub to check only for foul play in the scuffle that came after the hooker’s challenge.

In an era where elite referees are oft accused of an overly-pedantic and unnecessary reliance on the TMO – whose role in the game is ever-increasing – it was at least encouraging to see an official make a real-time decision, and with such conviction. However, with the technology at his disposal, the ability to review the incident himself on the big screen, or have the TMO do so, there was little excuse for Poite’s call, particularly given how game-altering it proved to be.

Du Plessis was later correctly shown a second yellow for leading with his elbow into a tackle, amounting to a red card, and depriving the Springboks of arguably their top performer. With the hooker’s final departure, the game was effectively over as a contest, and the hosts retained and extended their proud record at Eden Park.

That one of the most eagerly-anticipated and engrossing test match battles was dominated by refereeing decisions left an overriding feeling of disappointment. Spectators and fans gave voice in the days that followed to their frustration at being “short-changed” by the eventual non-contest. The uproar in South Africa is all the more understandable given what was at stake, and that many believed Satuday’s fixture offered a realistic chance of a rare victory on New Zealand soil.

Nonetheless, neither the inaccuracy of the decision nor the magnitude of the occasion justifies the torrent of abuse flowing from all around the rugby world in the direction of Romain Poite and the IRB. Even certain household names within the sport have taken their criticism of Poite’s ruling several steps too far. The Frenchman is one of the world’s most distinguished and accomplished referees, and to see a single mistake spark a mass movement against him is at best unsavoury, and at worst, disgraceful.

Currently, a Facebook group entitled “Petition To Stop Romain Poite Ever Reffing A Rugby Game Again” is sitting at over sixty-thousand likes. This online campaign has an altogether familiar air to it, with a similarly titled page on the site hitting out at Kiwi official Bryce Lawrence in the wake of the 2011 Rugby World Cup quarter-final between Australia and South Africa. The Springboks had felt aggrieved after that game at Lawrence’s interpretation of the breakdown, particularly with regards to Wallaby flanker David Pocock’s legality while contesting for the ball.

Speaking last year to the NZ Herald, Lawrence admits the movement against him ‘got pretty nasty’.

“Not really threats on my family as such, there was a concern, but it was mainly aimed at me through social media,” he said. The safety fears this raised prevented him from taking charge of games in South Africa, and eventually forced his retirement from refereeing at the age of just forty-one. He now works as the NZRU’s high performance referee reviewer.

This week, I spoke to Wayne Barnes, another elite official who has suffered at the hands of such online insult, and overcome a number of setbacks in his career with the whistle. The Englishman is keen to point out that the perception that referees are not held responsible for their mistakes is one that is entirely false.

“As someone who’s been stood down from internationals, someone who’s been taken off the international panel, and someone who’s been stood down from Premiership rugby – the belief that we’re not accountable is not right. If a player doesn’t perform, they are accountable to their coach or director of rugby, the same as I am to my bosses if I don’t perform,” said Barnes. “We’re assessed, scrutinised, supervised in every single match. We do a self-analysis of every single match. Each coach gets input into our performance review via our managers. Also, we’re pretty harsh on each other as well. That idea that we aren’t accountable is wrong – I can tell you from personal experience that we very much are.”

Barnes also sought to dispel the misconception that referees are not, first and foremost, fans of the game they officiate. “People don’t understand that referees are massive fans of the game. We actually enjoy rugby. The reason we got into rugby is that we love the game, and want to be involved in the game. For whatever reason, we’ve ended up retiring from playing and refereeing instead. But we still love the game, and love going down to our local clubhouse, having a few pints with our friends, watching our international team on TV and cheering them on.”

Barnes has experienced first-hand the vitriol from fans, having incurred the wrath of much of New Zealand following the 2007 Rugby World Cup quarter-final between the All Blacks and France. Many were upset by his decision to yellow-card Kiwi Luke McAlister, and claimed he failed to spot a forward pass in the lead-up to the crucial second French try. He feels, however, that the bile and contempt that reared its ugly head anew this week is detrimental to the sport and its wider image.

“Someone on Twitter or Facebook doesn’t really know the kind of world that’s out there. I think we’ve all got a duty to uphold what is special about the game. What everyone loves about our game is this idea of the mutual respect between teams, referees and fans. People abusing players or referees isn’t good for our game. Sure, we have to be able to learn from each other and hold our hands up when we make mistakes, but someone screaming abuse at me from the touchline, or screaming abuse at a player from the touchline or online – it’s not good for the game or what we should really applaud about our game.

“The idea of respect and discipline is what makes us unique, and what I believe is our unique selling point.”

Put simply, the abuse and derision hurled at Poite over the past seven days is not befitting the sport of rugby union, or the values it embodies and holds so dear. The Frenchman recognises he made a mistake, and has officially acknowledged so. The IRB have issued a statement as such, and wiped the red card from Du Plessis’ record.

