Man in the middle to ensure Millennium opener keeps flowing


REFEREE:Roman Poite, who will referee Ireland’s opening Six Nations match against Wales on Saturday, will be instructed to keep the game flowing and not allow it become bogged down in an endless series of scrums.

The Frenchman will follow the guidelines laid down in a pre-tournament briefing. A couple of years ago the emphasis in certain areas of the game was changed mid-tournament, which caused confusion and anger among teams. Now the referee’s interpretation and what part of the game he intends to emphasise is laid down in a DVD distributed to all of the competing nations before the competition begins.

“They are looking for a more fluid game; they are looking for quicker ball,” said Ireland forwards coach Anthony Foley. “They are looking for less time spent around scrums. They are looking to clean up certain areas of the game, which they hope will bring more life to the game . . . Fortunately enough we’ve got a very good referee first time up, Romain Poite.”

In March 2010 the normally mild-mannered Declan Kidney was uncharacteristically enraged when International Rugby Board referee chief Paddy O’Brien decided to implement the “emphasis” of a single law regarding the tackle area in the middle of the tournament. The understanding at the weekend is Poite will be quick to penalise any foul play.

“I think all referees will allow a contest once it’s fair and you are on your feet and it is within the laws of the game,” said Foley. “The laws allow a contest there. They look for a contest there but what they don’t want is deliberately slowing down the ball, not rolling away, deliberate foul play, playing the scrumhalf, slow retreaters. They are the areas we have to be careful of.”

‘Handle on the scrums’

An analysis of last year’s Six Nations carried out by the IRB showed that for every 100 scrums in the competition, 49 collapsed, 33 were reset and 39 resulted in a free- kick or penalty.

Ireland’s game last year against Scotland had 20 scrums, eight collapses, seven resets, seven penalties and free kicks. In all they accounted for 21 minutes of playing time.

“They are getting a good handle on the scrums,” said Foley. “They talk about a team of three: the two assistant referees will be miked up and giving their opinion to the referee as well . . . we don’t want to sit around for 2½ minutes watching a scrum getting reset, and reset again and reset again. And then, suddenly, a free- kick.”

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