A Bit of Argy-Bargy – by Pat McNally

Posted by SCRRS Website Committee on April 22nd, 2010

By Pat McNally

Whenever there was a dust-up in a match I was responsible for, I would go back and review each step of the game and try and think of a way I could have handled it better.

I would rack my brain, over and over, as to what I could have done differently, even though I never threw a punch or hurled a single invective.

Each match presents a series of challenges, which a good referee should anticipate and proactively address. Here are some steps we can take as referees to help keep our matches within the bounds of reason.

Be aware of any background issues before the game begins, like long-standing rivalries or the current league standings.

There is nothing like a local derby or a contest for a possible playoff position to spice things up. Establish a good working relationship with the captain before the match and build on it during the game. Their help can be invaluable if things start going sideways.

While it is preferable to let matches follow their own path, games can meander and sometimes lose their way, which requires countermeasures.

One of the most effective tools at a referee’s disposal is the application of advantage. If players resist reminders to cool down and insist on moving closer to the edge, a referee should consider limiting or suspending advantage.

A scrum a minute has the tendency to capture the teams’ attention and take some of the steam out of them. Then if the players decide to return their focus on the game of rugby, the referee can loosen the reins and return charge of the match back to its participants.

Be sure to keep an eye out for any bad actors, and don’t allow them to take the game hostage. Their performance may be a recurring role or it might just be a guest appearance, so be prepared for anything.

Single out their behavior and cull them from the herd to prevent them from infecting others. A ten-minute quarantine could just be what the doctor ordered.

However, in spite of our best efforts, some teams seem destined to get into a scrap. The reasons may be beyond a referee’s frame of reference – an unpaid debt from a previous match, personal animosity, or competition for a representative appointment.

If a fight does break out, the first thing to remember is to remain calm so as not to throw gasoline on what are only embers. Set the emotional tone for what you want to happen.

Secondly, keep your hands off of the players, familiarity will only breed contempt in this situation and you want to be viewed as the authority figure, not a participant.

Third, the whistle is a referee’s best weapon and he or she should use it. Players are used to reacting to the whistle, it goes and they stop playing. It goes and they may well stop wrestling.

Finally, when things calm down and both teams have physically separated, be decisive and apply an appropriate punishment that fits the crime. The referee must seize control of the situation immediately and take action that prevents a repeat occurrence and gets the game back on track as soon as possible.

A rugby game is a physical contest of wills that can easily heat up, but should never be allowed to boil over. Listen to the players during a match to get an accurate feel for the temperature of the game.

Pay attention to the customary hot spots that occur during every rugby match; dangerous or late tackles, front row engagements during scrums, or pile-ups at the breakdown.

Don’t turn your back on the ball and assume that play is over just because the ball has gone out to touch or that a try has been awarded. Stay involved with play until all tempers have clearly cooled.

While players and coaches bear direct responsibility for their actions and behavior on the pitch, referees are ultimately responsible for the tone and tenor of each match.

Even though we have no control over the decisions players sometime make, we must work hard to
influence players to make the right choices to remain within the spirit and the laws of the game.

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