It may be that Poite is stood down from international matches for a period, but one is left desperately hoping that his career does not follow the same path as Lawrence’s. As Barnes points out, respect is a key pillar of the sport, and something that has largely been upheld throughout the professional era. It sets rugby apart from so many of its contemporaries, and it is something the game cannot allow to be lost – least of all in favour of the ill-conceived spite that at present threatens to tarnish its reputation.

Read more from Wayne Barnes in Jamie’s in-depth report on the IRB’s scrum directive, coming soon on the blog.

By Jamie Lyall (@JLyall93)

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

56 thoughts on “The abuse of Romain Poite has no place in our game

  1. One of the best reads of the year, with the growth of social media we see the growth of the ‘outspoken idiot.’ So much respect to the referees, as well as the players and other officials, to keep going strong through all the abuse that heads their way. Only one way to improve from mistakes!

  2. However Poite made a very poor decision that destroyed an evenly balanced contest. And from a neutral’s viewpoint it can also be said that he prejudiced the outcome of the competition.

    He was provided with tools to make a decision and didn’t use them. I watched with the NZ commentary and even they were surprised.

    1. Completely agree, it was a horrible decision and there certainly should be some action taken. However, shouting abuse at him online or in real life and trying to end his career is not the right or sensible way to go about. In fact its malicious while Poite’s mistake was an honest one.

      1. Completely agree. Would we do the same to the players? If a single dropped catch gave the game to the opposition team would we view that as a player not using everything he had available (skill, experience, etc.) to stop a mistake from deciding a game?

        Whatever the ref has done, calling him out and scaring the bejeesus out of him is not on. Even Alain Rowlands can walk around Cardiff without fear.

  3. Damned if you do damned if you don’t. The referee has a hard enough job without at least half a stadium baying for his blood during the match never mind the sustained social media abuse. The fact that some of these attacks have been from players and pundits is scandalous to say the least.

    Personally the fact that the red card was rescinded without more being made of the second yellow with effectively an elbow strike to the throat/neck area is a murky at best. Take that incident as a separate matter and why wasn’t the citing officer upgrading that yellow to red?

    A forearm or elbow to anywhere above the shoulders is as bad if not worse than a punch to the head as there is more than likely more force behind it due to momentum. Too many “skills” and techniques now being coached and employed are simply dangerous and are an erosion of the laws that a blind eye have been turned to by all involved at the elite level.

  4. Quite frankly Wayne Barnes deserves to be struck off the international referee panel, there was the 2007 fiasco with NZ and France and again at RWC 2011 he disallowed a penalty kicked by James Hook against South Africa. Barnes then refused the player’s request to go to the TMO and even ran in front of Welsh tackers as a’blocker’ when SA scored a try. The man should not be allowed to ref an under 11 Sunday match in January.

  5. I think Poite is usually a very good and fair referee, and it would be a crying shame if he was forced or persuaded to step down from the international game after this. Sure he’s made a bad call on this particular incident, but who in terms of referees hasn’t? Let’s not forget the real villain that is STEVE WALSH. Now there’s a man that’s a disgrace to the sport. Dropped by New Zealand RFU because he was so bad… Even today he consistently tells players off like children, despite the fact he’s making the wrong calls… Urgh! But anyway Poite’s never been anywhere close to being that bad, so give him a break! If Walsh stays so does Polite!

  6. Whilst Poite’s decision for the first yellow was incorrect, the abuse is obviously not acceptable in the game of rugby union.

    Secondly, nobody seems to be coming back to a key point here – why did Du Plessis elbow someone in the throat when he had already received a yellow? If I was from SA, it is him I’d be looking at. Particularly in such a big game. He made the game a no-contest, not Poite.

  7. At the end of the day, Poite saw something that he was convinced was a reckless tackle and punished it outright. His decision, was wrong, but from his angle what he saw was enough to convince him and if referees start to pass every decision over to the TMO it’s going to become a dull old sport.

    The on field referee is, to me, a vital part of the game and the referee getting something wrong is as much a part of the game as players knocking on. Giving every decision to the TMO is going to take a lot away and not always to the benefit of rugby. If nothing else, long periods of stoppage while the TMO uses a protractor to see if a player was carried through the horizontal can significantly increase the chances of cramps and muscle tears and reduign the amount of those that ocurr in a game is crucial. It also makes referees lazy and indecisive because they can always go to the TMO to check and not get this crap from fans or the media. The man in the middle is supposed to be the most competent ref, so why is he handing all of his decisions over?

    Maybe it’s because I actually considered doing my refereeing badges and enjoy watching games as a neutral to see how the referee gets on. I love the application of law in the game and admire the hundreds of things that a ref has to watch and get right in an instant. It’s a part of the game that a ref will make a decision based on his judgement, that’s what he’s paid for, that’s what he trained for, that’s why the best refs are getting the biggest games. When they are publicly admonished for one instance where 15 camera angles in slow motion mean that pundits and armchair referees get the decision right and the referee has made a judgement based on what he sees and where he sees it from, I weep.

