Gard­ner got it right, it’s Law mak­ers in a mud­dle

The Rugby Paper - - Views - COLIN BOAG

Hav­ing been sent off in the sec­ond Test against New Zealand, at the sub­se­quent dis­ci­plinary hear­ing Ben­jamin Fall’s red card was re­scinded, and the de­ci­sion was bizarre in the light of the way the game has been ref­er­eed in re­cent months.

Watch­ing the game through eyes that are ac­cus­tomed to the Premier­ship, I was in no doubt that it was go­ing to be a red card. Al­though Fall had his eyes on the ball, once it be­came ap­par­ent he wasn’t go­ing to be in a po­si­tion to prop­erly con­test it, he had the fa­mous ‘duty of care’ to­wards Beau­den Bar­rett, and should have ei­ther pulled out, or made an ef­fort to help Bar­rett land safely. In­stead, the All Black 10 landed on his neck and it looked nasty.

How­ever, in a rul­ing that was just plain weird, the panel de­cided that ev­ery­thing had in fact been hunky-dorey, some­thing that was con­firmed – well, sort of – by World Rugby. The ra­tio­nale for the de­ci­sion was that Fall had been ob­structed by An­ton Lienert-Brown and this had forced him to change his run­ning line. That may have been the case, but even if the ob­struc­tion was de­lib­er­ate, and there­fore a penalty of­fence, surely Fall was still re­quired to look out for Bar­rett’s well­be­ing?

If we’re now say­ing that an ex­tra­ne­ous event, such as an ac­ci­den­tal or de­lib­er­ate ob­struc­tion, is a de­fence for a man be­ing taken out in the air, then I’m baf­fled. We’ll all be watch­ing once the new Premier­ship sea­son starts, to see whether there’s a change of at­ti­tude from English refs – I sus­pect there won’t be, and that this was just an­other bizarre dis­ci­plinary de­ci­sion taken in the land of the long white cloud.

Just as wor­ry­ing is that France have lost a Test se­ries un­der the most un­sat­is­fac­tory of cir­cum­stances. To re­mind you, in the first Test they had a player yel­low-carded who did noth­ing wrong, while the All Blacks should have had at least one yel­low and one red card. It’s amaz­ing how the Laws and de­ci­sions tend to be im­ple­mented dif­fer­ently when­ever the All Blacks are in­volved.

The glo­ri­ous un­cer­tainty of sport means that we can’t say the French were robbed, but they were never given a fair crack of the whip. The way things are go­ing we might as well stop hav­ing com­pet­i­tive matches, and sim­ply stage ex­hi­bi­tion games! In sport the re­sult is what mat­ters, and we’re get­ting some un­sat­is­fac­tory ones.

World Rugby’s con­duct over the past few days has been dis­ap­point­ing to say the least. The de­ci­sion to re­scind the red card was baf­fling, and the treat­ment of ref­eree An­gus Gard­ner was dis­grace­ful. While say­ing that no blame should be at­tached to him, they pub­licly said that he got it wrong. That’s ut­ter non­sense: un­der the protocols that ex­isted at the time, he got it ab­so­lutely right, and this is just an­other ex­am­ple of World Rugby’s Te­flon shoul­ders – when­ever any­thing goes wrong, they’re like TS Eliot’s Ma­cav­ity, ‘not there’.

Later in the week, they were forced to re­lease a clarification which said that the pro­to­col we’ve all got used to, and which Gard­ner prop­erly ap­plied still stands, but on the ba­sis of the Fall de­ci­sion, that’s pre­sum­ably un­less Jupiter is in con­junc­tion with Mars, or there are some other mit­i­gat­ing cir­cum­stances.

The plain fact is that we had a pro­to­col which was widely ac­cepted, bar by a few di­nosaurs who per­sisted in telling us that game had gone soft, but that has been un­der­mined by the de­ci­sion of the World Rugby-ap­pointed dis­ci­plinary panel.

When­ever an or­gan­i­sa­tion are forced to is­sue a clarification it’s be­cause they messed it up in the first in­stance, and it’s be­com­ing harder and harder to have con­fi­dence that World Rugby is up to the job.

How about this for a so­lu­tion: re­de­fine World Rugby’s role as purely devel­op­ment, specif­i­cally grow­ing the game in emerg­ing mar­kets, and es­tab­lish a new pro­fes­sional or­gan­i­sa­tion that looks af­ter the Laws and the way the elite game is man­aged.

Look­ing at the cur­rent World Rugby or­gan­i­sa­tion, the per­fect can­di­date to head up such a body would be Agustin Pi­chot, who in­creas­ingly seems to be the voice of rea­son among World Rugby’s army of ‘blaz­ers’ and ap­pa­ratchiks.

Hung out to dry: Ref­eree An­gus Gard­ner

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