Thursday 24 June 2010

What do I do if............

The Rugby Ref has been around the block a bit, fully paid up member of the "University of Life", 24 years in the Royal Navy, seen it, done it, bought it, caught it, photographed it, autographed it, got the T-shirt!

So when The Rugby Ref first stepped onto a rugby pitch as a referee instead of a player he stood tall, looked the part and exuded confidence.  After all The Rugby Ref had been commanding men for a large part of his naval career.  Thirty scruffy "Extra C's" from Old Fartonians weren't going to phase him!

Except that inside he was terrified of not knowing the law.  The Rugby Ref has since found that he was not the only person to feel like this at the start of their refereeing career.  It's what worries most new referees, what if I forget a law, what if I don't know what to do, What do I do if.....................

As a new referee The Rugby Ref carried his law book around with him everywhere.  As a bloke he especially liked reading in the loo!  But let's face it, it doesn't matter how much you love rugby (and Mrs Rugby Ref will tell you it is her main rival for The Rugby Ref's affections), The Laws of the Game (LOTG) of Rugby Union are never going to win prizes for their plot.  If you sit down to read it from cover to cover you are going to be fast asleep well before Law 2 which covers such scintillating points as "the air pressure of the ball at the start of play". **

So how do you learn the laws?

Visualisation is the answer.  The Rugby Ref does this a lot.  When you're in the car, when you're lying in bed, when you're just sitting quietly for a few moments; visualise scenarios in the game.

Let's start at the beginning.  Close your eyes and imagine the start of the game.  You can see the teams lined up on either side of the pitch.  The whistle is in your hand and the kicker is looking at you, waiting to kick off.  Hang on.....freeze the picture right there!  What sort of kick is he going to use?  Can he punt it, or must he drop kick it?  Come to think of it, what's the difference?

You pull out your trusty copy of the LOTG from your back pocket and turn to the definitions on page 4:

Drop kick: The ball is dropped from the hand or hands to the ground and kicked as it rises from its first bounce.
Punt: The ball is dropped from the hand or hands and kicked before it touches the ground.

So now we know the difference.  Then we look in the contents and find Law 13, Kick-off and Restart Kicks.

13.1 Where and how the kick-off is taken

(a) A team kicks off with a drop kick which must be taken at or behind the centre of the half way line.
(b) If the ball is kicked off by the wrong type of kick, or from the incorrect place, the opposing team has two choices:
To have the ball kicked off again, or
To have a scrum at the centre of the half way line and they throw in the ball.

OK, back to our visualisation, close your eyes again.  They are all still waiting for you.  You blow your whistle and wave for play to commence.  The kicker drop kicks the ball (mental tick) from behind the half way line (mental tick) and all the attacking team rush forward.  As you look along the line of attacking players you notice that the winger has jumped the gun and was 3 or 4 metres past the line before the kick off, not only that but the ball is heading straight toward him, he has gained an unfair advantage by not being behind the ball when it was kicked.  You put out your arm and call advantage (or maybe you don't, you are new after all), but the offending winger catches the ball.  Peep!  In your mind you see all 30 players stop and look at you.  They are waiting for you to tell them what happens next, they are waiting for your decision.  What are you going to do?

Back to Law 13:

13.3 Position of the kicker's team at a kick-off

All the kicker’s team must be behind the ball when it is kicked. If they are not, a scrum is formed at the centre. Their opponents throw in the ball.

............and so we go on:

What if the ball doesn't travel 10m?
What if the defenders pick it up before it goes 10m?
If it's kicked deep into the defenders 22 and the catcher shouts "Mark" do you give it?
What if it's kicked so deep it goes into in-goal and over the dead ball line?

Once you have visualised the kick-off to death, fast forward the visualisation to a tackle, then a ruck then a maul, then a kick forward.  Every spare minute you get close your eyes and think "What do I do if....?"

Be warned though, even when you know the laws inside out, the players will test your resolve.  They will challenge decisions you know are correct, they will sew the seeds of doubt in your mind, they will make you question your own decisions.  The Rugby Ref always has a copy of the LOTG in his kit bag.  Even now when The Rugby Ref finishes a game he sometimes goes back to the ref's changing room and checks on something from the game that troubled him.  Of course The Rugby Ref always finds out that he was right and the players were wrong.

