All Blacks

Monday’s Rugby News – 22/10/21

Monday’s Rugby News – 22/10/21

Hello, G&GRs and welcome to Monday’s Rugby News – my last Monday news for 2021 (unless I feel the urge to rant on something… likely as us referees always like the attention on us… allegedly…)

Today we’ll have a review of Week Four of the AIs, a ‘where to’ for the G&Gs looking ahead, looking ahead to RWC 2023 and a philosophical discussion on refereeing.

Where to for the GAGs?

Well, I predicted the potential outcome of the AIs a few weeks ago – that is, the tour could well be a disaster for the Wobs. Unfortunately, it has come true in the worst possible way. Not only did we go zero and three, but at no stage did we ever show any improvement from where we were at the end of TRC. Indeed, it’s quite hard to find any real positives come out of the AIs. But… I’ll try to find some:

  1. Bear with me on this one… We know that the ‘Kerevi Law’ isn’t the saviour some thought it could well be. Personally I wonder if players like Matt Philip are thinking of whose cornflakes they’ve pissed into to not even get a gig on tour. Furthermore, apart from inconsistent performances at absolute best, none of the players bought into the side for the tour could justify their place. The positive in this? It’s that Rennie et al got a look in and these players had their chance. Unfortunately, for the most part, they’ve blown it.
  2. A kick up the arse (or a ‘bringing back to earth) that was arguably needed for both players and coaches. They say that to win a RWC you often have to lose one. Well, this isn’t quite the same; however, it may not be a bad thing in the long term that Australia has taken two steps back from the success story that was July and TRC. After finally getting a decent crack in Europe for the first time in nigh on two seasons, it may well be an important memory for the young players.
  3. The Wobs now know the quality of players that will, more than likely, make up the match-day squads of the RWC sides in less than two years. The ability is there as we have seen; now it’s time for heads down and arses up in pre-season and for SR Pacific. With any luck, the focus from RA on a cohesive, G&G-first, centralised model will reap benefits in both the short term and long term.

Some frustrating points though:

  1. What’s the point of having some players, e.g. Lolesio, on tour if they’re only going to hold tackle bags. Short sighted indeed, especially when the focus across the board is on youth. Look at Marcus Smith for the SDs and the Froggy halves. What a valuable experience for them that Noah et al have missed.
  2. Some players still aren’t learning re discipline. Indeed, I’ll discuss further down about this. Furthermore, it’s the same errors that are creeping in.
  3. The G&Gs have let the positivity from the TRC and French series go. Not good.
  4. I still don’t quite see a starting side for two years down the track. The inclusion of ‘Kerevi Law’ players has denied the opportunity for the squad to settle. Now there are no matches until we face off against the SDs next winter. The Wiki article is here to see what’s coming.

RWC 2023

Speaking of what’s coming, the RWC in France in September/October 2023 is rapid approaching. I tell you what, G&GRs, this is shaping up to be one hell of a contest. We were treated to some absolutely amazing matches in the 2019 edition and, looking at how squads and countries are building, the upcoming RWC is shaping to be even closer. This is even more so as the traditional contenders, the DDFs, the Nearlies and the Wobs are struggling to cement any form of consistent pattern. NZ, in particular, seem to be not progressing at all under the regime of Ian Foster. NZR honchos will be too arrogant to make any form of change prior to RWC lest their failures be recognised; however, don’t be surprised when Foster wears the blame for a potential AB bomb out (in fairness, it’s his shit game plan…). It seems other teams have figured the ABs out by, essentially, out All Blacking the All Blacks. The DDFs, in two years, will surely have to have a rather different squad. Their ageing players will simply not stand up. The Wobs, as discussed, still barely even know their best 23, let alone where they may source these players from. On the other side of the world, it seems that the NH sides are all settling nicely with a decent blend of experience and youth. Like, fucking seriously, when Eddie Jones dumps Sarries players then you know there’s a serious change of dynamic going on in the old Dart. Worringly, particularly for the Wobs, time doesn’t stand still!

