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To whistle or not to whistle (Rugby World Cup) – 21 October 2015- Ballard School – Headmaster’s Blog

October 21, 2015

I have had an unprecedented amount of comment, and sympathetic at that, coming my way over the paAlastair Reid low resst few days. This is on account of my Scottish roots and the sad demise of the Scotland rugby team at the World Cup on Sunday. For those who are not avid rugby fans, Scotland were leading Australia (a tournament favourite) in a quarter-final match with only two minutes to go when Australia were awarded a penalty in controversial circumstances. The result was that the kick was converted and Australia won the match by a single point (35-34) after what had been a pulsating game.

A lot of criticism has been levelled at the South African match referee, Craig Joubert, who had earlier in the match sent off a Scottish player (again in controversial circumstances) and then awarded the penalty in the dying minutes without consulting the Television Match Official (TMO) who may have given a different piece of advice over Craig Joubert’s decision. (It transpires now, however, that the tournament rules did not allow the use of the TMO in these circumstances!)

Whilst I am very sympathetic to the Scottish complaint (shared by many non-Scots I might add), I am saddened to see the referee being ‘hung out to dry’. It was perhaps unwise of him to sprint off the pitch at the conclusion of the game without the customary handshakes (and thus fuel the criticism) but I would be sorry to see rugby descend into ‘official bashing’ which sadly blights the round-ball game. I have been impressed with the refereeing across the Rugby World Cup (44 games to date) and have felt that the TMO has generally been a very helpful addition to interpreting the laws of the game. What I have not appreciated, however, has been the way players, particularly in ruck and maul situations, constantly seem to be appealing to the referee for a decision in their favour. This is a slippery slope which is difficult to arrest. At least players who are temporarily sent-off leave the field without too much protest and I hope that this respectful and obedient behaviour persists!

Having been a rugby referee at school matches for many years, and an occasional hockey umpire to this day here at Ballard, I am aware of the pressure spectators, coaches and players can put on an official who is simply trying to ensure as fair and as pleasant a game as possible. Officials are not perfect and, yes, should make as much positive use as possible from available technology (national league hockey umpires are all miked up today). It is not right, however, to hound an official into seclusion and to put the blame for a game lost on his or her shoulders. Scotland probably made the wrong decision at the line out which led to the penalty and, dare I say it, Australia were the stronger team and whilst the circumstances of Scotland’s loss are deeply unfortunate the match outcome may well have been just.

Alastair Reid – Headmaster @BallardSchool

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