Law Discussions

Blame the Ref

Tue, 14 Feb 2012 00:00
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Blaming the ref is the easiest way-out for a rugby fan. If you lose, blame the ref. If you get penalised, blame the ref. If a game is called off, blame the ref.

On Saturday night, the match between France and Ireland, scheduled to kick off at nine at night, was called off because the ground was frozen. Some angry people blamed the referee.

Law 1 deals with the ground.

Law 1.1 SURFACE OF THE PLAYING ENCLOSURE
(a) Requirement. The surface must be safe to play on at all times.
(b) Type of surface. The surface should be grass but may also be sand, clay, snow or artificial grass. The game may be played on snow, provided the snow and underlying surface are safe to play on. It shall not be a permanently hard surface such as concrete or asphalt. In the case of artificial grass surfaces, they must conform to IRB Regulation 22.

In Rome, Italy played England on snow. Up in Milan the women's Test between Italy and England was moved from the frozen ground to an artificial surface near Genoa.

It is the referee's responsibility to decide whether the surface is safe to play on or not.

Law 1.6 OBJECTIONS TO THE GROUND
(a) If either team has objections about the ground or the way it is marked out they must tell the referee before the match starts.
(b) The referee will attempt to resolve the issues but must not start a match if any part of the ground is considered to be dangerous.

There it was Dave Pearson's responsibility to make the decision in Paris on Saturday night.

Obviously, he would have taken advice before making the decision. At 7 o'clock he had said the game could go on. At 9 o'clock he said the ground was too dangerous.

In Ireland the week before the women's Test between Ireland and Wales was stopped at half-time because the referee decided that the ground had become dangerously hard.

In 1959 Murrayfield, since 1925 a Test ground, in Edinburgh got an 'electric blanket' to warm the field. Thirty years later this was expensive to maintain and the blanket was taken away and replaced by a new gas-heated system of hot water pipes. Saturday's cancelled match was to be played at Stade de France, the 'state of the arts' ground in Paris, a posh ground, one of the great grounds of the world - and they could not play because it lacks what Murrayfield got 53 years before.

It does not say much for the ground's owners and carers. It also does not say much for those who organise a match to kick off at 9 o'clock in the midst of a freeze. Not that the freeze was sudden. There are weather forecasts available and the European freeze was not sudden. The freeze had been going on for over a fortnight. But the organisers plodded stubbornly on with the match. It could have been played at 2 o'clock, 3 o'clock, 4 o'clock, 5 o'clock, 6 o'clock or 7  o'clock, but not at 9  o'clock.

How do you compensate the Irish supporters who flew from Ireland to be cold and have a few drinks.

Nobody has put his hand up and said: 'It was my fault.' And so the first one blamed is the referee.

It often happens. A scrum collapses and the referee gets the blame for not doing anything about scrumming, though he did not collapse anything. A scrum collapses and the referee penalises and gets the blame though, again for knowing nothing about scrumming. See a fight and the referee gets blamed for losing control, though he hit nobody. Lose and the referee gets the blame - not the players or the selectors or the coach and his gameplan. It's the referee's fault.

But this is a first - the referee blamed for freezing the ground! Those who have not run on a frozen ground will perhaps not understand just how hard it is - too hard to make a mark to place a ball. It is dangerous. It is the referee's responsibility to declare it dangerous. But in lieu of a culprit, blame the ref.

The referee in fact was disappointed. He would rather have refereed than traipse off back to the hotel.

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