Former Preston Grasshoppers player and ex-director of rugby at Lightfoot Green writes every Friday for the Evening Post
As a rugby fan I have to say I have been very frustrated with what has gone on over the last few days.
I am not referring to the last round of pool games at the World Cup, which were entertaining and compelling in equal measure, or even Hoppers poor result at Broadstreet last weekend –although that was maddening enough.
No, my frustration has been at the inconsistencies that continue to dog the game on and off the field at the World Cup.
Differences in refereeing is one area – with the added layer of the Television Match Official (TMO) adding to that problem – whilst the other is the hot topic in the game, namely the inconsistency in the citing process and how incidents within games are assessed and punished after the final whistle.
Refereeing rugby is pretty much a thankless task. On page one of the law book it states that referees are “to apply all of the laws evenly”.
When you then consider that the 2015 edition of World Rugby’s “Laws of the Game” book stretches to 212 pages you begin to understand what the officials are up against.
There are 22 sections of the laws covered in the book with each section broken down into further sub-sections and additional sub points.
For instance a ruck may only last two to three seconds at Test level but there are up to 22 separate offences that could occur at each and every breakdown.
It is impossible to penalise every possible offence and that in itself causes inconsistency between different officials who try to manage the game as best they can.
As a result, no two games are refereed in the same style as no two referees see the same incidents in the same way.
The officials are only human, they won’t be able to see everything that goes on and I believe that it is an accepted part of rugby.
It is all part of the respect process that the sport likes to champion and of which other sports are envious. The TMO was brought in to try to assist on-field referees with the idea that they would be an extra pair of eyes. Fine in theory but it has been woeful in practice. Why?
Well simply because it has only further increased the opportunity for inconsistent assessment.
We have some TMOs almost refereeing the game from the video studio bringing unfair influence on the official they are there to assist.
That the TMOs themselves are then missing big incidents in games but “nitpicking” on minor incidents only serves to add to the frustration.
The backstop to all this is that should any incident be missed whilst the game is in progress, a citing officer can bring action against a player after the game and apply a suitable punishment.
Given the number of cameras at the RWC games, it should be impossible for players to get away with foul or dangerous play – however unsatisfactorily it is to not be picked up at the time and punished whilst the result can still be affected.
Big incidents were missed during games last weekend that could have had a significant bearing on the outcome of big games.
Sean O’Brien’s clear punch 45 seconds into Ireland’s pool decider with France was the biggest talking point – Ireland should have been reduced to 14 men for virtually the entire game, a game in which O’Brien then went on to be named man of the match.
Other incidents involving Australia’s David Pocock and Ross Ford and Jonny Gray, of Scotland, were all missed whilst the games were in progress.
Strangely the Pocock incident – the Australian appeared to use his knee to escape the clutches of Wales’ Scott Baldwin – was not even cited but the other players were and then subsequently banned.
Scotland forwards Ford and Gray will miss the rest of the World Cup after being suspended for committing dangerous tackles against Samoa, while O’Brien also received a ban.
Surely this is a positive end to the matter and shows the system works? Alas not.
Having been to many disciplinary hearings in my former role as a director of rugby, I know the intricacies of how the system works.
To explain that would be a column in itself.
The citing and disciplinary procedures are as inconsistent as the process that puts players before them.
O’Brien committed a clear act of aggressive foul play, while the Scottish players were involved in a technical offence which constituted dangerous play.
That O’Brien was only banned for one week, and the Scottish players for three weeks, is scandalous and adds to the idea that certain teams are being punished far more heavily than others.
There have long been rumours that pressure and influence is often used behind closed doors at these supposedly independent processes at international level.
Unfortunately, what has gone on so far at this World Cup does nothing to dispel the idea that this is the case and that there is one rule for one and a far harsher rule for others.