'We don't want to be one of those clubs that send loads of clips in to try and influence things'
It has seemingly become a regular occurrence in recent times, rugby teams inviting referees into training to run the rule over their penalty-conceding issues, but Rob Baxter, coach of the double-winning Premiership and European Cup Exeter Chiefs, isn’t a fan of this type of training ground tactic.
England made headlines for how they brought Wayne Barnes and Matthew Carley into training in the lead-up to last weekend’s Guinness Six Nations win over France, while Gallagher Premiership outfit Wasps have also been busy with the RFU referees department, having Christophe Ridley attend their training to try and iron out some kinks in their play.
Beaten in four games on the bounce, Wasps boss Lee Blackett explained at his pre-Newcastle media briefing in midweek what he was up by having a ref in with them for a pep talk. “Last weekend we gave six away in attack, which is something we don’t do,” he said.
“Generally we look after the ball well in terms of our breakdown. We give away very few penalties in that area and we are being hit with six… the week before we get done for three offsides and we had one offside in the last five games so we sorted that out and then something else happened.
“It’s constantly adapting to the referees all the time. We had Christophe Ridley in and he has been fantastic. I wanted him outside, wanted him refereeing it [training]. I said I want him to be harsh in terms of everything on us.
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“He picked up a couple with us, kicking off No10 a couple of times and people being in front of the kick. These little reminders are brilliant for us. Having Christophe in and speaking to (referees boss) Tony Spreadbury all the time is helpful at the moment.”
Across their losses to Bristol, Gloucester, London Irish and Leicester, Wasps conceded a total of 64 penalties as well as one red and one yellow card, hence their decision to call on the expertise of Ridley before Friday’s win at Newcastle where they conceded just ten penalties.
Exeter, meanwhile, conceded 46 penalties in their last four Premiership games before this weekend and while they also had a red card for Jack Yeandle at Sale, they don’t have the inclination to mirror Wasps or England by having referees visit them at training.
“It’s not something we have done recently,” explained Baxter, whose team went on to conceded 13 penalties and give up a yellow card in Saturday’s win over Leicester. “We haven’t got a poor disciplinary record so it’s not something that we have had to deal with recently.
“We would have guys in in pre-season as much to start things moving for us to know where everything is if there are any directives. We will often have a good chat through it with Tony or with the other referees. For me, we would do it if we had an issue but when we have not got an issue we don’t worry about it too much.
“I actually have relatively little interaction with the referees if I am honest. We don’t want to be one of those clubs that send loads of clips in to try and influence things pre- or post-game. I’m one of these old-school rugby guys in a lot of ways and the only thing I want from the referee is to turn up on the day and referee as he sees it on the day.
“That is the only thing I expect from referees because that is what real impartiality is, which is what we should all want. So many of these other things that get said and get done, they are kind of saying, ‘Well, if it goes our way we are quite happy with it but if it’s not we have got to try and change things’.
“It is the right thing to do to bring a ref in if you are becoming penalty-ridden in one area so I can understand what Wasps are doing, they are trying to pin down some observation of what they are doing. But some of the other stuff is just a little bit, it’s almost creating a pressure and a scenario around refereeing I don’t think helps anybody if I am honest with you,” continued Baxter.
“The only time I have ever spoken to Tony about something like this is if we went two or three weeks with an unexplained penalty count that just doesn’t look right. So if you suddenly go into a game where that roundabout ten, twelve penalties is happening to both teams you kind of click along and go that is a relative averaging out of where everyone is.
“But if you start trying to isolate every single penalty you’re just kidding yourself because so many things go on in a game of rugby you should never try and isolate every individual penalty, you should just try and deal with the game as a whole.
“I’ll tell you who uses a good phrase, some of the French referees – ‘A game of rugby should have equity in it’. That is what you should feel when you walk off. You might be upset with the odd decision but on the whole, you walk off and go that’s fine. So the only time I’d have an issue is when it’s not felt like that over two or three games.”
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