Gamesmanship has suddenly become a worrying issue in rugby. Long thought of as the preserve of footballers, rugby players are now pushing the idea of fair play to the limits.
As our columnist Will Greenwood wrote last week: “In rugby, we have enjoyed looking down on football, claiming we occupy the moral high ground…Well, don’t be so sure. Rugby is on that road, and it has all come about from a very real concern around player welfare and head safety.”
So what can be done to make sure rugby shows the yellow card to football-style faking? We asked for your comments and our deputy rugby correspondent Daniel Schofield has responded to some of the best of them:
We absolutely have to have referees leading the way in firmly reinstalling the rugby rule that only the captain can talk to (including appeal) to the referee. I don’t want to see players chirping at or remonstrating to or towards the referees. Let them run to their captain. And captains calmly address the correct opportunity (not necessarily during play). One thing that has led to the erosion of that rule has been referees themselves talking to players on overly (and unnecessarily) matey first-name terms.
Hi Cyril, I am completely on board with this. Some referees have perfectly managed the art of holding ‘banter’ with players such as Wayne Barnes and Nigel Owens with players without affecting their judgement, but many struggle to find the right tone and balance. Perhaps it is too draconian to ban all interaction between referees and players, but anyone who listens to the match with a referee mic will hear a depressing stream of complaints from players and indeed replacements. Perhaps the greatest power available to referees is the ability to march teams back 10 yards for dissent, which needs to be enforced more regularly when anyone other than a captain is offering an opinion on their decision. Luke Pearce leads the way in this area.
Remove HIA from rugby. Any player receiving a head knock is removed from the game and stood down for 10 days. No onus on the player as all head knocks are monitored independently so the concussive ones will be picked out. Those feigning or trying to encourage the ref to “have a look” will have to think very carefully, as their actions will have consequences
Hi Jon, I fear we are entering treacherous ground here. I perfectly understand the ‘if in doubt, sit them out’ argument. The HIA process has improved dramatically, but still lets too many apparently concussed players return to the field of play. Yet without it, teams could easily be reduced to 13 or 12 men if every player suspected of suffering a head knock is permanently replaced, which could lead to players hiding their symptoms. We must be careful not to use a sledgehammer to crack a nut.
Sadly the idea that rugby players will not be just as cynical as footballers in trying to gain an advantage is probably naive. The officials need to hammer cheating, football was too late and too weak on punishing divers so it became part of the game.
Hi Don, I fully agree. Professional athletes are all conditioned to push the boundaries of every law to gain an advantage whether that is slowing down a ruck or exaggerating contact. Both are effectively a form of cheating but it is interesting that one is seen as being part of the game and the other an alien menace imported from football. The stigma against diving remains the strongest deterrent as it is awfully hard to police what constitutes “exaggerated” contact
To reduce injuries, all players should wear headguards.
Hi Colin, I am going to have to respectfully but forcefully disagree with you here. There have been no peer reviewed scientific studies that provide headguards reduce or mitigate concussions. In fact, it might be the opposite because it gives the players a sense of invulnerability that makes them play more recklessly. Headguards may help with lacerations and cauliflower ears, but despite what the snake oil salesmen tell you they have no effect against concussion.
Diving is becoming an issue in rugby. Refs should respond with a yellow card if they see diving.
Hello, maybe I am splitting hairs here but there is a difference between exaggerating contact, which I believe is creeping into the game, and diving, where no contact has been made. The problem for referees is that once contact has been made, they are in an invidious position if they decide to punish the victim rather than the perpetrator. How do they decide what constitutes exaggeration? What if they sin-bin a player who is legitimately hurt? If they catch someone play-acting then of course they are within their rights to issue a yellow card but I think a lot of these cases are incredibly subjective.
I was pulled into reffing youth rugby matches while coaching due to double booking of officials. I believe every supporter should be required to do this before they are allowed to comment on an officials performance. It’s humbling the pressure to get it right and to be fair even at youth level I cannot imagine the level of skill it takes to get it right at senior level.
Hi Joe, again a sensitive suggestion that I can get on board with, particularly for members of the press and broadcasters. Attending an RFU level 1 refereeing course is on my summer to-do list. The referees taking control of elite rugby matches are every bit as talented as Maro Itoje or Emily Scarratt, yet their performances receive an unhealthy level of scrutiny without any of the empathy afforded to a player who makes an honest mistake.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.