Gareth’s Dyer’s rugby column

Referee Craig Joubert found himself at the centre of controversy
Referee Craig Joubert found himself at the centre of controversy
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Former Preston Grasshoppers player and ex-director of rugby at Lightfoot Green writes every Friday for the Evening Post

After an absorbing set of quarter-final matches, it will be a Southern Hemisphere quartet that will contest the semi-finals at the 2015 
World Cup.

And as my old man quipped to me on Sunday, the semi-finals and final should perhaps be renamed the “Rugby Championship – Northern Leg” as a result of the continuing dominance of the Southern Hemisphere – something I will come on to later.

We saw ruthless performances from New Zealand and Argentina, whilst the other two games were tense, exciting nail-biters that went down to the wire, with the Scotland versus Australia outcome shrouded in controversy.

Yet again the major talking points came from the inconsistencies I discussed in last week’s column.

The involvement – and perhaps on Sunday the selective non-involvement of the television match official (TMO) – continues to be a huge frustration, whilst the restrictions on referees as to when they can use the available technology suddenly added to the whole mess.

The view that officials cannot see everything disappeared the moment technological assistance was introduced.

Technology was brought in to help officials get the key decisions right.

To then limit their access to that assistance when they need it most is at best short sighted, at worst bordering on the ridiculous.

As I wrote last week, the role of the official is a thankless task and the issues highlighted above are only serving to make their role harder.

I felt sorry for referee Craig Joubert on Sunday.

The final whistle brought a backlash against the official that was as vitriolic as I have ever known in rugby union.

And let’s be clear, the anger at the final whistle was not just limited to disappointed Scottish fans.

Neutral fans were equally dismayed at the unsatisfactory way the game was decided. But some of the comments aimed at him by prominent rugby commentators in the aftermath – whilst understandably high on emotion – were also palpably low on class.

However those pointing the finger at the Scots as being masters of their own downfall due to a failed late line-out are missing a bigger issue.

For a reasoned and well respected rugby servant such as Sir Ian McGeechan to suggest that the reason to sin-bin a Scottish player during their quarter-final with Australia would not have been applied if the player was an All Black, highlights the mess the game is getting itself into.

There is a growing undercurrent of suspicion and frustration about how the game is officiated and this must be resolved before we start to lose those values that define the game.

It is time for a mass simplification of the laws for the benefit of players, coaches, spectators and crucially referees.

The controversy diverted attention from the fact that for the first time in World Cup history, there will be no team from the Northern Hemisphere in the semi-finals, and this despite the tournament being staged in Europe.

But should we be surprised?

After all there has been only one Northern Hemisphere winner from the previous seven tournaments and each autumn and summer we are regularly beaten by the teams from the south.

In terms of resources, the power of the game lies in the North.

England and France each have more registered players than the four Southern Hemisphere superpowers put together.

It is also not a question of inferior finance, as the spending in the French Top 14 and the RFU’s £5m outlay on England’s World Cup campaign will testify.

But clearly the numbers game is not working and the Northern Hemisphere playing structure isn’t either.

Whichever domestic league you watch, be it the English Premiership, French Top 14 or the Celtic/Italian Pro 12, there is one clear thread that runs through all of them. They are grinding, low-risk, attritional competitions that are low on skill and enterprise.

They are mired in mediocrity, both in the style of play and the coaching approach that is universally adopted.

Where are the visionaries? Where are the deep thinkers who will push European rugby to the next level?

And I am not talking about the players here.

The European game needs a structure for the elite 
players to be pushed and where the game changers can thrive.

The collective benefits are there if the Unions are prepared to work together, rather than be bogged down in protecting their own failing systems.

Relegation (and adding straight relegation from the Six Nations would be counter-productive), too many overseas imports, too many games, too many professional teams are issues that need to be addressed within a collective playing structure that drives up standards and puts the European mindset in a better place than its current state of denial.

Hopefully results at this year’s World Cup might just get the ball rolling.

But I won’t hold my breath.