Reddan's Rugby Review

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Reddan's Rugby Review

Postby sarah_lennon » October 17th, 2008, 2:37 pm

Eoin Reddan for RTE

How magnificent Munster were in the way they closed out the game on the biggest stage of all last May.

Millions of rugby fans around the world looked on with respect and awe at the way they squeezed the life out of probably the best attacking outfit in the world.

This year's final will be different and I'm betting it will be decided by a massive refereeing decision that infuriates half the rugby world and will send the other half into sheer ecstasy.

As I'm preparing to pack my bags and travel to Dublin to play Leinster this weekend for what should be a top-class game of rugby, my mind cannot help but drift to the agony and frustration I felt at Thomond Park in January last year as we were sent packing at the first hurdle. But at least the game was decided on the pitch and by the players, not the referee.

New Rules

As we all know this season has seen the introduction of new rules and directives from the powers that be. Of all the changes, the single biggest shift I've noticed so far is the willingness of referees to give decisions that can decide the outcome of the game.

All through last season, starting at the World Cup, the feeling amongst the referees was to let the rugby do the talking and to avoid making calls that influenced the result of the game. This was due mainly to the fact that getting these critical decisions wrong resulted in very bad marks from the referees' assessor.

As a result we saw games like France v New Zealand and Munster v Toulouse, where you had nail-biting endings to classic rugby encounters and the outcome was firmly in the hands of the 30 players on the pitch.

The Ruck

The reason for the shift this season is not even a new rule; it's simply that the referees have been told by their assessors to concentrate more on a certain aspect of the game - the ruck.

The ruck rule is probably one of the least significant to the people in the stands, but to the players and referees it is without doubt the most important change. The rule concerns particularly the attacking players staying on their feet when they enter the ruck.

This means they can't seal over the ball and ensure the ball stays secure until the scrum-half passes it away from the ruck.

A good example was the captain of Montauban (Raynaud) sealing off the ball in the dying minutes against Munster and the referee correctly giving a penalty against him that decided the outcome of the game.

When you consider the new rules for scrums and for lineouts and the change in approach to the ruck laws in order to determine the effect they will have on the game, you must also look at the average amount of each of these in a game. (Lineouts 12-20, Scrums 12-20, Rucks 90-130). When you do this, it's easy to see why the changes regarding the ruck affect the game the most.


Refereeing has become highly competitive and the assessor's marks can seriously improve or damage a referee's chances of getting the bigger games, so naturally he will aim to please the assessor.

This will mean refereeing the rucks to the letter of the law.

While the southern hemisphere referees have the luxury of refereeing the rucks correctly - and not influencing the outcome of games due to the fact they can award free-kicks and not penalties - the northern hemisphere referee might find himself deciding on the outcome of a Test match because of a relatively minor offence that in reality should have had no bearing on the game.

As a scrum-half, I can't believe I'm about to finish by saying that I genuinely feel for the northern hemisphere referees. The laws do not allow them to referee to the letter of the law while at the same time avoid being the critical factor in the game.

In order to progress up the ladder they will have to make some huge calls on the biggest days and ultimately not let the rugby do the talking.

Let's hope Nigel Owens doesn't have to make a call like that on Saturday, unless of course Rocky Elsom falls over at a ruck near the end. I'm sure I will shout: 'Play on Nigel, he didn't mean it.'

Eoin Reddan is a scrum-half for Wasps and Ireland
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