Now,......... what are you going to do if.........

And don't forget that if you can't find the answer in your law book, ask The Rugby Ref by using the link on the right.

** 9.5-10.0 lbs per square inch, in case you were wondering.

Monday 21 June 2010

Who's your Captain please?

How many times have you heard that question?

The Rugby Ref asks that question up to half a dozen times a week. Twice on a Wednesday at a schools game, twice on a Saturday at a club game and twice on a Sunday at an U19 game.

Of course, in a good team The Rugby Ref doesn't have to ask, because the Captain introduces himself when the referee arrives, this makes The Rugby Ref feel good. On the other hand, if he asks the question and the response is "who's Captain this week fellas?", then this makes The Rugby Ref feel sad, because he is in for a tough time.

So what makes a good Captain? It depends who you ask. Some would say a good Captain is a good organiser who can collect the subs, get the kit washed, make sure the team arrives at the right place on the right day, etc, etc. Others would say a good Captain is one who commands respect on the field and can inspire the players under him. So maybe each team should have two Captains? An on-field Captain and an off-field Captain! The really good Captains of course, can do both.

The Rugby Ref wants the Captain to be someone the other players will listen to. He wants the Captain to be someone who is proactive and sets an example to his team. He doesn't want the Captain to be the first player to start a fight, or the one who ignores his team's dissent or appealing. The Rugby Ref wants a Captain who, when told "your team are killing the ball at the breakdown, get them to stay on their feet, or you leave me nowhere to go", will actually speak to his players.

In short the Captain is the referee’s conduit to the team. They need to work together.

What is music to The Rugby Refs ears? The Captain who says "sorry ref, let me deal with it, it won't happen again", this Captain has saved his team a few penalties.

Are great Captain’s born or bred? They can be born, some men are just natural leaders. But not many, so most have to be trained how to lead. It’s not hard, the armed forces do it all the time, so why don’t rugby clubs and rugby coaches train their Captains to lead? A good Captain who takes notice of the referee, who communicates and inspires is a vital part of any team, so let’s train him in the same way we train the forwards to ruck and the backs to run.

Now,......... who "is" your Captain?

Wednesday 16 June 2010

No new laws - I just need daylight

It seems I can't go to a single club or meet any bunch of players without one of them saying "what about the new tackle law then, how are you applying that"?  Even Premiership coaches have been heard to say it.

So let's get one thing straight.  There are no new tackle laws and we grass roots referees haven't changed how we referee them.  Premiership referees have been asked (told?) to reaffirm this area.

Let me explain what the law says:

There are four kinds of people at a tackle area:
  • The tackler
  • The tackled player (ball carrier)
  • The non-tackler (more about him later)
  • Other arriving players
If a ball carrier is brought to ground (one or both knees on the ground, on the floor or on another player on the floor) and held, he has been tackled.

If the man who brought him to ground also goes to ground, he is a tackler.

If the man who brought him to ground does not go to ground himself (i.e. stays on his feet), then he is NOT a tackler (I am going to call him the non-tackler), but a tackle has still taken place, because the ball carrier has been brought to ground and held.  (so we can have a tackle, without a tackler).

Anyone else arriving after the tackle has taken place is an "other player".

So what are we referees looking for?
  1. I want to see the tackler (or non-tackler) release the ball carrier and get up or move away from him immediately.
  2. I want to see the tackled player pass or release the ball immediately (there's that word again).  He must then get up or move away from the ball.
  3. I want to see anyone else arriving coming through the gate and staying on their feet.
Now that seems pretty straight forward to me, so where does the problem lie?  Well, there are two things there that both need to happen immediately, in reality we see them happen one after the other.  I want to see 1, then 2 happen immediately, but usually 2 can't happen until 1 has happened if you see what I mean.  Basically the ball carrier can't pass or release the ball if the tackler is lying on top of him!

Where the problem lies is that the tackler has been getting to his feet and then tugging at the ball, without ever having released the ball or the ball carrier (remember that as a tackler he does not have to come through the gate after he has released and got to his feet).  Everyone then shouts "he's holding on sir".  They are right of course, he is, but what was the first offence?  The first offence was the tackler not fully releasing.   

