Alain Rolland had a poor night on Friday but referees are not being helped by authorities
I hate talking about referees, especially after Munster lose, but I stand by my criticism
Alan Quinlan believes referee Alain Rolland was wrong to award a penalty against Paul O’Connell and issue him with a yellow card, and thus deny Munster at least a bonus point, Quinlan believes, in theirRabo Direct Pro 12 29-19 defeat against Ulster at Ravenhill. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
There’s no denying I was a bit frustrated on television the other night after Ulster’s win over Munster. I ended up causing a bit of a stir for what I said about Alain Rolland’s performance. When I thought about it afterwards, I was angry with myself because in general I hate to start talking about referees straight after a game. But when a referee has such an impact by making bad errors, you can’t ignore it.
Referees can’t be immune from criticism as long as it’s done in the right way.
There’s no point giving out about 50-50 decisions because those will always exist. They exist in every sport and they’re part and parcel of every game.
You will never read or hear me criticise someone for getting a 50-50 call wrong in the heat of battle. That’s for fellas in pubs to do when they’re supporting their own team.
When it’s your job to analyse, it’s different. And the most glaring thing that came out of that game on Friday night was a couple of poor refereeing decisions had cost one team a chance at at least a bonus point and possibly a win.
I don’t think Munster would have deserved the win if they’d managed it because Ulster were the better team – but that’s a different argument.
I especially hate talking about referees after Munster lose. I have learned over the past two-and-a-half years you have to say what you feel when you’re analysing a game, no matter what assumptions people watching are going to make about you.
Some people will question your motives and will make up their own mind no matter what you say. Some people will obviously judge my analysis on the basis that I played for Munster my whole career.
But I can’t not criticise a referee for his mistakes just because it was Munster who suffered. I did that occasionally when I started out because I was afraid people would see it as sour grapes. But you can’t do that. You have to be honest and say what you feel.
I would have said the exact same thing on Friday night if Rolland had given the same calls against Ulster or Leinster or Connacht, or any team.
I should say from the start I have a lot respect for Rolland as a referee and always have. God knows, I was never an easy player to referee but I always found he was one of those refs who would explain his decisions to you.
In a way, the player-referee relationship is a bit like the teacher-pupil one – if a pupil is unruly, the teacher won’t get him to behave by just dismissing him. That was the one thing that drove me mad when I was playing, a referee just waving me away. It would just multiply whatever level of frustration I felt.
In fairness to Rolland, that wasn’t his way. He reffed me plenty of times over the years and we rarely had a problem. I didn’t always agree with his decisions but that probably says more about me than it does about him. He is quite strict as a referee but he is very clear and precise. I tested his patience but he was a guy you couldn’t push too far.
Funny enough, the one time I captained Munster, he was refereeing. It was a Magners League game in March 2007 – against Ulster in Ravenhill, as it happens – and all the other candidates were either just finished the Six Nations campaign or were injured. So I got the job.
I remember the days leading into that game being really conscious of the fact I would need to behave myself on the pitch. It was a huge honour to captain Munster and I had to do it justice. Above all, I couldn’t be getting into trouble with the referee. I knew there’d be people half-expecting me to do just that so I had to keep it all under wraps.
The thing was, I always felt I could try to manage a referee, just as much as they could manage me. That’s why I say I must have been a nightmare to ref. I would always try and get a word in here and there, even though I was never the captain.
Eventually a referee would make it clear enough was enough and I’d shut up but I’d take it as far as I could. Anything for an edge.
But now, for this one game, I was going to be legit! When we got to Ravenhill that night, I went out on to the pitch and started walking over to Rolland. He saw me coming and just started laughing. “So now, Quinny,” he said, “a whole game where you’re actually allowed to talk to me.”
As it turned out, if ever there was a game where steam would be coming out my ears, that one was it. We were 21-3 down at half-time, Ulster were all over us and we couldn’t get anything going. I was frustrated beyond belief and ordinarily it would have been the kind of game where I might have done or said something silly and made things worse.
But because I was captain for the night, I was conscious of my responsibility. I knew I had to keep my cool. And actually I didn’t really say an awful lot to Rolland because I was trying to keep an eye on so many different things and I was getting distracted. I didn’t have time to query decisions that weren’t going our way.
So I had a great relationship with him all the way through that game, purely because I had way too much going on to find the time to try and get on to him.
After half-time, we came out and put in a great performance and eventually won 24-21.
Afterwards, I ran into Rolland and he said, “Fair play to you, I didn’t hear a peep all game.”
I remember thinking that we’d finally found the answer to the lifelong problem of keeping me calm on a rugby field. Just give me a responsibility and I’ll be too distracted!
As I say, he reffed me plenty of times and we always got on well. But I have to stand by my criticism of his performance on Friday night. A couple of the big calls that went against Munster were just mistakes. Paul O’Connell’s penalty and yellow card were wrong and it cost Munster a bonus point.
And although Rolland was perfectly positioned for the try that wasn’t allowed for Munster, he missed a few obvious penalties with Ulster players coming in from all sides as Munster were pushing over the line. I have no problem with him not awarding the try because he was clearly able to see that the ball was held up but Munster should have been getting a penalty instead of a scrum.
The Peter O’Mahony incident was arguably the worst. As I understand the new IRB protocols, a referee can’t go to the TMO to check which player had hands in a ruck as Rolland did in that second half. That’s outside the parameters of what information a referee can ask a TMO. It isn’t a 50-50 call or an incident where one referee’s interpretation might differ from the next.
As it happened, O’Mahony made a legitimate attempt to turn the ball over. He was on his feet, supporting his own weight. It shouldn’t have been a penalty in the first place, never mind a warning that the next player was going in the bin off the back of it.
The TMO didn’t provide him with a number for the player even though it was obvious t it was O’Mahony. The whole sequence was a mess.
Again, it comes back to the new TMO protocols and the effect they’re having on games. There is too much confusion now. When someone as experienced as Alain Rolland goes upstairs to ask the TMO to identify a player for hands in the ruck even though the protocols don’t allow him to do so, what chance do the players or supporters have?
The TMO system works very well when the referee is looking for an answer to something that is cut and dried. But as we saw in the Connacht-Leinster game on Saturday, there’s far too much room for interpretation when a referee is going upstairs and asking for an opinion.
I believe Jamie Heaslip should have been yellow-carded for his late hit on Dan Parks. I’d imagine most people do. It was a shoulder charge after the ball had gone and Heaslip didn’t use his arms to wrap the player. That’s dangerous play.
But George Clancy went upstairs for a recommendation and the TMO decided it was just a penalty, with no card. Clancy agreed and Heaslip stayed on the pitch.
The TMOs are going to come under far more scrutiny if this continues. Who are they? Why aren’t they out on the pitch making the big calls themselves? Are they good enough? Are they young referees on their way up? Are they retired referees doing a job?
Alain Rolland had a poor night on Friday but he’s a great referee and he can take the criticism.
Refereeing is a tough job and anyone doing it is to be commended.
But they need to be helped by the authorities and confusing matters the way they have this season is not doing that.