Not until we show referees the respect they deserve will we see a vast improvement in the consistency and quality of the rugby product.
Not until we show referees the respect they deserve will we see a vast improvement in the consistency and quality of the rugby product. David Rogers - Getty Images

Time to show respect

A MAJOR theme of the Reds v Highlanders game on Saturday night was the influence the ref had on the game.

I'm not saying he influenced the outcome, but he did most definitely influence the quality of the game.

This is not an isolated episode. Rather, it's a consistent feature of rugby through all its levels.

Referees play far too an important and high-profile role in the quality of the game. That might have been fine in the amateur era, but not so in the professional one.

Some would say refs only make decisions based on the players' actions. And that may be the case ... on occasions.

But with rugby's complicated rule book creating an environment where there is conceivably a penalty at every single contest, be it scrum, ruck, maul, walking to the change shed at half-time, the ability of the ref is a paramount element in the quality of the game and, to be honest, in the code's marketing.

But it's not just the ref's fault. What we experience when we go and watch a rugby game is a function of how they are developed, coached, ranked, and, most importantly, handled/treated by the code. At the end of the day, the code gets the refs it deserves.

For mine, rugby needs to review the place refs play in the game. I know there have been improvements in this area, but much, much more importance and resources need to be directed to this very important institution of the game.

Refs need to be considered along the same lines as our players. For starters, remuneration should reflect their importance to the game and its marketing.

There needs to be a focus on promoting the role as a full-time career.

And there must be a pathway from primary school through to test refereeing. But it's not enough.

A related issue is the us v them environment in which refs operate. Disrespect and an adversarial atmosphere characterises the relationship between refs and players and coaches. Yet, they (we) are all in this together. If the role of the referee and his/her responsibilities was heavily integrated, surely a greater level of respect and understanding would result.

This might not be as palatable, but a by-product of greater respect and understanding of the role of the ref could see more of our top players after retirement, continue on as referees. And this would dramatically improve the quality of the refereeing, especially in their reading of the game.

Ok, we all know that a simpler rule book would help the game. We also know that that is not going to happen any time soon. Rugby is a global game with global-sized egos and diverse agendas; what is its strength also plays a part in its weaknesses.

Not until we show the referees the respect they deserve will we see a vast improvement in the consistency and quality of the rugby product.

Follow Slatts on Twitter @pjslatts



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