So this brings us to the current phrase of choice by many referees.  "I want to see daylight".  What they mean by that is that the tackler must release the ball and the ball carrier completely, while getting to their feet, before they then go back in to grab the ball.  If they do this and the ball carrier then fails to pass or release the ball, they will get their penalty for holding on.

Finally, remember the "non-tackler".  The man who brought the ball carrier to ground, but stayed on his feet.  Because he is "not" a tackler, he must come through the gate.  So if he is on the wrong side of the tackle area he must release and then come round the tackle area to come through the gate.  He usually doesn't do this so gets pinged for "coming in the side", or "not coming in through the gate".  Which usually attracts the cry "but I was the tackler"!

Moving forward from this we have the situation of "The Jackler".  I will save this for another post.

Sunday 13 June 2010

Trying to forget!

Sunday morning.  Beautiful day, still fairly cool when I got up, so went for a quick jog round the block.  2.1 miles in 20 minutes.  More important a good recovery time on my heart rate.

I remember doing this run at the start of training last year.  I had to lie down for an hour to recover; not nearly as bad this time.  Quick walk as a warm down, took a shower and I felt OK.

Trying not to think about the sport from yesterday.  Neither England team set the world alight. 

England Rugby Football team looked all at sea against Australia, although they played better in the second half.  But it was all forward play, running into defenders and getting nowhere.  No imagination.  We had just a couple of breakaway runs, which shows we can do it when we try, but overall a poor performance.  The only saving grace was that the scrum was awesome, although to be fair Australia have never had a good scrum.  I thought Nigel Owen had a good game.  Would have liked to see a yellow card earlier for the scrum going down, but I thought it was a brave (and definitely correct) decision  to give the second Penalty Try.

England Association Football Team started off well, but just didn't capitalise on their goal.  We are however known for starting slowly, so I am hoping things will improve on Friday.

Saturday 12 June 2010

Training starts.

Last Thursday I started "fitness training for referees" in preparation for the 2010/2011 season.

I haven't done any training for well over a month as I have been giving my body a rest after last season.  So this was hard work!

Started off with a Cooper Test. Run as far as you can in 12 minutes.  I managed 6 laps of the rugby pitch, which gives me an average distance for my age.  Not bad for the first run in over a month.

Then straight into simulated Bleep Test, but without the beeps.  We just ran as fast as we could over the course for 12 minutes.

Then straight into a J.A.M. Test which is a special referee fitness test, designed to simulate the kind of running we do in a game.  Again, no specific measurement, just kept going for 12 minutes.

Finally 6 uphill sprints.  Each sprint being about 100 yards.

By the end of the Cooper Test my lungs were bursting.  By the end of the Bleep Test my legs were like jelly and by the very end I just wanted to be sick.  Still I stuck the course and didn't drop out, so for a first fitness session of the season I was pleased I managed to stay the course.

The next morning getting out of bed was a major hurdle.

Only another 10 weeks to go!!

Friday 11 June 2010

The story so far.

I have been a rugby referee for two and a half seasons now.  It's been a steep learning curve with a lot of ups and downs.  I have had moments of pure joy and some of the lowest times of my life, as a result of being a rugby ref.  So why do I do it?

When a match goes well, its a pleasure to have been part of it.  To have helped the players have a game of rugby within the laws of the game is the sole intent of a rugby referee.  When a match does not go well, it's a relief to get off the field.

Safety, Enjoyment, Law, is the mantra of the rugby ref, in that order.  At the end of the day if everyone walks off the field having had a good game of rugby within the laws, then I have done my job well.

Do I do my job well?  I try my very best.  I work hard on my fitness and my law knowledge, but the main ingredient of being a referee is match and player management. 

I think it's the challenge that keeps me coming back.  I really want to do a good job and progress as a referee.  Contrary to popular belief referees don't care who wins.  They don't see "team A" and "team B", they just see Red v Blue.  They don't see "team A" did this or "team B" did that.  They just see an infringement and think "do I need to penalise that, or can I let play continue?"

It's a task that can be rewarding or thankless, largely depending on the skills and aspirations of the players.

Just remember one thing.  Without the referee there is no game.