Thursday, 26 November 2009

The Total Flanker Guide to: Refereeing

Ahah, this old chestnut - cynical, gnarled old forward pontificates on the appalling standard of refereeing these days and tells referees where they are going wrong and how to do their jobs...

Far from it.

Although I have done a little bit of refereeing in my time (student matches in the 80s being my limit) the prospect of taking up a whistle again has absolutely zero appeal.

No, the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth is that I have huge admiration for anyone mad and/or masochistic enough to want to be a rugby referee in this day and age, largely for the following reasons:

  • 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:

  1. 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;

  2. Confidence - Be assertive. If in doubt, guess - but make sure you guess with conviction;

  3. 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;

  4. 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 :)


Anonymous said...

I like this blog - and appreciate your support in terms of taking no crap.

As a ref, I will add one thing - I will march you back only once - argue a second time and you can have 10 minutes rest to formulate your argument!

Nice to see a flanker working with the refs for once!

Robert said...

Great blog.

IRB and RFU need to clamp down now. So that means nothing will happen. Can we put you and your team in charge. I'm sure you could cure Rugby's ills over afew beers.

Greg Collins said...

Your blog always puts a smile on your face.

I'm a community level ref myself, doing 3 games a week on average, and finally I'm enjoying it immensely after struggling with the cliff-like learning curve for a couple of seasons.

TV Rugby is a different game played by people who might as well come from another planet. The problem is too many people watch TV Rugby and then expect the games in their local park to be reffed the same way. How many players and coaches have even read a Law book? Not many judging by the prevalence of urban myths like "He's got to let him up Sir!"

In the weeds you get refs who are learning, some, like me, will never escape the weeds for a variety of reasons. You're stuck with us and we are stuck, for better or worse, with you. Inexperienced refs nearly always struggle with fore-chat and back-chat until they learn how to make the players STFU.

Some, and this is how I went wrong in my first two seasons, have an excess of empathy and sympathy with the fat old lads. They think to much like the players and not enough like referees. The players sense this as weakness and seek to exploit it. On Saturday I fixed a 9 with a beady eye and said "I'm not your 'mate' and you speak to me in that tone of voice again and you'll be taking a rest. Geddit?" I'm with Stuart, you give me grief you'll get it back in spades.

Empathy is difficult, especially as expressed in the terms you have it. "Laws are often broken not through cheating, but because the players are too knackered, old, fat or just not very good." So what? The LotG still got broken and, for instance at the breakdown, the quick ball the oppo's young backs want to use to rip your lungs out has been denied them. How very fortunate... for your side. I'm now of the firm opinion that very little that happens on a pitch, and nothing done by 6,7,8 or 9, happens by accident.

First I was a player, then I was a player who could ref, then I became an ex-player who was a ref. Now I'm a ref who once, a very long time ago, was a player. Only the latter mindset works.

The pint, awkward or otherwise... Well your skipper sees a different ref every week whereas I only see me. Skippers vary but some will give you some good feedback on your performance and suggest ways to improve. I often try to chat to the front row just to increase my knowledge of the dark arts.

I'd argue consistency is not actually the answer. When I started I was consistently shite. Is that acceptable to the players? Of course not. What we want is a minimum of 'fitness for purpose' whilst aiming at excellence for the level of the game in front of you. But some days are just a bad day in the office... but even then we probably make less mistakes than any given player...

If you want to know more about how refs at all levels of the game think drop into

BigDai said...

I stick around for a pint because I'm lonely now I'm a ref.

Total Flanker said...

All very vaild points chaps - especially Dai :) - perhaps I should add a fifth tip:

5. Under no circumstances should anyone take me seriously!