    FYI, it is not okay to repeat this to me when I rant about Steve Walsh’s interpretation when he’s refereeing England.

    1. Yes, I think it’s a little funny that this article is mentioning the Poite thing without bringing up the NH recent equivalent of Steve Walsh. To this day many think he is the cause of England losing the Slam. Many, not all, no need to tell me you don’t think that was the difference.

      The abuse of Walsh started before the England game – – and then, when the result wasn’t to everyone’s taste, continued (and still does) long, long after. The media constantly published things about how he shouldn’t be allowed to ref again, he hates England, etc.

      1. Steve Walsh is a slightly different article (and the last comment was a light hearted jest). Walsh was banned from refereeing by the NZRU after too many high profile incidents that weren’t down to refereeing, but abusing and criticising players and coaches including Shane Horgan if I remember rightly and an altercation with England coaches as well as a third strike. He actually is very lucky to referee again. The problem with Steve Walsh refereeing England is he does hate England. He’s pretty much said it. Choosing him then to referee England games is not wise because you are courting controversy and feeding England fans the fuel to blame the referee. I think that the criticism of Walsh over the course of a game is different to what we’re talking about here though and I’m not going to get into it.

        My main issue is that when there is an incident like this, the referee makes one decision based on what they’ve seen and they’re abused. Poite is criticised for one decision that was interpreted from his position as what he saw. He saw a shoulder charge, he saw no arms, it’s a sin bin. 15 camera angles say otherwise, but you have to accept that from the referee’s position, he may have had a clear angle that suggested it was a bad tackle. Similarly Barnes’ missed forward pass handing France a try over New Zealand when really nobody except for disgruntled Kiwis in their armchairs seeing the 15th replay in slow motion were in a position to see it was forward. One that gets my gripe is the way Alain Rolland was treated. To this day even, people are telling me it shouldn’t have been a red card for Warburton, but it simply was. Under every directive, under the law, the only option he had was a red card. So when Mr. Rolland visits Cardiff he gets booed before the first whistle and there was plenty of vitriolic nonsense from outside of Wales too, it’s not a criticism of Welsh fans.

        Now there’s argument that Poite should have used something the other refs didn’t have available to them and that is the TMO, but why would you go to the TMO when you’ve seen something?

        1. Wookie, agree about the red card from Rolland. Also, as someone who was there, I’d like to say tghat I felt the booing was mostly (all even?) in jest. I booed myself, then we all laughed. It was a panto villain moment. Nobody I know of actually has an issue with him. It’s not like the footie (watched Arsenal yesterday, saw the man who broke Ramsey’s leg about 3 years ago get booed every single touch by the Arsenal fans).

          I’ve spoken above about the Walsh thing – I don’t see why England get special treatment in being able to blackball a ref. A lot of us Welsh fans suspect, irrationally, that Irish refs hate us. We hardly ever seem to win when we have an Irish ref. It would be madness to extend that to usbeing able to blackball them from our games. Even if Walsh does hate the English (does he really? Is there a link to where he says “I hate the English?”) then he’s either deemed to be pro enough to ref all games or ref none. No options. Especially not to further the paranoia of any English fans who can’t see the real reasons they lost that game (not singling you out as responsible for that, but even in the recent WC poll on this blog there was still the “as long as we don’t have Walsh refereeing us” comment).

          1. I’m not saying that England have the right to block Steve Walsh from refereeing. I would say however, that it is very dubious he could be banned from refereeing and just sign up with a different union and become a referee again. His professionalism came into question when he was involved in altercations with players and coaches and then turning up to an IRB meeting drunk. I’m also not saying it’s right that people abuse him, but I think that his catalogue of errors against England in the Wales match is very different to what’s being discussed here of a referee making a single error and being pulled through the ringers. It does still, so far as I’m concerned come under the fact that he had a bad day and all refs will have them. I do think that having him referee England/Lions/Ireland with his record courts controversy and people will naturally remember what has happened in the past and associate him with it. Not to say that that’s right, but it does mean that Walsh is instantly in the firing line.

            The thing about him hating the English was something to the extent of him saying “I hat refereeing the poms” and him suggesting he had some level of resentment when he got his third strike was on Wiki a couple of years ago, but I don’t see anything about it now or anything anywhere else that says it so it may not have been true and been taken down

            1. I remember one myth about Walsh was that the tatoo he covers on his arm said something like “God hates the Poms”.

              I take your point about it being dubious that he should ref as easily after switching Union’s but I still stick to what he say – he refs everyone or noone. This idea that there is a big controversy when he is assigned an English game is an English invention i.e. that’s the only place it is seen as controversial and everyone outside England knows the English think it’s controversial. It’s almost feeding itself now and everyone just needs to get over it. It didn’t affect the result.

