The standard of officiating has become shocking, suggests Wynona Louw. Photo: Rebecca Naden/Reuters
The standard of officiating has become shocking, suggests Wynona Louw. Photo: Rebecca Naden/Reuters

OPINION - Refs and tackling: common sense needs to prevail

By Wynona Louw Time of article published Feb 26, 2020

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CAPE TOWN – I guess a new drinking game can now officially be launched - guess the call.

No cards or Jenga blocks needed, all you need is to have the rugby on, some dop and then you can count on the referee to provide the chance to play a round or seven. Honestly, the standard of officiating has become shocking, and the most problematic area where the whistle is considered is no doubt the tackle.

Last week, there was a lot of talk ahead of the round five Super Rugby action about South African referees favouring the home team when in charge of matches involving overseas opponents with regards to the penalty count. The Australians came out swinging with a “study” that apparently found that SA officials who take charge of matches against non-SA teams had awarded the home sides 159 more penalties than the away sides since 2017. Sanzaar have since disputed those moans.

Now, firstly, even if these claims were true, let’s hope the Australians don’t honestly think that is one of the reasons why their rugby has been going the way it’s been going. Secondly, let’s also hope these claims from Down Under don’t encourage an overcompensation reaction from SA refs whenever they are in the middle of a match featuring their countrymen against anybody else. Let’s hope that is not what happened at the weekend. Common sense is lacking enough already. Let’s not add such an effect to it as well.

In the Stormers’ game against the Jaguares, referee Rasta Rasivhenge sent Springbok tighthead Frans Malherbe to the afkoelstoel for a “dangerous” tackle, despite the fact that Malherbe seemed to have slipped on the WET pitch, hitting the ball-carrier, in a low position himself, on the leg. Yes, there was contact to the head, but it should have been clear that it wasn’t malicious. Yet Rasivhenge issued a yellow card.

What happened at Loftus was equally laughable. Later on Saturday, Burger Odendaal hit Emoni Narawa with a tackle that would be used by many as a “how to” guideline as opposed to an example in a book of malicious acts.

Narawa went for the high ball, ducked low as he came down, and Odendaal, who should rather have been applauded for his timing and execution, came in low and wrapped his arms around Narawa. Yet it was deemed dangerous by Marius van der Westhuizen because contact was made around the shoulder area. Yep, as soon as you heard Van der Westhuizen asking the all-seeing eyes upstairs to check the tackle, you should have known it down that shot. It’s not right. 

French referees - like Jerome Garces - are notorious for their howlers. Photo: Andrew Boyers/Reuters

We see players getting away with acts and tackles that belong in the dictionary as a definition to “malevolent”, yet some refs can’t be bothered by the specifics of each incident, an incident that may be far less harmful, never mind mitigating factors.

World Rugby can issue a newsletter featuring 17 different variations to their (failed) nipple-line tackle technique or whatever other safety measure every other day of the week if they want, how is it going to affect the game if those in charge of the whistle whack the ruler over the knuckles of anyone and everyone just because it’s either card or no card, never mind other factors?

If we’re not going to factor in intent and consider each situation for what it is, rather going for a one-size-fits-all approach, what’s the point then? Slap some tags on the players’ shorts and be done with it. Tackling be damned.

The standard of officiating has become shocking, and the most problematic area where the whistle is considered is no doubt the tackle, says IOL Sport's Wynona Louw. Photo: Armand Hough/INSLA
@WynonaLouw



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