Let me put this frankly, the referees have been very disappointing in the area of cynical play in back play. The discretion exercised by the referees in the Pool stages has created a situation where infringing players benefit from an unjust enrichment. The benefit to these infringing players has led to miscarriage of justice.
Let me canvass this by saying referees have an incredibly difficult job and, at the end of the day our magical game can’t be played without them. Now that I have got that off my chest, like let me put this into the context of a rugby match.
The situation arises when player A commits an illegal offence off the ball in back play and the referee and / or assistant referees don’t deal with the infringing Player A in the frist instance. Play continues and the referees overlook the original infringement. Player B is then forced into a position where they must take matters into their own hands.
Ryan Wilson v Maurie Fa’asavalu
Scottish flanker Ryan Wilson was sin-binned for what the TMO labelled ‘stamping’ on the shoulder of opposite No 6 Maurie Fa’asavalu. To anybody watching the game the term ‘stamping’ is a little excessive, it resembled more a cautionary tap and reminder that engaging in this sort of cynical play will not be tolerated.
The on field referee reviewed the footage on the big screen and what it showed was Wilson being infringed in the first instance. His leg was being held by opposition flanker Maurie Fa’asavalu in back play.
Wilson retaliated with a tap from his boot to Maurie Fa’asavalu shoulder. This simple misdemeanour by Wilson was picked up by the assistant referee who was oblivious to the original offence by the Samoan player.
The TMO and the on field referee reviewed the matter and both identified that the Samoan player was holding on to Wilson’s leg. The infringement in the first instance must have been irrelevant because the TMO overreacted to Wilson’s love tap from his boot and the over enthusiastic card happy referee sin binned Wilson for 10 minutes.
No warning or disciplinary action was taken against Maurie Fa’asavalu. The Samoans’ were unjustly enriched as Pisi lined up for a penalty kick and the Scottish suffered a miscarriage of justice as they watched Ryan Wilson walk off the field for 10 minutes.
Michael Hooper v Mike Brown
Whilst this example does not directly refer to cynical play off the ball, it is yet another example in these Pool stages where a team has been unjustly enriched by the referee, which has led to a miscarriage of justice to the opposing side.
The Wallabies were rumbling forward hot on attack, building up patiently with phase after phase. English fullback Mike Brown was infringing at breakdown by not releasing the player / or the ball.
Long after the repeated cries from the referee to release the ball and the player, he continued to infringe. Michael Hooper acknowledged the referee and the assistant referees abstained from penalising Mike Brown that he took matters into his own hands.
Hooper charged into Mike Brown and cleared him away from the breakdown. The referee overlooked the original infringement by England and penalised Australia.
Mike Brown was not warned and nor was England for infringing at the break down close to their own try line. Ultimately, Hooper was suspended for one week, highlighting another miscarriage of justice.
The danger of this interpretation by the referees could lead to incurable damage to a team in one of the final’s matches. Fans want to see teams win on their own merit and less refereeing intervention.
Fans certainly don’t want to witness a team bow out of the World Cup by the opposing side being unjustly enriched by the referee.
Fixing this issue is immensely difficult. Perhaps the cause of action could be to sternly warn both teams and any more cynical play, will dealt with by a yellow card.
In the alternative and a more arbitrary discourse would be to send both players to the bin. For the simple reason that both players contributed equally to that particular piece of cynical play.
If the Wallabies make the World Cup final and they are matched against the All Blacks and plan A, B, C, D and E all fail. The Wallabies can execute plan G. Plan G consists of ‘Pooper’ illegally hanging onto Richie Macaw’s leg like a prison shackle. Sooner or later (given his recent history already at this World Cup) he will lash out and strike, ultimately ending up with him walking off the field to the sin bin. This would be a sight many Wallaby supporters would dream to see.