  8. To be clear, Poite got the first yellow wrong. BUT, that one wrong decision did not decide the game. He made an error, and across the whole game probably made less errors than anyone else on the park. It happens, lets trust the refs to make the calls, and respect them for doing so.

    From a slightly different perspective; my U13 team played a game yesterday with a guy refereeing who was terrible. He did not understand the breakdown at all. He missed knock-ons, forward passes, offsides, the lot. He was not however, biased in any way.

    It was frustrating for us coaches, the parents and the players.

    However, what was even more frustrating was the constant verbal haranguing of the guy from parents throughout the game. This had the knock-on effect of my players blaming everything that wasn’t perfect in their eyes, on the “terrible ref”. Three of my players had to be removed from play as they started arguing with the ref. I had to speak to all parents at half-time in order to tell them to cease their poor behaviour.

    Frankly, both teams played a really good game of committed rugby, but the morning was really sullied for me by the open criticism of the ref. This sort of behaviour is creeping in more and more, from both football (lots of parents have no history with Rugby) and from this behaviour being exhibited at the highest level (and through TV and the press).

    We have to protect and support the referees, irrespective of their ability. Without this guy yesterday, there would have been no game for the kids.

    I know this is slighly off the flow of this article, but to me, it really shows the knock-on effect.

    12 year old players shouting at the ref. Implicitly encouraged by their emotive parents.

    We lost by the way, narrowly.

    1. On this note, whatever has happened to the ref marching a team back 10 for talking back to the ref?

      It used to happen relatively regularly and although this may just be looking at it through rose-tinted specs, the incidence of mouthy players seemed to be much lower.

      I can’t remember the last time I saw it in a pro game.

      1. My side have been marched back for talking to the ref and I saw it last week in an RFU Championship game, but no, you’re not wrong, it happens considerably less often now. Not just chatting back though it was all sorts like when the scrum half ran off with the ball a little bit you used to see them marched back 10 and I’d like to see that brought back into the game because it’s clearly cynical and I’d like to see referees make it known that stopping a tap and go at 50m can turn a touch penalty into a kickable penalty.

      2. Watch any game in the Rabo that Nige refs (not so often now sadly as he’s often swanning around the globe) and you’ll see a lot of that good old fashioned reffing – players back ten yards for lip, etc. I once saw him sin bin a man for screaming loudly when trying to charge down a kick, to try and put the kicker off. “Ungentlemanly conduct” he called it and sent him to the bin. Class.

        1. I have a lot of time and respect for Nige. He’s possibly about my favourite referee. I don’t get too angry with him even when he’s wrong because he makes me think otherwise.

      3. Pablito, I fear that as the ref in question was unable to apply the most basic of game laws to the match, his ability to maintain such discipline was really beyond him.

        In training, and in games that we ref ourselves at U13 level (and previously) we regularly sent offenders back 10m (or 7, or 5, as pertinent to the game/level).

        It is, i believe, incumbent on us junior and mini coaches to instill these values, even if they are not always apparent at the televised level.

  9. The only reason this is such a big talking point is down to Bismark committing the offence that resulted in the second yellow/red.

    Sure it can be argued that had the first card not been given he only would have missed 10 mins but, given he had received a yellow, leading blatantly with an elbow is pretty dumb.

    My view is he missed 10 mins of game time due to a poor decision, the other 38 is all on him and Poite should not be taking the flak for it.

  10. dont agree with ref bashing but… Poite has form, does anyone remember his performance in the 2012 Pro12 final? Some weird decisions in that one (on both sides). Its a tough job but consistency, clear instructions to the players and clear signals (for the supporters) do help.

  11. Hmmmm. Yes you are quite correct that hurling abuse from the shadows of the internet is perhaps not acceptable. However we live in a world where people can make their views public and there is no turning back from that fact. We also live in a world where the technology available for everyone is there to make the right decisions or have an opinion on said decisions. Perhaps one should not overreact to the idle threats and innuendo from disgruntled fans just as you seek them to keep a level head about a game of rugby.

    Frankly the level of venom hurled at BdP from fans at the game, which I am sure coerced Poite into making his first erroneous decision is just as deplorable as the comments from certain fans. You cannot banish social media, you cannot stop individual refs from making wrong decisions, you cannot banish vocal home support either, but you can make changes to the system which makes these events less sensational. Why not comment on those?

    What rugby needs is some common sense, specifically around ref calls and cards that allows for some sensibility to return to a physical game that will always have moments of contention. I can tell you that after watching that incident and then having to sit through a Saracens team beating a 14 man Gloucester team the next day, I seriously questioned why I wanted to watch rugby again, and this is from someone who watches many junior games to discern the new talent coming through, and has watched Rugby for 30+ years.

    The worst part of this whole debacle for me has not been the social media hysteria but the ludicrous inflammatory statements from some so called journalists. Perhaps you can get some even handedness here and comment on that as well.

