Are rugby referees cracking down on player dissent and time-wasting?

Jamison Gibson-Park earned a rebuke from referee Chris Busby, but he could easily have seen yellow

Referee takes no nonsense from Gibson-Park

The referee at the Aviva Stadium on for Leinster v Munster, Chris Busby, deserves praise for various aspects of his performance on Saturday night.

Not least his treatment of Leinster’s scrumhalf Jamison Gibson-Park.

In the 23rd minute, when a period inside the Munster 22 was ended by players diving off their feet, Gibson-Park approached Busby to protest the decision. The Antrim native didn’t take long to march the scrumhalf and Leinster back another 10 metres for dissent.

Here’s law 9.28: “Players must respect the authority of the referee. They must not dispute the referee’s decisions. They must stop playing immediately when the referee blows the whistle to stop play.”


Busby’s actions were refreshing to see. Criticism has emerged of referees in recent times after what some saw as a growing tolerance of players questioning decisions, something which rugby folk have used to belittle other sports that don’t have the same “values”.

In the second half, on 49 minutes, Gibson-Park infringed again. After Jack Crowley won a Munster penalty at the breakdown, the Leinsterman dithered in giving opposite number Craig Casey the ball. It was needless, and Busby promptly marched him back another 10 metres.

“You understand the message,” Busby could be heard saying to Gibson-Park on the ref mic. “I spoke to you down here [location of Gibson-Park’s first infringement], now you’ve walked away with the ball. If it happens again, you’ll leave the pitch. Clear?”

Crystal clear.

Only Busby could, and arguably should, have gone further. Yes, dissent and walking away with the ball are technically different rugby crimes, but they are on the same family tree. Busby could easily have sent Gibson-Park to the sinbin for repeat offences, instead of simply threatening to.

The scrumhalf’s quiet response to the rebuke suggests he was aware he had luck on his side.

Regardless, there was a growing sense within rugby circles that referees have not used their power to quell disrespect often enough. This wasn’t the case on Saturday. While it was a warning shot that officials’ tolerance for such shenanigans is waning, a card for this sort of offence would have put players well and truly on red alert.

Railway avoid Wicklow upset

The sole top-flight AIL game to take place over the weekend, men’s or women’s, came in Ashtown Lane as Wicklow and Railway completed a rescheduled fixture in the women’s competition.

Last year’s league runners-up powered to what was an expected victory, seeing off Wicklow by a scoreline of 10-78. Canada rugby league international Maddy Aberg led the way with a hat-trick, followed by former Ireland international Lindsay Peat and Molly Boyne, who both crossed the line twice.

Connacht’s Faith Oviawe added a double of her own as Railway crossed for 12 tries in total.

Wicklow crossed once in the first half through Naoise O’Reilly. That score combined with five points off the boot of Beth Roberts left them 10-47 adrift at half-time, only for the floodgates to reopen in the second half as Railway added 31 additional unanswered points.

Flying the flag for Irish internationals in the Premiership, Neve Jones, fresh off being nominated for Rugby Writers Ireland player of the year, was on the scoresheet for Gloucester-Hartbury in their 52-14 victory over Leicester Tigers.

Elsewhere, Ireland’s Vicky Irwin notched a try and four conversions in Sale Sharks’ 35-31 victory over Harlequins.

In the men’s Premiership, former Connacht and Ireland scrumhalf Kieran Marmion scored a contender for try of the season in the Bristol Bears’ defeat away to Saracens.

Leinster lineout sublime and ridiculous

Much like Leinster’s form this season, their lineout scoring record this year has fluctuated between positive and negative extremes. According to a lineout analysis published by Opta on Thursday, Leinster are both at the top and bottom of different scoring categories.

Taking data from the URC, Top14, English Premiership and EPCR competitions (Champions and Challenge Cup), the statistics provider has ranked the lineouts of club sides for this calendar year.

The good news is that Leinster score a try off nearly two-thirds of lineouts starting within five metres of the opposition line (61.9 per cent). This ranks them as the most efficient side in Europe at scoring in this position. The next most efficient team is Saracens (56.3 per cent).

The bad news from the province’s point of view is that they have conceded 13 tries in 2023 off lineouts five metres from their own line. They are the second worst team in Europe at defending such set pieces.

The best? Old foes La Rochelle, who Leinster of course face on December 10th to kick off their European campaign.

The continuing good news for Irish rugby, though, comes out west. Niall Murray, the Connacht secondrow, is among the best defensive lineout operators. The 24-year-old has stolen 20 lineouts this year, the most of any player in Europe.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Connacht are the second best side for stealing opposition ball, poaching possession at 26.5 per cent of their defensive lineouts.

In words

“This has been a really tough decision. I’ve called this place home for nine years and have massive loyalty to this club” – Edinburgh and Scotland fullback Blair Kinghorn confirming his midseason move to Toulouse, which will go through in December. The French club had to cough up a six-figure fee to buy out the remainder of his contract.

In numbers

9 – The number of successful carries made by Ulster debutant James McNabney on Saturday night. A Grand Slam winner with Ireland U20s, the number eight impressed with his carrying, also making a team-high 47 metres. Alongside David McCann, Ulster look to have a promising group of young backrows on their hands.

Nathan Johns

Nathan Johns

Nathan Johns is an Irish Times journalist