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.