- Shifting goalposts: is it just me or do the IRB appear to be making up the laws as they go along? It seems that every time there's a poor game of rugby we're confronted with calls for law changes, resulting in experimental laws, new directives and varying edicts on the scrum, the lineout, the breakdown, the colour of players' bootlaces etc. And if international refs are struggling to cope what chance has the poor sod refereeing the 5th XV at Old Gitonians?
- R.E.S.P.E.C.T: what the hell happened to the day of calling the referee "sir" and accepting decisions with good grace (albeit through gritted teeth)? The level of backchat, dissent and overall whingeing these days, even at grassroots level, has reached epidemic proportions. I've no idea how or why referees put up with it.
- The Awkward Pint: 'twas ever thus, but I've never been able to work out why referees hang about rugby clubhouses after the game on Saturday in the forlorn hope that someone will not only buy them a pint but will want to stick around for more than 30 seconds to discuss the finer points of some of the afternoon's decisions. The home captain feels obliged to make an effort, but it can't be enjoyable for the ref knowing that his companion in conversation would rather be anywhere else, can it?
So, a bunch of reasons why I could not be a referee - but since when has a distinct lack of direct and relevant experience ever prevented me from proffering advice?
Here, therefore, are my top tips for rugby refereeing survival in grassroots rugby:
- Consistency - realistically it barely matters what laws you apply, as long as the laws you do apply are applied fairly and consistently. Rugby players have simple needs - as long as they don't feel cheated they're fine;
- Confidence - Be assertive. If in doubt, guess - but make sure you guess with conviction;
- Take no crap - you've given up your afternoon to supervise 30 fat blokes rolling about in the mud fighting. You don't need to take any aggro. Keep marching the gobshites back 10 metres, all the way to the tryline if necessary;
- Empathy - the vast majority of the players are trying their best. Laws are often broken not through cheating, but because the players are too knackered, old, fat or just not very good. If you can understand what they're trying to achieve and referee accordingly there's a chance that both you and the players might actually enjoy the game.
And who knows, someone might actually want to buy you a pint in the clubhouse.
Hope that helps :)