Referees – Saints or Sinners?

I gave a lot of thought as to the subject of my contribution this week.  I was prepared to wait until after the Toulon v Wasps clash on Sunday before making up my mind, but having seen the absolutely dreadful display of refereeing in my son’s match yesterday, I thought I’d write about that.

I’ve done a little research and spoken to people involved with the ‘Society’ and have found that criticising the referee is one thing – finding the answer to poor refereeing is another.  However, let’s start with the events of yesterday;

At this point in the season, points really are crucial.  My son’s team aren’t going to win the league, but want to do the best they can to finish as high in the table as they can, as do their opposition.

We travelled to a team that the lads had beaten 28-6 earlier in the season and expectation was high of a good, solid win.  Our lads lost yesterday 15-14.  Before readers roll their eyes, with the suspicion that my gripe with the referee is because they lost – let me state quite categorically that’s not the case; our boys were losing 12-0 at half time – if they had played the first half in the same manner as the second, they would have won – simple as that.

That the referee missed a number of knock-ons is one thing.  That he didn’t once play advantage is another.  That he penalized our boys with a yellow card for an infringement in the ‘red zone’ (which I understand is not used anymore), which apparently shouldn’t have been a yellow card and subsequently awarded a penalty, was a mystery to all, especially when, not even five minutes later, exactly the same infringement occurred at the other end of the pitch and nothing was given… Well, you begin to understand what it felt like watching.

The effect these actions have on the players is clear; they start to back-chat the referee; they become frustrated and as a result, aren’t as disciplined as they usually would be; they start calling each other if errors are made – in short, the shape of the team and therefore the game, is negatively affected.  Remember, these are Colts players I’m writing about – under 18s who need a strong, disciplined referee at the helm, to steer them in the right direction throughout the game.

One of the spectators yesterday is a Referee Assessor.  I’m not sure he could quite believe what he was seeing.  Then, to knock all those refereeing errors into a cocked hat – when one of the spectators asked the referee to confirm the score – he proclaimed it 23-14!  When quizzed further, he stated that the opposition had scored three tries, converted one and that they had also scored two penalties.  I have no idea what game he thought he was officiating at, but to my (and all other spectators, coaches from both sides and all players), knowledge, the tally was two tries, one converted and a penalty – result 15-14.

Cue post-match discussions on refereeing.  One of the salient points raised was the sheer lack of referees.  The ‘good’ referees are given higher awards and therefore move up to officiate in higher leagues, whilst the referees that aren’t so good stay behind and don’t develop.

Warwickshire Society of Referees has adopted the Young Whistlers scheme, whereby they appoint referees of between 15 and 17 years of age to junior matches throughout the county and beyond and to provide training for the referees to develop their skills towards being considered for the adult ranks on reaching their 17th birthdays.  These young referees are mentored at every match and the hope is that they go on to officiate at much higher levels.

But in the meantime, until these young referees attain the refereeing levels required to manage Colts and Senior games, what’s the answer?  Yesterday’s referee was being assessed during the game.  I would imagine that he and his assessor have a lot to discuss and I sincerely hope that said referee takes the feedback on board and uses it to develop his skills.

What I do know is that without more referees, no matter their standard, there will be very few rugby matches played and that’s something we can’t afford at grass roots level.  So, in my mind, Referees are Saints – without them, there’s no game.

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