Referees must find alignment on head-on-head collisions, and fast, otherwise this Rugby World Cup could be compromised by inequality.
Three similar incidents across the opening weekend of the global tournament in France and zero consensus on the refereeing outcome.
If one player cops a three-match ban and another walks away unpunished after similar incidents, then the knockout stages could be spoiled by imbalanced officiating.
World Rugby’s drive to lower tackle height and improve player safety remains vital. But when even the world’s best referees cannot adjudicate similar incidents in one clear way, then the sport is in big trouble.
England’s Tom Curry could wind up with a suspension tonight for his head-on-head collision with Argentina’s Juan Cruz Mallia on Saturday. England prevailed 27-10 in Marseille, despite playing all but three minutes with 14 men.
But it does not mask the fact that Curry’s dismissal was uncannily similar to Chile captain Martin Sigren’s collision with Japan’s Kotaro Matsushima. Sigren was handed only a yellow card.
South Africa centre Jesse Kriel then avoided any punishment for a clash with Scotland’s Jack Dempsey in the opening exchanges of Sunday’s battle at Stade Velodrome.
That consistency can still be missing from the officiating of elite sport is baffling. The Television Match Official and bunker review systems are in place to account for human error, but even being mob-handed and with endless replays, referees and their teams cannot find common ground.
This is simply not good enough and the whole process has to change to find symmetry. At this rate, two teams could easily meet in the quarter or semi-finals, with one side having lost a player to a ban and the other not for effectively the same transgression.
Pick an interpretation and stick with it, whichever interpretation that is.
— ITV Rugby (@ITVRugby) September 10, 2023
Either any head-on-head contact results in a red card for the tackler, or accidental collisions can be deemed suitable mitigation to avoid a full dismissal.
As long as defence revolves around line speed, then head-on-head clashes will always occur; pull out, and a player could miss a crucial tackle and be deemed to have failed in the eyes of coaches and team-mates.
Failure to resolve this disconnect, and genuine tournament inequalities could open up. No one wants World Cup matches resolved by default, least of all World Rugby, so it is time to act. And it is time to act on another inequality, too: perception based on outdated stereotypes.
Wales tiptoed past Fiji 32-26 in Bordeaux on Sunday night, and hats off to Warren Gatland’s men for a battling victory. Fiji will be lamenting their missed opportunities, but, in truth, both teams should be greatly concerned by the lack of parity when it came to sanctions.
Captains have always influenced officials but those who don’t try to shouldn’t suffer.
Wales were given four warnings about repeated infringements, yet received only one yellow card. When Gatland’s men broke their rearguard effort and cut up the field, Fiji conceded one penalty and saw a man sent to the sin-bin.
The Fijian culture is built around respect and humility. To challenge an authority figure is simply not done. Referee Matt Carley did not have a Fijian voice in his ear cajoling, pleading, nudging, influencing the way most other Test skippers would.
Referees should not need to be pointed in the right direction by players, but captains have always influenced officials. Those that do not partake in such practices should not suffer, but that is exactly what happened to Fiji.
Checks and balances above the on-pitch officials are in place for a reason, but are not being properly or consistently employed.