DUBRAN - Former Springbok rugby coach Ian McIntosh says Rassie Erasmus’s video assassination of the state of refereeing was “an accident waiting to happen” because officiating has deteriorated to the point where referees are looking for ways to stop the game rather than keeping it going.
McIntosh, an internationally respected legend of the game, spent half a decade on an Experimental Laws Committee (ELC) which came up with positive recommendations to the International Rugby Board, but few of them were actually implemented, and Mac says if they had, the game would be a far better product.
There are few rugby men more passionate than the former Sharks coach, so when he suggests the lawmakers have lost the plot, World Rugby should take heed.
“It is not for me to say whether Rassie used the correct channels but I do feel that something had to be done to gain the attention of the officials because the game has become far too complicated and a stop-start affair,” McIntosh says.
“It has been spoilt for players, coaches and the spectators. The game has become over-officiated because of too many ‘provisions’ being added each year to the laws.
“Instead of World Rugby disciplining Rassie, he should be commended and a committee established to revise the laws which are too many, contradictory, and in some cases, nonsensical.”
A frustrated McIntosh says: “Can someone respectfully inform World Rugby that the laws were intended to keep the game flowing, not stop it, and that the referee should become No 31 on the field again and not No 1.
“Our very own Dr Danie Craven, a doyen of world rugby, was involved in writing half the laws and he once said that behind every law should be written in brackets ‘But don’t blow it if the infringement doesn’t stop play from continuing’.
“Yet referees seem hell-bent on looking for penalties instead of letting the game go. How else is it possible for an average of 25-30 penalties to be dished out in a game? The old adage of blow the game and not the law has gone out the window.
“And just knowing the laws doesn’t make a referee. It’s about how they are applied that is the difference between a good and bad referee, like a good flyhalf who knows how to read the game and to use the ball accordingly.”
McIntosh is disappointed World Rugby (previously the IRB) spent a great deal of time and money researching how to improve the laws but then did not act on the findings. “Early in the new millennium, I had the privilege of serving on a high-calibre ELC which included Rod Macqueen (the former coach of the Wallabies), Paddy O’Brien (IRB Head of Referees), and heavyweight ex-players in Graham Mourie (New Zealand) and Pierre Villepreux (France).
“We were tasked with improving the quality of the game and after five years of trialling in Stellenbosch, Australia, New Zealand and Scotland, I believe we came up with a darn near perfect game. We corrected many law ambiguities and removed 40 ‘provisions of the law’ to simplify the game.
“In this new version, the referees didn’t have to talk at all. I attended a trial game in Scotland, refereed by an experienced referee, who blew 12 penalties in the entire game. The referee told me he wished he could ref with the experimental laws the whole time. I did not hear one spectator shouting frustration at the referee, and the players commented on how much they enjoyed the free flow of the game.
“But when it came to the final acceptance, it was all sunk by certain Tier One countries who selfishly believed that the new adaptations would not suit their style of play.”
Among McIntosh’s bugbears is what he calls “the dreaded yellow and red cards”. He strongly believes the team should not be punished for the indiscretion of an individual.
“Whoever introduced cards should be shot! Who wants to watch a numerically unequal game? It is like the teacher who punishes the whole class because one student misbehaved. Why – for the misdemeanour of one player – must the rest of the team, the coaches, the administrators and the spectators be punished?
“If the offence is serious, then send the culprit off the field to face his
disciplinary hearing (and let him be sanctioned if justified) but replace him with a substitute so that we keep it 15 v 15 on the field.”
McIntosh points out that decades ago you could not replace players who were injured, which resulted in onesided games, so substitutions were wisely introduced to keep the status quo on the field.
“But then someone decided to do the opposite by introducing cards ...” McIntosh says.
McIntosh says he knows there is something radically wrong with the game when it is common policy for teams to play to force penalties.
“What an indictment of the laws when you hear coaches admitting that part of their plan is to milk penalties at the scrum so that they can kick to the corners and go for the driving maul – which is in fact legal obstruction – resulting in a try or even a penalty try.
“Years ago, scrumhalves used to milk penalties by dummy-passing at the scrum to lure the opposition offside. Similarly, hookers used to baulk when throwing in at the line-outs to baffle the opposition jumpers. This was deemed not in the spirit of the game and was rightly banned, yet now, milking penalties goes unabated.”
Incidentally, the driving maul does not sit well with Mac.
“The dreaded driving maul is nothing but obstruction. How you can have five or more players in front of the ball carrier in a driving maul and it is not obstruction?” Mac proceeds to give some more examples of what is wrong with how the game is blown.
“The ball is at the back of the scrum when there is a collapse in the front row … the ref allows play to continue, with arm raised, shouting advantage, but then comes back to the penalty when the ball has been misused. Did the collapse stop the ball from being played? No. So why the penalty?
Cheslin is obviously played in the air and clearly not direct into touch!!More importantly for youngsters watching this clip!!!! Please never move or touch an injured player on the ground, its reckless and dangerous! Leave this to the 🏥 🙏🏼@WorldRugby @Springboks @lionsofficial pic.twitter.com/lEcp5L4PBf— Rassie Erasmus (@RassieRugby) July 26, 2021
“And ever since the introduction of the referees calling the engagement at scrum time, the penalties incurred have become a quagmire.
“Now, if you have the stronger scrum you can infringe as much as you like to cause a set scrum and then be rewarded by way of a penalty for pushing the opposition off the ball, causing them to disintegrate (which is impossible to stop); to wheel which is natural because of the overlap in the front row; or make the weaker front row collapse or stand up. In which other game in the world can you infringe and still be rewarded?
“It is time we go back to ‘your-ballyour-call’ at scrum time, where far fewer penalties were incurred.
“Also, when players infringe at the breakdown but do not prevent the ball from emerging, why the penalty? Or if a line-out throw is crooked but there was no contest from the opposition, then let the game continue, why stop for a penalty?
“Rugby is the only game in the world where the team guilty of taking the ball out of play can still contest the restart and more often than not regain possession through infringing against the side restarting play. It doesn’t make sense!”
Mac has many more examples of how the game does not need to be stopped by the blast of a whistle: and has sage advice to the lawmakers: “Please objectively take on board Rassie’s concerns and SIMPLIFY OUR GAME – IT CAN BE DONE. WE DID IT!”