Writing in a recent column for the TheXV, Owens says that referee communications have changed radical in recent years, largely thanks to the introduction of ref mics, which means everything top-level referees communicate to players is transmitted to hundreds of thousands, if not millions watching around the world.
“I remember coming through when Ref Mic was introduced at the top level of the game. The reasoning was that it would help spread the game to a wider audience and appeal to casual fans as well as the traditional die-hard supporters. The upshot was that it changed the way a lot of referees conversed with players for good.
“In the old days, we’re talking the era of Derek Bevan and Clive Norling, if a player was in your ear, you could tell them to ‘f*** off’ and think nothing more of it. Nowadays referees are not only communicating with the players but to a global audience of armchair viewers eager to understand why decisions were given. That’s brought a level of scrutiny that simply wasn’t there before.
“With increased communication, players have started to have much more of an open dialogue with referees. It’s allowed them to question us. Now, as long as that’s not done too often and in the right manner, it’s not a problem, but it has led to players querying decisions or asking for incidents to be rechecked on the video replays.”
Owens says that players being overly confrontational with referees simply doesn’t work. Owens, who famously said ‘this is not soccer’ during a PRO14 match following one such incident in 2012, says that the tactic in fact has the opposite effect.
“I’ll tell you now, referees tend not to like players who are in their face. A good captain knows this. I remember telling Sam Warburton, ‘if you have a teacher who is shouting at you all the time, you’ll switch off. It’s white noise. Yet if you have a teacher who raises his voice once in a while, you listen.’ It’s the same for referees.
“Some big characters and names are vocal and put pressure on referees but some won’t put up with it. My advice to captains is to get to know the referee and know where the line is. ”
Despite being known for his personable and humorous banter with players, suprisingly the referee who famously referred to Chris Robshaw as ‘Christopher’ is actually not a fan of using a player’s first name.
“What I really don’t like is this trend of refs calling players by their first names. For example, ‘James don’t do that, move away’, ‘Richie, step back’. I don’t like it because there’s no way you’re going to know every player’s name. Some referees call some players by their name and others by their shirt number, ‘No 6 or No 7’. That’s not fair. You can’t be too pally with players. You are there to do a job and they’ll respect you for doing it properly.
“Don’t get me wrong, I do communicate with captains or address certain players by their individual names on occasion. If, for instance, I was refereeing the Scarlets against the Blues, as two captains, I would say to Steff Hughes or Josh Navidi, ‘come here Josh and Steff’.. Or if I’m asking Johnny Sexton on kick-off, ‘Johnny are you kicking left or right?’, it’s so I know I’m out of his way. It’s common sense rather than being too familiar.”
You can read the full article, and many more, at TheXV.rugby.
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