“So,” began Frank Murphy’s torrid night on the whistle, “what we have is 10 and six on the ground.”
“Tackle by red,” says touch judge Johnny Erskine. “Blue 10 reacts. Throws a punch. Check the point of connection.”
No official escapes this game unscathed. It was mentioned enough by Leinster supporters that the 37-year-old Cork referee was a Munster player (Alain Rolland being the immediate response) but really the former scrumhalf’s career peaked at Connacht after two years with Leicester. And anyway, the ref nowadays is only as good as his or her touch judges and Television Match Official. That is rugby’s ultimate difficulty - officials are changed week to week, and they are in competition with each other, so consistent team work can never cement.
Murphy did his best to keep yellow and red cards out of sight. He really did. For example: only warning Johnny Sexton for slapping Fineen Wycherley across the face with Fineen Wycherley’s scrum cap and seeking to categorise James Lowe taking out Andrew Conway in mid air as a “definite yellow” before the replay left no choice but to brandish red. By then all hell had broken loose. Murphy’s clear and common sense communication with Sexton broke down after Cian Healy walked on 16 minutes.
Here’s an idea: turn the officials into gangs of four. Only a genuine team (of officials) can be expected to keep a lid on the madness.