Rugby World Cup
Rugby’s identity crisis leaves fans in cold
Canon Rugby in Focus: The inconsistent officiating and lack of buy-in from coaches and players on eliminating high tackles has become a blight on rugby - and fans have had enough.
Rugby is in danger of losing its way and it will take a collaborative effort from all involved to bring it back from the brink.
Watching with friends as the All Blacks thrashed a spirited Namibia 71-9 it was obvious the fan base is confused, and perhaps disenchanted, with the penchant for yellow (and red) cards at the World Cup.
The two yellow cards dished out against the All Blacks were technically correct, but it meant the All Blacks played for a quarter of the match with 14 men.
It didn’t really matter against Namibia, who have now lost all 22 of their World Cup matches.
The All Blacks got the job done, scoring 11 tries to none thanks largely to a vastly improved second half performance.
The match showed Jordie Barrett really is a multi talented player as he got through his work at first five and it reinforced the qualities of a slew of All Blacks, not the least being Anton Lienert-Brown, Ardie Savea, Sam Whitelock, Sam Cane and wings Sevu Reece and George Bridge.
There were also encouraging signs from prop Joe Moody and centre Jack Goodhue, and a welcome return by lock Brodie Retallick who got through a solid 30 minutes.
This was a match the All Blacks were always going to win and, even with two men missing for 20 minutes, it was simply a matter of how big the score would be.
But, in a bigger game, against better opposition, being a man down for so long could have been catastrophic.
It is too easy to blame the referee and his assistants for this. They are under instruction from World Rugby to officiate in a certain way.
And, presumably, World Rugby is simply following the wishes of its constituent members as it pushes on with attempts to stamp out tackles around the head.
No one who is sensible can disagree with this, but the edict seems to have been lost in translation with the coaches and players.
Did they not know there was going to be increased scrutiny of high tackles during the tournament? If not, that’s alarming.
Did they not know cards and suspensions would be wheeled out as the blunt tool to try and lower the tackle line? If not, they should have.
What is worrying is that some coaches and players seem not only to have missed the memo, but are openly hostile to what World Rugby is trying to achieve.
Just listen to Michael Cheika’s comments after his side’s loss to Wales when he talked about being confused and embarrassed about where the game is heading.
How refreshing would it be for a coach and captain to actually publicly condemn one of their own players for dangerous play. Don’t hold your breath.
World Rugby’s push to bring tackles down is not new. It is the players, not the match officials, who are letting the game down with their inability to tackle lower.
And it is coaches, at all levels of the game, who are to blame for coaching players to tackle higher.
Yes it is ideal to hit where the ball is to stop the offload, but that has to be weighed against the smaller margin for error such a tackle brings with it.
Too often, in too many games, players are slipping up, leaving the referee no alternative but to go to his pocket and, by doing so, change the flow of the game.
When Tomas Lavanini was sent off for his high shot in Argentina’s loss to England it came in the 18th minute and the match over as a contest.
That is a crying shame and Lavanini is solely to blame for that. He should’ve gone lower.
To suggest otherwise is to stick up for those who are happy to ruin rugby as a spectacle.
This wonderful collision sport can be just as brutal, just as bruising, just as confrontational without swinging arms and shoulder charges to the head.
But, as much as the players and coaches are to blame for the mess of penalties and cards that we have in Japan, so too are World Rugby and their match officials.
There is far too much inconsistency in their rulings, both on the field, and in the judicial system for anyone to have any faith in what is happening.
If World Rugby begs to differ then it needs to chat with some fans because too many, too often are confused by what is happening.
They see players penalised, sin binned or sent from the field for seemingly similar offences.
Sometimes, watching or listening to the television or radio broadcast, we are brought into the referee’s discussion with his assistant and the TMO.
But those at the game, those who in the case of a World Cup have paid decent amounts of money to be there, are usually left clueless as to why a decision has been made.
How on earth does that fit with a sport that wants to entertain? It’s madness.
Of course it is laudable for World Rugby to want to make the game safer. But if the governing body can’t bring all of those involved in the game with it - and that includes coaches, players and fans - then it is wasting its time.
On the evidence of what we are seeing in Japan, that is exactly what’s happening.