For me, looking at the squads as they stand and with a bit of foresight, the Frogs are certainly looking bloody good. Not only for their record breaking win over the ABs (sorry, KARL) but for their season. They will be a fearsome prospect in the 6N. Similarly, the Leprechauns have the crux of a good squad and are flying a wee bit under the radar. The Jocks are handy though depth will always be their issue. The SDs, if Eddie persists with selecting on form rather than hierarchy and favouritism (aka Cheika selections) will be tough. Wales are possibly the side that is looking the weakest in the Home Nations at present. Then again, their youngish side beat us. The last of the 6N teams, Italy, are fucked. Same as always.

One of the bigger disappointments of the AIs would be Japan. They haven’t played anywhere near their potential; however, like many countries, their relative lack of test match time was telling. They will be better for the run. Another disappointment was the lack of the Islander sides getting a prolonged crack at top sides. That said, some tests are better than none for these sides who often get shafted. SR Pacific will definitely help this as WR have (finally) made an investment in the region.

AUTUMN INTERNATIONALS – WEEK FOUR

MEN’S

Wallabies 28 lost to Taffs 29

Frogs 40 def Nearlies 25

Romania 32 def Tonga 20

SDs 27 def DDFs 26

Georgia 15 drew Fiji 15

Namibia 41 def Zimbabwe 10

Chile 30 def Russia 29

Poland 37 def Switzerland 25

Ireland v Pumas – TBC

WOMEN’S

Ireland 15 – Japan 12

France 29 – NZ 7

England v USA TBC

Wales v Canada TBC

Philosophy of Refereeing

Today, one of my Mexican Melbournian refereeing colleagues, Dr Robin Burr, posted this rather excellent discussion starter on an internal FB group. (NB utilised with his permission)

A thought for discussion – the role of the referee in the demise of the Wallabies? Not the international referee but the junior ref, the school ref, the colts ref, the amateur game referee – and not the individual referee but the national approach to refereeing. Game after game the Wallabies are losing matches they have a very good chance of winning due to poor discipline. Even the Australian commentators are remarking, game after game, that poor discipline is an issue – so it must be true! Is it fair to expect an international player to suddenly have, in the heat of battle, to become disciplined to the level required when it’s really not ingrained into their psyche? If the kids are trained from day one in the discipline required and this is reflected on the pitch by the referee then the international player will have this absolutely ingrained. Australia and the UK have a “materiality” approach to refereeing which may (or may not) make the game more enjoyable for the players. Both have issues with discipline at the highest level. NZ does not comprehend “materiality” in its referees at any level of the game – the law is the law and a surprising number (for the size of the population) of players enjoy the game every weekend. An All Black has the laws of the game utterly embedded in their psyche and there’s a more than reasonable probability that an infringement is deliberate – and thus very easy to referee. Thus the proposal for debate – the approach to refereeing in Australia needs to abandon the concept of materiality and referee all games at all levels to the law. The coaches will thus have to work harder with the players and improve their knowledge and skillset in order for their team to win games. The on-field discipline will improve and the referee will have a more enjoyable game – which in turn aids recruitment and retention. The final product will be a far better Wallaby who is, on the basis of recent games looking somewhat left behind by not just the ABs but the other NH top teams. Just my 2 cents worth after watching the Northern Tours.

My own reply:

…But you’re right. I think there is a massive disparity in ‘interpretation’ across the globe. Indeed, even when watching SR-Au to SR-NZ in 2020, the contrast in game management was huge! Australia has a significant issue (i.e. Thugby League) that it is trying very hard not to emulate in terms of officiating as well as position itself in the dynamic market we are in. Unfortunately in Australia, the typical class wars (which I digress still remains and is a key problem) of rugby v other sports doesn’t help. This, however, brings us to how our referees manage the game. Historically, Australia was seen as the creative, attack at all costs, nation. This has been threaded into how we interpret the laws i.e. to facilitate this style of play. As you point out though, this is significantly harming us when we play elsewhere. I think your suggestion of refereeing to the law is where we ought to go. The two that I think make an excellent game are: the offside line. When there was SR Aotearoa was magnificent; it was adjudicated as “you’re clearly onside or you’re offside. The second is managing the tacklers. There must be a clear and obvious release and roll or you’re cooked. Interestingly, some of the English referees (and consequently their Premiership) have been excellent. That said, the key feature is the buy in from the clubs. All of them. At all levels. In Australia, there is still the undercurrent of “Fuck you, we do things this way and stuff everyone else”. Until we have our game moving forward together, we’ll never sort it out.