    Anyway the fact that the two social media events you use to illustrate your point seem to emanate from South Africa is perhaps more a manifestation of the intensity of support in that country rather than anything bad about the role of social media.

    1. Really struggling to understand your point about the Sarries game, are you suggesting the red card was a poor decision and this sort of ‘physicality’ should be tolerated in the game?

      Although I deplore keyboard warriors I agree it’s a subculture that is here to stay. I’m all for use of technology and a review system to help referees get the big decisions correct, it’s the only way to protect them from this sort of abuse. It’s fine to say “Perhaps one should not overreact “, but how would you and your family feel if thousands of people were posting hate about you online or, as in the Gatland case, death threats? I don’t think it’s that easy to brush off.

  12. The point I am making with the Sarries game is that watching 15 men against 14 is not what I pay for. Why make a team suffer when one individual is at fault? Before this two card system was introduced you seldom saw so many games with 1-2 men out of the game for extended periods. Now it is so common place that there are few games where 15 men play 15 for a full game – in fact are there any such games anymore? In my view the two card system has done little for rugby and needs a serious revamp. Individuals need sanction not teams. Sanction a team when it’s clear that repeated offences are a team issue not an individual issue. BTW, I am a Sarries supporter but drew nothing from their win against 14 men. I struggled to find the contest of any interest after that sending off, no matter how deserving it was.

    To answer your second point. If you are a public figure then hate mail is part of the game. If people have made genuine death threats, and I am yet to see any proof of these, then surely those people would be tracked down by the police and prosecuted, no? The fact that I have heard nobody being prosecuted for death threats makes me wonder if these so called threats are not just immature and emotional comments, overreacted to by others.

    We do not live in a world where rugby personalities are bumped off for their alleged misdemeanors so I am not sure how much credence anyone draws from these threats. Yes its not nice being threatened or hated but how are you going to stop this other than ignoring it, or better still being blind to it? You take the hate with the adulation if you are a sporting personality as it’s all part of the territory.

    As a final comment I might agree with your statement that the inflammatory nature of comments by some is undesirable. However I know for a fact that you cannot stop these comments from being made, openly or in private, and that all you can do is to decry them when you hear or see them. On that score your article serves its purpose.

    1. On your point about taking that hate with the adulation; are you talking about referees? What referees have ever got adulation for a good refereeing performance?

      I also really think you are downplaying online death threats. Tracking people online making death threats is also incredibly difficult so that is a huge reasons why prosecutions are not made. Whilst no referees have not been harmed, it is not acceptable just to just tell referees to get on with it if they and their family are receiving death threats.

      1. Sure no ref gets adulation but then they are not the central part of the game that spectators go to see, but Gatland is another matter. You don’t expect the taxman to get adulation and neither should the ref expect adulation. Not being spoken of or not noticing the ref serves as adulation frankly. In my view the referee fraternity would get much more respect if each week on some or other TV show one of them represented what had gone wrong or right on the previous weekend. As things now stand they are aloof from publicity and open to attack. One only ever hears there side from a third party.

        I am pretty sure however their families have not personally received death threats, at least not what would constitute a valid death threat in my book. Can you point me to such a threat please as I am sure the threats are simply immature people making wildly stupid threats somewhere in cyberspace, rather than anything really serious? I am also sure that tracking these people, assuming they are cyber-retards is quite easy if there is a will to follow up valid threats made.

        While I agree that threats of this nature would not be acceptable, I also know that they are going to happen and that over reacting to them is exactly what the idiots who make them want to happen. I am happy for you to show me evidence if you think I am wrong rather than just making an assumption about an alleged threat you cannot validate yourself.

    2. I think we all prefer 15 on 15, but what are you suggesting the sanction should be for stamping on a players head 73 seconds into the game? Should Wood be sent off but a replacement prop comes on and we stay 15-a-side?

      If teams with good disciplinary records tend to come out on top over teams that can’t keep their players on the pitch I think it’s OK personally …. provided the decisions to send people off are correct ones.

      As for the online abuse I don’t know how you separate a serious threat from a someone just being stupid. Were the threats to track down and rape an MP campaigning for feminist issues serious? Or is all that OK because they are a public figure? Don’t understand your perspective on this at all, were you subject to it you may think differently.

    3. Jay, I really don’t see that Yellow and Red cards and their issuance is something that we should avoid.

      I do agree that 15 v 14 for a whole game especially is something that we would rather avoid. BUT, we cannot go back to no sendings off.

      I see your point about individual fault against a team punishment, BUT rugby is first and foremost a team game. It is one of its core values.

      So there are two types of card; (a) one is for a tactical/cynical act that is generally seen as “taking one for the team”, and the other (b) is an individual act of recklessness, that could be either cynical gamesmanship or malice (stamping, punching etc).

