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Marcus Smith: Refereeing precedent to hit Premiership

By PA
Marcus Smith /PA

Marcus Smith is on alert for an escalation of time-wasting calls after seeing Australia lose to New Zealand because of an unprecedented refereeing decision made at the death of a recent Bledisloe Cup clash.

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As the man in possession of England’s fly-half jersey, Smith watched with interest as French official Mathieu Raynal repeatedly told Bernard Foley to kick a penalty close to the Wallabies’ line into touch.

When Foley failed to act and with 39 seconds having passed, Raynal awarded a free-kick against Australia from which the All Blacks pounced in stoppage time through Jordie Barrett.

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Raynal’s decision divided opinion, particularly in the absence of a similar call ever being made, but his stand against gamesmanship has been widely applauded.

It left an impression on Smith, who appreciates any attempt to speed the sport up.

“It was very interesting. I actually had a chat with my brother about it,” said Harlequins playmaker Smith ahead of Sunday’s Gallagher Premiership match against Northampton at Twickenham Stoop.

“The referee has set the tone, clearly. I wouldn’t be surprised if that was done again in the next six months.

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“I think more referees will have it in their mind because one ref has done it on a big stage. There’s more chance now that other refs will follow.

“It’s a good way to encourage positive play and encourage ball-in-play time. And, ultimately, they’re the lawmakers so we’ve got to follow.

“I’ll definitely be…not speeding the kicks up but making sure I keep looking at the referee every weekend because I know what Joe Marler and those boys will tell me if I do something like Bernard Foley!

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“In an ideal world you want more ball in play. The average ball-in-play time is 35 minutes so if we’re talking about selling the product and making the product better to watch and more accessible, then if you lift that to 50 minutes, ultimately there’s going to be more exciting things that happen.

“I guess anything we can do to make the game of rugby a better thing for people to spectate and watch will be beneficial.”

Gloom has shrouded the start to the new Premiership season with attendances down, Worcester having been placed into administration and Wasps facing a similar fate.

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And, apart from the disturbing finances that underpin the club game, rugby is facing a concussion crisis and concerns over its appeal as a spectacle due to incessant breaks in play for head injury assessments, use of the TMO and reset scrums. Against this backdrop, Smith believes it is the players’ responsibility to deliver on the pitch.

“Ultimately we are the patrons for the game. The flashlight is shining on us and it’s our job to entertain and put on a show for the people who come and support,” he said.

“We’re very lucky at The Stoop. Our attendance against Saracens in round two was brilliant and the whole of last season was really good. The least we can do is work hard, try our best, and do it with a smile on our face.

“Obviously there are problems with Worcester and potentially Wasps as well. At Quins we’re very grateful for our owners, but it also shows how fragile it can be.

“More importantly, you have to enjoy yourself while it’s here. It’s not going to last forever and it’s our roles as players to lift the profile and inspire the new youngsters in this country, both men and women. Hopefully we can build the game and lift it to a new level.”

*Harlequins v Northampton tickets available at www.eticketing.co.uk/harlequins/EDP/Event/Index/1222

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