Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Shhhhhh!

I'm delighted that world referee supremo Paddy O'Brien has decided to clamp down on what he calls "bleating rugby coaches, players and officials".

O'Brien, the IRB's refereeing co-ordinator, gave notice this week of a crackdown at the World Cup on players questioning referees' decisions.

"This has crept back into the game," he said.

"Experienced players are taking on inexperienced referees and cashing in on their lack of experience. We're not going to accept this at the World Cup. Those players doing so will be penalised at once."

Fantastic - international rugby these days is just too damned loud with pretty much everyone on the pitch chipping in with their comments and opinions - it's about time they all just shut up played the game and let the referee do his job.

O'Brien is also unhappy with the growing trend for coaches to use the media to undermine match officials and players, the Springboks' recent criticisms of Richie McCaw being the latest in a long line of public whinges by people who should know better.

"I am determined that the World Cup will be won by the best team on the paddock, not in newspaper columns and certainly not by a coach running to a newspaper, bleating," said O'Brien.

"We are banning all meetings between coaches and referees before World Cup games. No other sport allows coaches to go in and see referees, armed with laptops, statistics and photos, before a game...it is absurd.

"Referees must referee what they see in front of them on the field during a game, not have pre-conceived ideas through coaches trying to influence them 24 hours before a match even starts. We will be putting a huge emphasis on that point before the World Cup begins."

Too right Paddy. I'm not sure when this trend started, but the likes of Clive Woodward and Eddie Jones were masters of raising concerns about opposition tactics in public in a brazen attempt to influence match officials. I'm sure we all remember Woodward's media briefing about the alleged crossing/obstruction by the All Blacks and Eddie's bleating about the English "truck and trailer". Woodward even went as far as to hire Alistair Campbell to mastermind the Lions' spin for the 2005 New Zealand tour and we all know how well that went.

My only concern is how they can put a stop to it. It's easy to punish players - just penalise them on the pitch or fine them off it. How will they prevent coaches whinging to the media though? Disrepute charges? Financial penalties? Suspensions? If so, we could see a situation where all of these issues end up in front of a disciplinary committee - in which case each team will need a legal representative (something Woodward already had in place in 2003) and the whole thing will be in danger of spinning crazily out of control.

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