Garcès’s communication at breakdown and scrum are key

Owen Doyle: ‘Less is more’ approach to communication from referees is preferable

 Referee Jerome Garcès talks to players at the scrum during the Rugby World Cup semi-final   between Wales and South Africa at International Stadium Yokohama. Photograph:  Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Referee Jerome Garcès talks to players at the scrum during the Rugby World Cup semi-final between Wales and South Africa at International Stadium Yokohama. Photograph: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

 

A special word of congratulations to Jérôme Garcès who will referee the Rugby World Cup final on Saturday. There is no higher honour.

Nigel Owens tweaked his calf in the semi final, but it’s more than a bit of a stretch to say that he would have been appointed if fully fit. Actually, he couldn’t have been considered, leaving the selectors without a really viable option.

Garcès’s approach and communication at the breakdown and scrum will be important, and these will be key areas for him.

Referee communication is a topic that divides opinion. Sometimes it informs, other times it’s annoying.

But, first, let’s start at the beginning . . . there was very little of it.

Penalties were awarded, nothing much by way of explanation was offered. Penalty counts were high, well into the 30s was not unusual – with maybe 25 minutes ball in play time at that point, that is some count.

An example: Ireland v Wales in days of yore, Irish lineout on Wales’ 22m – the referee waved for the throw-in to be taken – the moment it left the thrower’s hand, penalty to Ireland for a Welshman standing just about off side. Three points, thank you very much.

James Bond

Some of you will remember the referee Roger Quittenton, who interestingly styled himself a James Bond-like “Q”. He certainly dressed as well as Bond.

Bit by bit, communication started to change, and it’s true to say that Irish refereeing played its part.

Prevention and materiality evolved. Telling players to move back on side, telling them that penalisable offences had been “ignored” because play had not been affected, establishing proper line-out spacing, chatting concerns with the captains at down-time – all these and more started to become fashionable.

Englishman Will Carling, a terrific captain was readily accessible and proactive – France v England, I asked him “please have a word with your number 6, just a bit of calmness from him needed”.

The “6” was Mick Skinner, so if you remember him you’ll know that “a bit of calmness” was a bit of a long shot, but Carling got it done.

For those who don’t remember it’s worth checking out YouTube, where a typical and perfectly legal tackle by Mick “The Munch” is available. Poor tackling-technique players should take note.

There were no cards in those days, and – naturally – referees didn’t want to send off. So, they became experts at gauging the temper of the match, judging the right moment to intervene, quietening things down.

Issuing warnings was a skill to develop too – players and captains had to believe that warnings were not trite, but serious.

And so we’ve reached where we are today. Referee communication and player management skills are generally high, and we are able to hear the interaction with players, and with the TMO. It’s great that the watching public can hear.

I’m certain that this has led to a far more developed and interested understanding of the game.

But here we go – there are a few issues which need changing.

Let’s look at where materiality is these days. Having butchered the advantage law (WR reasons for the current approach need to be re-examined), referees are “locking themselves” into the need to go back “miles” to award a penalty for an offence that actually has had no effect on play whatsoever.

Their enthusiasm for sticking out their arm and calling “advantage” seems more a determination to demonstrate that they have missed absolutely nothing, rather than showing their game understanding.

A World Cup example: in Ireland v Russia, Garcès snookered himself by calling “advantage” to Ireland for an illegal but immaterial maul entry near the halfway line. The offence had zero effect on play – Ireland moved the ball very quickly and went hard and fast into the Russian 22. Ireland then lost possession.

It looked, and was, completely wrong to see him running back all that way to give the penalty to Ireland.

Unhindered

Another bête noire for many is that referees never ignore even the minimum of contact to a lineout jumper although he lands perfectly and delivers the ball as he wishes, unhindered. There’s that arm out again.

So, whereas previously the signal was held and the referee judged materiality, there is a huge difference now. It basically means the concept of “offence materiality-immateriality” is disappearing.

That’s a real pity. Players are not robots or clones, neither should referees be so. They could, in fact, offer the game more continuity with a changed approach.

Next, where did the the extraordinary habit of referees using players’ first names come from? It is a faux demonstration that they are all friends, which they are not.

This has, thankfully, been heard less than usual during the pool stages. Well, of course – Fumiaki, Tjiuee, Afaesetiti, amongst others, are a tad more difficult to get your tongue around than Rory, Jack and Sam.

I watched a poor performance by a referee last year. He seemed inordinately pleased with himself that he was able to call every player by their first name, but he forgot to do his job.

Is popularity being sought? I don’t know any sport where officials are actually popular, so let’s not fool ourselves. Earn respect, job done.

There are some referees who talk far too much. Long and very winded explanations of their decisions and endless TMO interaction; it’s all nearly a match commentary. Non-stop chatter becomes boring and annoying white noise, they become the centre of attention.

They draw far too much focus on themselves. It seems they like it, and have forgotten that nobody, but nobody, has paid to watch them. For me, and many others, the preference is for the “less is more” style of communication – those who keep their explanations concise and precise.

Referees will, occasionally and inevitably, become the centre of attention for other reasons.

But, please, not because of themselves.

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