      It makes perfect sense to me that, in line with Rugby’s ethos, the latter example (as per Nick Wood) should affect the whole team. I have been in this situation and the perpetrator is left in no doubt how he has let the team down. It is this very situation that minimises the instances of this behaviour in the future. It is also this very situation that encourages players to control their team-mates volatility at times and as and when necessary.

      1. By the way, when I say “we cannot go back to no sendings off” I refer to the times when it was very, very difficult to get sent off. At least in the West Country (and possibly many other like-minded rugby lands).

        1. Blub, I agree rugby is a team sport but to seek to punish a whole team for one person’s stupid act is no fun as a spectator to watch. The team members don’t pick the team and some players are more volatile to control than others. If you want to make a point punish those who select serial offenders. Nick Wood did something really stupid and was rightly punished for it. Why his team mates had to suffer is beyond me though.

          As regards carding not changing; if I were to agree with you it would be with the addition of the right to on-field appeal by the captain for up 2 infringements so that where a ref acts in haste and irrationally as Poite did, that someone else can take a decision. I know this would not be watertight and probably just as fallible but at least it would give some relief and reflection to blatantly stupid decisions. How this extra time would be added to already congested TV schedules is another matter.

          Week after week we have to endure one or other ref blunder and the ensuing outcry from the losing camp and supporters. This is really starting to detract from the sport and rugby would do well to lessen the impact of these scenario’s arising in future. If the card system was supposed to remedy this, in my view it has failed.

          1. Jay, i think we will agree to disagree on this bit;

            “Nick Wood did something really stupid and was rightly punished for it. Why his team mates had to suffer is beyond me though.”

            Its because it is a team sport.

            It is tough, but if the alternative is an enforced replacement, there is a chance that we could see more foul play. The risk of getting red-carded is mitigated if there is someone to copme on and replace the offender.

            On field appeals? Oh no. It is a horrible part of cricket, and the rugby ref has a far more difficult job to do than a cricket umpire, so it is inevitable that there will some errors. But that is part and parcel of the game.

            Lets not forget that players work to force errors from the refs, and take advantage from them. All teams do, probably at all levels, and one of the great skills of rugby players is to play to the ref.

            this isn’t cheating, or unlawful its is just learning to work with the interpretations of that particular ref on that particular day. To me, this is a beauty within the game not a detriment to it.

            1. It’s a team sport so if you let your team down you suffer so you should avoid doing it. If you simply get replaced what’s stopping someone saying “well, I’m a bit tired now anyway, may as well do something reckless and cynical before I go off”?

              No one likes 14 on 15 (except those times when there’s some incredible dogged defence), but the rules are the rules. If you can’t follow them, you don’t stay on the pitch and if the coaches can’t instill that level of discipline on their players, the team is going to suffer.

              Sounds far more logical than saying “go on you little scamp, send on the next feller”. A red card is generally for a pretty extreme incident and as long as you’re smart enough to avoid those, you and your team will be fine.

  13. Matt, I’d prefer a system where a replacement could be made for a red carded player. Too many red cards in a season for a team and they get docked points on the league table or in one off games on the scoreboard, but all of this must have an appeal system to provide fairness. I just don’t much care for uneven games no matter how much you think that supposedly rewards discipline.

    Your argument about discerning valid threats is an interesting and topical one. Your logic seems to me to be the same as that employed by the NSA. Assume all threats are valid and move on from there, including treating all as suspects all the time. In the example you mention I would expect the police to follow up on the matter if a complaint was made, failing which I would expect the MP to engage in civil action against the miscreants. If none of that is done or is successful then the matter rests and cannot be put right. That’s life as much as you may decry its fairness or lack thereof!

    I also don’t see where you are going with this as you want something to stop but you have no means of making it stop other than through persuasion. My point is quite simple; if you are threatened you have the ability to seek recourse, either criminally or through civil means. Failing that you can use persuasion. Failing that you can either ignore it or seek personal retribution and suffer the consequences of that foolish action.

    In my view where you go wrong is you see these threats as an affront to rugby in general whereas I see them as threats by foolish individuals against other individuals all of whom are either interested in or participants in the sport of rugby. I don’t see how rugby can directly do anything to stop the threats as they have no control over what people say on social media which is not under their control. I do however see that rugby can change the way that situations arise to attenuate such potential threats being made.

    Lastly I do not think the argument about me feeling different about this if I was personally attacked is useful. If we used this logic for laws and rules we would have nothing but tyranny as we would seek to stomp out all perceived threats because of our own emotional trauma.

    I can understand your article if it seeks merely to use moral persuasion but I somehow think you have something else in mind. If so can you explain how you think rugby should react to these threats to stop them from happening in future?

    1. As the saying goes ….

      “grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, The courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference”

      …. so although it’s something I despise I can’t change it so I have to accept it. From a rugby perspective the best protection to provide officials is to provide them the tools, training and support to get a high a percentage of key decisions right as possible, so there is less to rant about.

