The Referees View.

'Who, me?'
The Referees View.

The Referee’s View – Well mine anyway 


Why I wrote this

I saw a post the other day about how much fun it is to take on the job in the middle with all the spectators, most fairly well liberated with an alcoholic beverage or three, questioning every decision you make and despite only getting a one dimension view of the incident still calling you out and explaining why the decision you made was wrong. The vitriol that was provided to Nick Berry after the SRAU final online was a great example of this. 

Luckily, for his ongoing peace of mind, Nick doesn’t read these posts. He doesn’t read them because; Firstly, He knows that logical arguments with a clear explanation aren’t going to change the minds of some people. And secondly, most of the posts are written by people who don’t have a huge understanding of either the laws of the game or how they are applied. 

The laws of the game are easy to find. This link (Laws of the Game | World Rugby Laws) will take you directly to them. They are in English and have also been translated to a number of other languages so apart from a sense of laziness, or a desire to stay ignorant, so the rants are much better, there is really no reason not to know them.

I personally found a lot of the posts confronting and probably didn’t react that well to some of them. However, on reflection they also showed to me showed a general lack of understanding on the application of the laws and the different aspects a referee faces during a game which encouraged me to write this article.  I hope you enjoy it and look forward to seeing where I got it wrong.

Note: these are my personal views only. I have gained these views from a career of playing rugby from the age of 6 to about 47 with a small 3 year period where I played League because that game for some reason was prevalent within the Army during that time. I never played any representative rugby, although I have played up to senior club level in the Hutt Valley. In fact, I was in the same team as Bernie Fraser when he played for the ABs. I also represented various teams in the Army and played against other services, other armies, and some clubs in places as diverse as Bosnia, Israel, Egypt, the UK and Australia. I have been a referee for the last 13 odd years starting in the Manawatu then Wellington, Canberra and now Sydney. I have refereed international matches between Defence teams from other countries in New Zealand, Australia and Egypt so feel able to make some observations on the refereeing of this sport we love so much. 

Referee infallibility

Now I’m not going to state that referees don’t make mistakes, nor am I going to look at lots of specific instances where there are arguments, and you will understand that as you go through this article. Absolutely referees make mistakes. That clear example of the AR not seeing an AB foot in touch right in front of him where the said AB then scored a try is a clear example of things not going right. Why he missed that I’ll never know. He was looking higher in the frame and maybe focussing on the attempt at the tackle to ensure it was legal. Whatever the reason it was a definite mistake. However, despite the try being scored, that wasn’t the reason the ABs won. If it had been called then the whole remainder of the game would have changed as play would have reset from the lineout. There was enough time left in that game for anything to have occurred and so saying that missing this incident cost the Wallabies the game just really shows a lack of appreciation of the flows in a game and how they can always change. 

However, in saying this, law 6. 5. a. does state that the referee is the sole judge of fact and of law during a match. So, like being an officer in the Army; even if I’m wrong, I’m still right. I love this law.

Law Complexity

The laws of the game of rugby are quite complex, but this is for a very good reason. The post contact tussle for the ball while players are in contact with each other provides a lot of complexity to remain a fair contest. Other games such as league are much simpler because while the players still run at and tackle each other as soon as they make this contact the game stops, and they start again. Even in AFL with all the moving parts while the ball is in the air, play stops as soon as a player with the ball is tackled or held. 

This difference with rugby where the contact between two people is the start of the contest for possession and not the end of the contest creates a level of complexity that just doesn’t exist in these other games. This is why the other games are easier to follow and less controversial in their adjudicating. The rules for the contest in rugby are designed so that they provide both teams with a fair contest for the ball. This means that the tactics and skills of the players determines the outcome, not the laws. 

When the ball is being contested, especially when it is a maul or a ruck that has evolved from a contact between the two sides, there are a lot of moving parts. Players are joining and leaving the contest, the contest itself is often moving from side to side and back and forwards, the players not included are moving to either take advantage of winning the ball or setting themselves up to defend if the other team wins and the players in the tussle are either trying to tie the ball up or free it up. The referee will always have 6 to 8 things that could be ruled on depending on what law is applied. Critical to this decision making is where the referee is standing. He/she will see different things happening and therefore make a different decision that would have been made had he/she been standing elsewhere and looking at the contest from a different view. 

In a lot of ways this is at the heart of the complaints because the spectators (this includes the commentators and other so called experts who think they know more than they do) will often see a different picture from the referee and so will pick on something other than what the referee ruled on. The essence of good refereeing is to get to the point where you can see the most important thing to call in the context of the game at that time. 

Another point that is often overlooked by spectators is that depending on the position on the field, the time in the game, and even the score sometimes, some calls will have priority over others. For example, if a team is ahead by 30 points with 20 seconds to go with possession in a maul deep in the opposition half I am unlikely going to be too hard on the opposition offside either around the maul or in the backline. 

Look for Part #2 next week.




Emigrated to Australia a few years ago. I have spent 41 years in the NZ Army and worked with the Australian Defence Force almost every year. I am a huge believer in ANZAC and support the Wallabies against everyone except the All Blacks. Still refereeing today and love the game

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