You Don’t Notice the Good Ones

Who’s Nicola Alesbrook? She’s the IRB’s RWC Tournament Manager.

Why does the Mole ask? Well, Nicola is obviously an extremely important person in terms of the running of RWC11: she’s the tournament manager, which you’d imagine is a role absolutely loaded with responsibility. Have you heard her name mentioned once this tournament? The Mole hasn’t.

Now, who’s the IRB’s Referee Manager? Everyone knows this one: it’s Paddy O’Brien. Paddy is part of the IRB’s Development and Performance Staff, just like Cliffie Booysen, the Regional General Manager for Africa, and Will Glenwright, the Regional General Manager for Oceania. Have you heard about the good work Cliffie or Will have been doing? No? Could anyone tell me who the IRB Referee Manager before Paddy O’Brien was? No?

It’s all about Paddy.

Paddy’s biggest influence? As mentioned on Off The Ball and one of Mole’s pub conversations, rugby is a sport where most people now know who the ref is going to be for big matches. An old adage says that good referees are not noticed, so where does that leave rugby at the moment? With way too much emphasis on the man in the middle, who as noted by Brendan Gallagher, don’t answer to anyone but the assessors.

Referees are strange breed, often concerned with their own appointments more than the playing of the game. They operate a form of Omerta, watch games to see what the ref does and won’t criticise one of the brotherhood to an outsider, but will make mental notes of erroneous decisions from the competition. And believe this, referees view each other as competition, each wants to get the biggest and best games.

The biggest refereeing decision has been The Tackle. Much has been written and said about Rolland’s decision and the consensus is that he made the right call. I wasn’t sure then and I’m not sure now.

The Tackle was a Red State – Blue State decision, one where you instinctively knew what side of fence you were on, and one that pitted brother against brother, neighbour against neighbour in conversation afterwards. In a sport with a relatively conservative viewing population, the natural order of things is for the majority to come down on the side of law and order.

Let’s have a look at the incentives of those involved, in the best example of Freakonomics. Rolland, as the referee, wants to impress the assessor and get appointed to final by strictly imposing the recent directive. Warburton, as openside, wants to give Clerc the least opportunity to place the ball; stay on his feet; and must disengage from tackler so he can compete and jackal. All of which he did. Check out how Warburton gets the ball just as the whistle blows. Check out how he holds on to it after play is blown and the French players are jostling him. One thing on his mind.

The IRB’s directive on the tip tackle states that if

The lifted player is dropped to the ground from a height with no regard to the player’s safety (red card offence)”.

For all other types of dangerous lifting tackles a yellow card or penalty may be considered sufficient”

Very subjective that. We do know that Clerc wasn’t that rattled because Lievremont revealed that Servat, Harinordoquy, Yachvili and Parra didn’t train on Monday. So it seems that Warburton did show sufficient regards to the player’s safety, empirically anyway.

However, Paddy chose his words carefully when he backed Alain Rolland in the aftermath in the incident. Rolland did have discretion to issue a red card, because that is the ultimate sanction for any act of foul play. So when Paddy says that

“Alain Rolland’s decision to issue a red card was absolutely correct in law and in keeping with the clear instructions that match officials have received in recent years regarding dangerous tackling. Alain is a highly experienced referee and had a clear view of the incident, which enabled him to make an accurate and instant decision.”

He’s right. The referee can issue a red card for foul play and was standing in the right place to see the incident. Reverse “accurate” and “correct” in the quote above and it reads a little different.

So, where does this leave us? With a turd of a decision and a final that could turn into a cake walk, that’s where. It has also seen Thierry Dusautoir nominated for international player of the year in what seems like a political sop, just in case France pull out a wholly unexpected gem of a performance and win on Sunday. The Mole’s a massive Dusautoir fan but can’t understand why he wasn’t nominated in 2009, when he captained France to a win in NZ, but has earned it this season. After all, France lost to Italy, Tonga, England, NZ and Australia at home by 16-59 during the season under review. If Rolland hadn’t sent off Warburton and Wales had got to the final, would Sam the Eagle have been shortlisted? Mole thinks that he would have been, and that he would have had a good chance of scooping the gong.

Kinda sucks that. We will of course see “crouch-touch-pause-engage” at the weekend, which keeps about 1800 kgs of athlete waiting for the ref’s say so to crash into each other. This provides the opportunity for numerous resets if they can’t get it right, or game changing penalties if the referee gets frustrated at them. You can thank Paddy for that one.

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One thought on “You Don’t Notice the Good Ones

  1. Agree that good referees do not get noticed. Rolland is normally one of those, but he was gonna get noticed either way on Saturday. What about Steve “he who controls time controls the game” Walsh?!
    By the way I am not paddy o, or at least not that one -funny how that worked out.

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