      I completely disagree with the calling on a replacement for a carded player to maintain a 15 on 15. Consider the scenario of Dan Carter or McCaw being targeted, taken out of the game through foul play, the offender sent off and a replacement coming on. The team committing the offence benefits from their act of foul play. Even if the penalties/bans applied afterwards are made more severe I still don’t think it works, consider a player retiring after the world cup final and Carter is running rings round him …. if only we could get him off the pitch …. Keeping things 15 on 15 is just too open to abuse, so I think it’s best to keep things as they are, even though the consequence is devaluing some contests.

      1. Matt, we come from very different sides on this matter. I don’t believe that teams go out and target to hurt specific players, neither do I believe that certain players do that either. I also do not believe they would do that if the only sanction was to replace a red carded player. As such I expect rules to take that into account and give benefit of doubt as a first resort. Perhaps I am naive.

        Your view on the other hand seems to be that teams will target key players and that the rules should always reflect this negative intent in its punishment. I have great difficulty with this type of thinking but then perhaps it’s just me.

        The only middle ground here is an on-field appeal system which seeks to reverse an obviously wrong decision. If that fails as well at least it has given the wronged team some on-field redress.

        1. I’m not suggesting rugby will turn into ice hockey, just that in making a change like this you have to look at the consequences in the 1% of cases, not the 99%, so I’m deliberately picking extreme examples as to illustrate why this is a bad idea. If teams can come up with a ploy to fake a blood injury I have no doubt that teams would come up with ploys to take out a play maker if it’s consequence free.

          More common place however will be an increase in cynical play. I’ll concede 3 points to save 7. The threat of a yellow card (where teams will typically concede ~7 points) keeps this largely in check, if this goes we will have deliberate knock ons and players diving all over the ball in the 22, this will kill the spectacle of the game far more than someone getting 10 mins in the bin.

          If you stand to gain more by cheating that you lose for being caught cheating then cheating will become more prevalent. The yellow card is the lesser evil.

          On field appeals treat a symptom, if we focus more on the cause (4 officials getting key decisions incorrect between them) and work on that first this seems like the best way to go.

        2. Jay, this may seem as if I am going out of my way to disagree with you. I am not, but again in this case, I do happen to disagree with you!

          Teams do go out of their way to target certain players. In the past, I have certainly been targeted and in turn I have been part of teams who have targeted opposition players.

          Now this is not the highest level (you may be surprised to learn :-)), and I do appreciate that it is rarer when there are refs running the line and lots of TV cameras, citing officers and the like, but I have no doubt it still goes on at that level.

          Irrespective of that, the rules have to be the same for Internationals as for Old Fartonians Extra XV.

          1. Blub, you’ve read something into my answer. Of course teams target certain key players to make them less effective or to shut them down, but blatantly or maliciously injure them I believe not. I’ve yet to hear a rugby player talk in that manner about an opponent. Perhaps I just happen to mix with those that don’t do such things.

            Matt, once again we can disagree. I am not as cynical about others as you may be. I don’t see wrong in certain types of people or players or countries for that matter, Rugby is a tough game played by physically strong men. Individuals who are out of line should be punished. I just don’t buy this lesser evil philosophy as it’s the ultimate source of all tyranny. Your arguments sound too much like a politician. You make a case for all the things that may go wrong and how rules and laws must stop them.

            1. Blimey, you tick Brighty for something “extrapolated to absurdity”, then compare a yellow card to the source of all tyranny ……

              Yellow cards are needed to stop cynical play where a player would rather concede a 3 point penalty to stop a 7 point chance. It can be argued that the consequence of a yellow card taints the purity of the sporting contest, but this is far more preferable to people killing the ball, preventing tries and turning the contest into a negative penalty fest. This is why they were introduced in the first place.

              The game is better with yellow cards than without it (in my opinion). It may not be perfect, but it is better than the alternative, if that is tyranny, then I’m a tyrant.

              1. Tyrant Matt. If having 14 men play 15 to ensure some tries in the 10 minutes of forced rest then it works. If it’s to stop cynical play then it clearly has no effect as the number of cards each weekend is not dropping. We’ve had all these initiatives to increase tries and playing time and instead all we seem to get are more rules and more controversy. You only have to see how many so called qualified commentators have called the BdP tackle as having been made from an offside position to realise that even they are confused by it all.

    2. Jay, the point of decrying this behaviour in a rugby forum goes way beyond policing it. We all know we can’t physically stop this behaviour. We can only, by repetition of our disgust, ensure that the perception that rugby doesn’t like and will not tolerate this behaviour persists. By doing this we avoid giving these “fans” any credibility, avoid them thinking they have a home within rugby. In short we try and shame them into no longer having anything to do with rugby. I’m sure that we also, in some small way, help the victims out by them seeing 10,000 voices saying this behaviour is bad instead of just the 100 or so abuse tweets they get. Abuse like this is not seen as such shocking behaviour in some other sports, we want to ensure it remains so in rugby.

