Matt Williams: Rugby falls foul of poor lawmaking, to the delight of jealous hordes

The terrible refereeing at World Cup will hopefully lead to an officiating overhaul

There is a lot of green in Ireland. I don’t just mean the fabled 40 shades, or the wonderful emerald jersey of the national rugby team. I mean jealousy.

The green-eyed monster. The combination of envy, self-loathing and the deep desire that the victim of your jealousy fails and falls flat on their face.

When jealousy infects a group, the fury of its rage attacks with the hope of destroying. Not because there is anything intrinsically wrong, usually it is the exact opposite. Their victims’ success has become envied.

Jealousy and envy are a potent mix that create the tall poppy syndrome. If you have the temerity to rise above others expectations, you can expect to be savagely slashed back to earth. There is more than a touch of this around rugby in Ireland.

I never really understood the tribalism that creates jealousy between sporting communities. I played rugby on Saturday and rugby league on Sunday. There were jealous bigots on both sides. To some in rugby league, I was a leather elbow-patch snob, even though I have never had a jacket with leather elbow patches. To some in the rugby community, I was rubbing shoulders with the great unwashed. When I played basketball, I was selling out to the “Yanks” and when I went surfing I was getting into the drug culture.

How very ignorant all of those opinions were.


In every sport, there are the bigoted, the small-minded, the jealous and the cruel. They are very noisy, but that noise does not make their views correct. In the 20 years since I walked into the Irish rugby community, the game has grown and progressed like no other sport on the island. Irish Rugby has developed and expanded at an exponential rate at every level.

The number of people watching rugby has grown beyond the wildest imaginings of any administrator. Rugby is now the nation’s winter sport. Television ratings, match attendances and media space all back up that statement.

That type of success breeds jealousy. There is an almost palpable desire in some parts of the Irish media for the national team to fail in Japan.

I am on record that I do not like the way the Irish team have been playing in 2019. I find the strategies the team takes into matches are not maximising the skills and talents that lie within this Irish side.

That is my opinion, but I still want to see the Irish team to win and for rugby to continue to grow.

An observation on technique or tactics is not an attack on rugby. There seems to be a gloating around that Ireland are failing and soon there will be a chance to give them a good kicking. How very sad that is.

It was only a few months ago the entire country was swinging from their coattails after they beat New Zealand.

The gloom is made even worse with World Rugby’s referees affecting matches far more often than the arrival of Typhoon Hagibis at this World Cup.

The inconsistent interpretations by the TMOs and the on-field officials, in every area, from red cards for shoulder contact to the head of an opponent, to ruling when a scrum feed is not straight, to multiple missed offsides, makes this World Cup the worst officiated I have ever witnessed.

Referees are human and like all of us, they can make errors, but the inconsistencies, match after match, has distracted us from the wonderful tournament that has been delivered by the Japanese.

The problem is rugby’s officiating and judiciary have used this World Cup to showcase a much harsher interpretation of some laws at the expense of others. Multiple offsides have been missed in every match.


I have absolutely no problem with the interpretation the referees are using for red and yellow cards if a shoulder makes contact to the head of an opponent.

My problem and for that matter, the rest of the rugby world’s problem, is that this should have been on show, exactly as we are seeing it, in 2018 and 2019 before the World Cup. Why, why, why, use the World Cup as a test for new interpretations on law?

The match officials are being put under pressure from other officials, higher up the food chain. That tells us all how out of touch our officiating body is with the rest of the rugby community. Reform is long overdue. Perhaps the terrible officiating displayed in Japan will trigger the much needed overhaul of rugby’s officiating.

All of this gives another bucket of petrol for the begrudgers to toss on their fire of jealous rage. Rugby’s development in Ireland will continue to grow despite all the problems of this World Cup for two fundamental reasons.

Firstly, the game is exhilarating to play. Kids love running with the ball in hand and, as counterintuitive as it sounds, a very large section of society adores physical contact. Suck that up and deal with it.

Secondly, the camaraderie and sense of community that is so unique to rugby supporters will continue to attract converts from other codes.

Lastly, and this is the one the begrudgers really hate, it is “the game they play in heaven”.

So there is an eternity of rugby to follow.