Archive for March, 2012

The Merry Whistleblowers

The Merry Whistleblowers.

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The Merry Whistleblowers

March 20, 2012 2 comments

The phrase “Merry Whistleblowers” isn`t mine but rather a favoured term of Cornish Pirates forwards coach Ian Davies who caused quite a stir with some of his post-match comments at Bedford last Friday night.

In case you were not there or have not followed the story since Bedford Blues beat the Cornish Pirates 26-25 winning a Championship thriller with the final kick of the match. And what made Davies angry was that his team had led 25-6 at half-time. The performances of both match referees made him even angrier.

I say both because the original match referee – Mike Tutty – was forced off with a injury soon after making a calamitous gaffe in not spotting the knock-on of the season, which resulted in Bedford`s opening try.

His replacement, Richard Kelly, also copped a huge broadside from the Welshman as he trained all his guns on Kelly`s management of the breakdown and scrum before opening up with a withering salvo.

Now it is highly likely that the RFU will take issue with the comments in my interview with Ian Davies which was broadcast on BBC Radio Cornwall after the game. They may even summon him to see the Judge with a view to demanding that he repent for all his sins, because there is still a crazy notion in rugby union that the decisions of the match officials are sacrosanct and beyond question at all times. Even when they are clearly wrong.

I don`t subscribe to this Corinthian Spirit harking back to the good old amateur days of “rugger” because like all professional sports it is a business, and if weaknesses in the structure are not addressed the effects on others can be severe.

Coaches, players, journalists alike are all fair game for sometimes deserved criticism after every game so why not the merry whistleblowers?

The reaction to Davies speaking out has been mixed amongst the supporters with plenty of vocal support on a variety of fans` interent message boards coupled with the predictable fraternity who have branded his comments “a disgrace”.

I have known Ian since he joined the Pirates as a coach three seasons ago. I talk to him regularly and have interviewed him many times. He is not a disgrace. In fact he is a very good coach who has studied the game carefully and produced at the Cornish Pirates arguably the best pack of forwards outside of the Premiership. His comments are always frank and to the point and he demands high standards on and off the pitch from everyone, which includes referees and touch judges.

This time last year I thought that the penny had dropped with the RFU as referees of the calibre of Luke Pearce, Greg Garner, David Rose, Martin Fox and JP Doyle were dispatched to officiate at the Championship play-offs – the business end of the season.

Even with the Premiership taking a bit of a break as the 6 Nations concluded that has yet to happen this time around and for Messrs Tutty and Kelly last Friday night at Goldington Road was a struggle.

The Cornish Pirates have predictably been accused of sour grapes in the wake of the game but I would challenge anyone connected with any team in the land to not feel aggrieved if they were on the receiving end of some of the decisions here.

Both teams were guilty of time wasting – Bedford late in the first half and the Pirates in the second – but that seems to be tolerated at all levels now. I didn`t have an issue with the time-keeping or one or two high-ish tackles either because the real problems lay at the scrum and the breakdown.

Rucks were a free for all with bodies flying in from everywhere. And the cherry on the cake for me came late in the first half when a Blues prop complied with the law instructing that he should enter from behind the hindmost foot. The problem was that this belonged to the Cornish Pirates scrum-half Gavin Cattle but as he brazenly smashed into the pile of bodies on the wrong side and from an offside position Mr Tutty saw not a thing wrong. 

Scrum time was an administrative mess which would take hours to dis-sect and I would simply say that if players of any team are allowed to flaunt the laws with ridiculous abandon by weak referees then they will. Period.

Former England and British Lions hooker Brian Moore is a prominent critic of this blight on the game and has often talked about how the scrum is slipping towards becoming nothing more than a means of restarting play. He once remarked on television that all referees should be locked in a room and beaten repeatedly with a big stick until they understood the laws of the scrum. I think he was joking.

He slates the officiating of Elite Referees further in his autobiography “Beware of the Dog” commenting: “Elite referees have unilaterally decided that they have better things to do than referee scrums properly by ensuring that the ball is put in straight and the packs do not push before the put-in.”

He concludes: “There are no reasonable excuses for this deliberate avoidance.”

What Ian Davies has done is to also highlight a very real problem in our game. The same problem Moore discussed when his book was published 2 years ago. Nothing has changed in that time and in fact I would argue that things have got worse.

During his commentary on England v Ireland at Twickenham last Saturday Brian Moore discussed how dominant scrums always earn penalties against weaker opponents. Here I would disagree with him for he obviously does not watch much Championship rugby where referees seem to carry red, yellow and sympathy cards in their pockets.

There are good referees out there for sure but at Level 2 of English rugby we are not seeing an awful lot of them this season.

*The Ian Davies interview with BBC Radio Cornwall can be found here

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