My reflection while writing this goes in two directions:

Firstly, at the start of the year, the referees are gathered together in their respective associations and are advised of what the Game Management Guidelines (GMGs) are for the upcoming season. More often than not, the documents are 90% the same as the season/s previous. BUT…. there are always slightly different areas to focus. As well as this, the coaching staff of sides (if they’re smart) are present to hear the discussion and instruction on what we aim to achieve as a collective group.

What has hit me is that, for 90% of the time, the rugby stays exactly the same. It’s the ever changing 10% that often dictates HOW the rugby is approached AND how teams can exploit these laws and if they have any loopholes irrespective of legality. This is the 10% that the average Joe Citizen isn’t aware of and the average Paul Bloggs player both doesn’t know about or doesn’t care about. These are the announced and obviously policed areas we see in the Super season that then filters down to club land. Three examples of this curious changes include: how teams started backing away from the lineout in order to secure an obstruction penalty (I always laugh when this fails in club land… but I’ll explain why in a moment) and then the change of law surrounding the ball being passed back v a player filtering back in a maul and then not forming an offside line by not committing to the rucks.

Now, this is my second point. The rugby IQ, and the marked disparity between international sides and their individual players (this not necessarily ‘discipline’ as mentioned above) and then how this IQ filters down to club land and juniors. I feel where rugby has shot itself in the foot is both the over-the-top coaching and the lack of trust that coaches show their ‘professional’ players, as well as the coaching of the various loopholes created by the interpretation flavour of the day. It’s the rugby IQ, particularly in Australia, that sees us fail at the final moments. It’s the rugby IQ, or lack thereof, that continually sees our players cheesed or vino-ed out of the game which is labelled as ill-discipline but, in reality, marks us as a dumb side. While I am personally not a fan of seeing a red card for a head clash a la Bobby Valetini, the distinct reality is that, at an international level, going anywhere near the head is a complete no no.

Upon further reflection after I published this, I have thought that it’s not only efficacy of refereeing in Australia, but how teams are deliberately coached to both divert from the intention of the law or interpretation and to negatively impact the opposition’s intent to play within the laws. As much as I’m a Ponies fan, we are pretty fucking cynical in this regard. Similarly, the ABs are renowned for playing ‘just’ inside the letter of the law… or getting away with it as they haven’t ‘clearly and obviously’ broken the law. This is where I feel the English Premiership has a leg up on every other competition at present (except when SR NZ in 2020 was going). They have gone an almost ‘back-to-basics’ and pinging the clear and obvious… it helps when they have three of the top referees running around each weekend there, two (Barnes… probably the #1 in the world at present/Carley/Pearce); similarly, teams like Quins are playing positive rugger and are reaping the rewards of this. It hurts to say… but it’s a bloody good comp to watch! *sigh*

A Break from Tradition

Now, you all know that I’d never criticise another referee; however, I’m going to do a ‘Rennie’ and take a parting shot at TMO Marius Jonker and Mike Adamson displaying a complete lack of rugby IQ – how the fuckity fuck was the Welsh try not a knock down?! If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, waddles like a duck, and the duck looks guilty as fuck, then it’s a knock on/down. But, I have a long memory and Marius has a complete inability to judge a knock on – see approx 3:40 in this video from a few years ago. It is precisely this lack of rugby IQ (perhaps even common sense) that must be eliminated, or at least, reduced.

Rightio, G&GRs. That’s all from me for 2021. I look forward to replying in the comments. Keep an eye out for the squad announcement tomorrow for Super Rugby Pacific, too!

EDIT: Not sure if the FB link will work, but Moana Pasifika have released their jersey. Surprise surprise, another fucking blue jersey. Throwing a bit of shade at Auckland by having an almost identical colour, too… https://www.facebook.com/MoanaPasifikaRugby/videos/4737102229680298

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and an awesome Kwanzaa to you all. May you all put on 10kg of bulking season ‘muscle’ and complete zero pre-season running sessions. Over and out!

Charlie Mackay

All Blacks

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