After the great tournament that has been this year’s Rugby Championship, nearly everything has been said about teams, coaches and players.

But officials should also get huge credit for the quality of the contests.

Yes, the most important actors in the game of rugby are the players. At the end of the day, they have the skills, courage, and intelligence to produce such incredible games that we in the Northern Hemisphere are so jealous of. But the ref is also fully part of the game and dictates the pace and the style of play. Probably as much as any coach or player.

Last RWC final ref, Nigel Owens, says that what makes a great referee is not how much he blows the whistle but how little. In his opinion, a referee should not sanction every little breach to the rule, which is the easy way to ref, but he should make sure the game develops and the players can express themselves.

Nigel Owens is a master of the whistle. He knows when and when not to blow it. By Florian Christoph from Dublin, Ireland, via Wikimedia Commons
Nigel Owens is a master of the whistle. He knows when and when not to blow it.
By Florian Christoph from Dublin, Ireland, via Wikimedia Commons

In this respect, I absolutely loved the way Jérôme Garces controlled the last South-Africa v New Zealand Test. What a match that was. I feel it was easily the best game of the tournament.

It is hugely difficult to ref a Springbok-Kiwi game, for a number of reasons. But mainly because these two teams have very different styles of play. If you decide to blow the whistle a lot, it will arguably favour South Africa’s gameplan. But if you decide to let the game develop, it will arguably favour the All Blacks. Certainly in the traditional sense anyway. The South Africans love the slower tempo, more direct, frontal physicality, whereas the Kiwis love a fast tempo.

And Garces reached an equilibrium between the two teams that led to this incredible contest between two equally enjoyable styles of play.

Not quite perfect

During the whole tournament, I was only slightly disappointed by the way Jaco Peyper officiated the second Argentina v New Zealand Test. He was very good at spotting all sorts of penalties. But because of a large number of whistle blows, I had the feeling the game never really started. There was little fluidity and both teams found it difficult to find their tempo. He doesn’t bear all responsibility. The players also went in and out of the game, but it’s a recurring pattern with the South African official.

Surprising discussion?

I am always surprised to see that when people talk about refereeing, they mostly argue about game-changing events (red cards, disallowed tries etc…). I am not suggesting these are minor at all. And sometimes discussion and transparency are required. But the vast majority of the time, referees and TMOs make the correct decision. They see the same images as you and I but are trained professionals. Not to mention they know the law, unlike a lot of commentators out there.

The Ryan Crotty try in Cape Town was a prime example of commentators, particularly in NZ, not knowing the laws.
The Ryan Crotty try in Cape Town was a prime example of commentators, particularly in NZ, not knowing the laws.

We, as fans, should be slightly humbler and consider they know better than us. However, we should be more concerned about the quality of the contest which depends on the ability of the ref to let the game develop.

During this tournament, the refs were, by and large, spot on.

We should not forget to thank them for all the great contests we have witnessed, this doesn’t happen by accident.

Author: Ambroise Blanluet

Hey there, I’m Ambroise and as my strange first name suggests it, I’m French. I am an absolute fan of the game in general and of the All Blacks in particular. I also play at an amateur level for my university where the gameplan essentially consists of drinking beer.

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