      Even starting to suggest that rugby should do something about the reffing of the games to mitigate this happening is dangerous stuff. You’ll be suggesting women should cover up in public next…. Rugby should ensure games are reffed fairly as this is good for the rugby. It has zero duty to morons who think that threats and abuse are a way to get what they want.

      Just telling someone to get over it, you get threatened all the time, etc. is just opening the door to it becoming acceptable, of it just being a bit of “banter”.

      Practically, doing something legal about it is pretty much a non-starter when it crosses continents, as this abuse has.

      1. Blighty, your comments were well received up to the nonsense about woman covering up. That is a very strange comment to make in relation to what I have said and an absurd extrapolation of my argument.

        Me saying that rugby should change to mitigate contentious decisions that may inflame supporters is not saying that rugby should do this merely to attempt to stop threats. You’ve read what you wanted from my comments and then extrapolated an absurdity.

        1. I’ve read what you’ve said and you have even repeated it here – “rugby should change to mitigate contentious decisions that may inflame supporters”. I couldn’t disagree more. I chose the woman covering up example as a deliberately extreme and, yes, absurd parallel because frankly I think your point is as absurd. Rugby should not ref itself to avoid contentious decisions through fear of inflaming supporters. It should not have to worry about inflaming supporters. Such people would do better to no watch rugby if they can control themselves civilly.

          1. Brighty, You are taking a statement so literally and assuming a meaning to “may” that is not the intention of my statement. Just where do I say that through fear of inflaming supporters rugby must change. You interpret my words the way you would like to interpret them not the way they are intended. You therefore see what you want to see in the statement. I cannot help that.

            Supporters drive this sport and pay for it as well. They are important and their views and perceptions are key to growing the fan base. You cannot take 100 idiots who expose extreme views as a means to ignore the very real concerns of the rest of the supporters whose rugby experience is being eroded week by week, by poor adjudicating of this sport.

            “It should not have to worry about inflaming supporters”. I cannot disagree more with that statement.

            1. Jay, you didn’t say “May”. You said “should”. You can help how I interpret what you say by stopping saying you didn’t say something when you did. It’s right there above. I will quote it here again word for word.

              “Me saying that rugby should change to mitigate contentious decisions that may inflame supporters is not saying that rugby should do this merely to attempt to stop threats.”

              You then follow with

              “Just where do I say that through fear of inflaming supporters rugby must change.”

              So to answer you again – you said it when you used the words “should change”. I can’t help it if you’re more interested in the semantics than the thrust of the argument. Hopefully now by putting it in black and white you will avoid the political trick of arguing about the words and their meanings and get back to the point which is that Poite should not have to put up with this and that rugby doesn’t owe any keyboard warrior or thug anything beyond trying its best to ref the game with integrity. From what I’ve seen Poite did that. He got it wrong but there was no questioning his belief that he got it right at the time.

              1. Rugby should change to avoid contentious decisions. If that means less supporters become inflamed then that is an added bonus. Semantics maybe. My poor English, possibly.

                You say Poite should not have to put up with this. I’m afraid he has to as there is no way to stop it other than to offer the counter argument, That is served by this article but no more can be done. I’ve said that a few times already.

          2. Rugby should concentrate on getting a greater percentage of key decisions correct, a pleasant by product of which will be fewer opportunities for the trolls and keyboard warriors to tarnish the reputation of the game. The tail should not wag the dog, the behaviour of people posting things they would never have the courage to say in person should not be the driver to change anything in rugby.

            Avoiding contentious decisions is impossible, not sending someone off (e.g. Tana Umanga) can be just as contentious as sending someone off. The need to take the big decisions is unavoidable, all that matters is getting as many of the key decisions right as practically possible.

            The bile posted (severity and quantity) on the back of the BOD selection decision has sadly removed my rose tinted spectacles, any notion that ‘rugby is better than that’ is now gone for me.

            1. I seem either to be blind to these comments or never read them. I generally don’t read comments if at first glance I discern stupidity or absurdity but I accept what you say and assume they must be bad.

              Then again I am not hung up by these people at all. They deserve no comment and should be ignored in my view as anything else just gives them publicity.

  14. Glad to see this has stirred up plenty of debate – many thanks to all those have commented! Some excellent points made, not to mention some I wholly disagree with, but great to see people getting involved.


    1. Jamie, it’s an excellent article. We don’t often hear the viewpoint of the man in the middle, so it was a very interesting read.

      1. Thanks Matt. I’ve been trying to keep tabs on all the comments, and it seems to have exploded into life in the past few hours. I look forward to reading through them all properly soon.

  15. Rugby is very worth because this very good game and this is intrusting game i like it Rugby and everyone like it and i wish that i see live match of Rugby but i can’t see this and this players are too good played in the ground so that’s it ……

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