Following Brendan Venter’s outburst last week and the subsequent debate over the issues raised, Andrew Daniel offers his verdict on what needs to happen.
Venter: I’ve had it up to here with referees
An old friend of mine once told that me, and I quote, “I understand women”. Obviously he got laughed at and told he was an out and out liar. The same treatment would have to be bestowed upon anyone who tells me that they understand what is happening at the breakdown at this present time within the game of Rugby Union.
On Saturday, Brendan Venter, the Saracens Head Coach launched a scathing attack on English referees. Let’s be honest though, he only said what we are all thinking, and that is that the breakdown – and more importantly how it is being refereed within this country – is killing the game. His belief is that there is complete uncertainty among referees as to what they are actually looking for at the breakdown and that decisions in this area are completely random.
“You get a penalty, then they get a penalty” he declared in his post match press conference. The more important fact that Venter brought to life is what he calls preventative refereeing. This is when a referee gives warnings rather than a straight penalty, for example, ‘release the ball’ or ‘roll away.’
“By the time the referee has told a player to stop offending, the ball is already slowed down and the defence is back in position,” Venter quoted. Then of course we end up watching 80 minutes of banal kick tennis.
The most frustrating thing about this whole situation is that the IRB have said they are not going to look at this area of the game before the 2011 World Cup. This doesn’t bode well for the future of Rugby and its spectators.
Big crowds are coming in to watch the Premiership at the moment with attendances significantly higher than ever before. With the introduction of events such as ‘Big Game’ at Twickenham and Saracens attracting 50,000 people to watch them at Wembley, rugby has never been a more accessible and attractive live sport option for the public. However, even the most hardened rugby fan will get tired of seeing the leather kicked off the ball week in week out.
Interpretation is where part of the problem lies, different penalties are being giving for very differing infringements at every ruck. That is fine, but at the next ruck it is going unpenalised and something else is being given the whistle treatment. If the referees are not sure what is happening and they have no clear definition from the powers that be then what hope have we got?
So what needs to be done? Referees need to spend more time with the coaches to review and explain their decisions after the match. This would help players and coaches understand their decisions and help to guide their training and behaviour in future games.
The IRB needs to review and add direction to the whole area of the breakdown before the 2011 World Cup, otherwise our ears are still going to be ringing with the sound of a whistle weeks after the tournament has come to its conclusion. This needs to be standardised across both the Northern and Southern Hemisphere nations rather than the ELV farce with different laws either side of the equator.
Venter will be fined for his honesty – sorry, unwelcome outburst – but it will be money well spent in my eyes as it may just see someone take some action. Finally though, if anyone does happen to know where these rules are kept I would be really grateful if you could share them with the referees and the rest of us as I could then go back to my old friend and take heed of his priceless knowledge.
By Andrew Daniel