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'Public has lost faith in refs' - Jonathan Kaplan

By Jamie Wall
Referee Ben O’Keeffe calls for the TMO as Michael Hooper goes over the line

Jonathan Kaplan has waded into the ongoing discussion about those doing his old job this week, via a column in The Telegraph.


The former South African test referee claims that ‘public mood has shifted from acceptance to frustration, both over the decisions made and the manner in which they have been reached.’

He went on to explain the changes that he’d make to clean up some of the confusion going on at the highest level of the game: handing more powers to the TMO, encouraging former refs to be TMOs and having all refs contracted to World Rugby.

So basically: common sense, right? The biggest problem with refereeing is the bureaucratisation of its processes, which are seemingly designed to leave no one at fault if something goes wrong.

Let’s look at the case study of Marika Koroibete’s non-try at a pretty crucial time in England’s win over the Wallabies.

There’s a couple of different interpretations of what happened, that Chris Robshaw was offside, that Stephen Moore ran an obstruction and then there’s also the fact that you can’t actually see Koroibete ground the ball anyway.

Ref Ben O’Keeffe and TMO Simon McDowell conspired to make the call that it was an obstruction and penalised the Wallabies, effectively costing them any chance of winning the game right there. Contentious, to say the least. The problem was that by deferring to the TMO and having a committee meeting about what happened makes O’Keeffe look weak.


Now that’s a problem, but not as much as the fact that this way of reaching a decision isn’t universal. Nigel Owens simply uses the TMO as a glorified helper to cue up replays so he can make his own mind up, while the whole question of ‘try or no try’ vs ‘give me a reason why I can’t award the try’ makes things ambiguous to start with.

That’s why Kaplan’s final suggestion is the most logical, and it’s strange why it hasn’t actually happened yet. If all test referees were centrally contracted, then there would be less confusion around procedures. For the record, I’m personally in favour of the way Owens does it, by taking sole responsibility of a decision then that at least will reduce the amount of blowback on the system (but it also probably means that the standardised interpretations will reduce this anyway).

But why stop there? As well as contracting them, set them up in teams just like players. Have a squad of three working each test for a season at a time, rotating the role of main and assistant refs. This way they get know each other’s tendencies and work-ons so that when they’re assisting they look out for the right things. Put juniors in with two seniors so they can gradually work their way up by learning off the more experienced guys.

Kaplan’s ideas make sense, and are worth pursuing – however you get the feeling why they haven’t is probably because it’ll cost World Rugby money. However if the showpiece of the game, a test match in front of 82,000 and being watched by millions on TV, is getting remembered for a couple of dodgy calls then it’ll probably end up being money well spent.



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Shaylen 5 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

These guys will be utility players Nick it cannot be helped because coaches cannot help themselves. Rassie looks at players like these and sees the ability to cover multiple positions without losing much. It allows the 6-2 or 7-1. He wont change his coaching style or strategy for one player. At provincial level players like these are indispensable. If there is an injury to your starting 12 but your back up 12 is a bit iffy then a coach is going to go with the back up 10 who is gold and who can play a good 12. Damian Willemse for the Springboks is an obvious case, for the Stormers its the same. Dobson plays him at 12 or 15, with Gelant in the team he plays 12 but if Gelant goes down he doesnt go for his back up 15, he just puts Willemse there. With Frawley its the same at international and provincial level. He just slots in wherever. Frans Steyn made a career out of it. He was much maligned though as a youngster as he never fully developed into any role. He then went to Japan and France to decide for himself what kind of player he was, put on muscle and retained his big boot, ran over players and booted the ball long and came back into the Springboks after about 3 years away and was then certain about how he wanted to play the game no matter what position. Coaches cannot help themselves because they only want what is best for their teams and that means putting your most talented players on even if it means you cause them some discomfort. Sometimes players need to decide how they want to play the game and then adapt that to every position and let the coach decide how they want to use them.

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Jon 11 hours ago
Ireland and South Africa share the same player development dilemma

I think the main problem here is the structure of both countries make up. They are going to have very similar.. obstacles(not problems). It will just be part of the evolution of their rugby and they’ll need to find a way to make this versatility more advantageous than specialization. I think South Africa are well on the way to that end already, but Ireland are more likely to have a hierarchical approach and move players around the provinces. Ioane is going to be more than good enough to lock up one of those available positions for more than a few years I believe though. Morgan would definitely be a more long term outlook. Sacha to me has the natural footwork of a second five. Not everything is about winning, if a team has 3 players that want to play 10s just give them all a good go even if its to the detriment of everyone, this is also about dreams of the players, not just the fans. This is exactly how it would be in an amateur club setting. Ultimately some players just aren’t suited to any one position. The example was of a guy that had size and speed, enough pace to burn, power to drive, and speed to kick and pass long, but just not much else when it came to actual rugby (that matched it). New Zealand has it’s own example with Jordie Barrett and probably shows what Reece Hodge could have been if the game in Australia had any administration. Despite the bigger abundance of talent in NZ, Jordie was provided with consistent time as a fullback, before being ushered in as a second five. Possibly this was due to his blood, and another might not have been as fortunate, but it is what it was, a complete contrast to how Hodge was used in Australia, were he could have had any position he wanted. When it comes down to it though, much like these young fellas, it will be about what they want, and I think you’ll find they’ll be like Hodge and just want to be as valuable to the team as they can and play wherever. It’s not like 63 International Cap is a hard thing to live with as a result of that decision!

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