Peter Smith: Referees’ crackdown is working but more still needs to be done

Referee Ben Thaler.
Referee Ben Thaler.
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THE RUGBY Football League’s crackdown on nonsense around the play-the-ball, which had marred the sport in the first half of the season, is welcome.

Referees have been ordered to take action against attacking players who attempt to milk penalties by throwing the ball at tacklers trapped in the ruck.

Castleford Tigers coach Daryl Powell.

Castleford Tigers coach Daryl Powell.

Antics in Catalans Dragons’ Easter Monday home game against Castleford – and Tigers coach Daryl Powell’s reaction afterwards – finally prompted a reaction, but the new guidelines are common sense and, on the evidence of last weekend, seem to have tidied the game up considerably.

The shot clock on scrums and drop-outs has also had a positive effect.

The ball is in play longer now, matches are finishing earlier and there is a lot less time-wasting going on. So what else could match officials target to improve the spectacle? Here’s a few suggestions:

1) False sympathy after an opponent makes an error.

Nothing sparks more punch-ups than players patting an opponent on the head after he has dropped the ball.

It is totally unnecessary and often the player doing the winding up is the one whose team receive a penalty when an angry reaction inevitably follows. There is no need to react, of course, but it happens in the heat of the moment. All this head-patting is not sporting behaviour – if any such thing still exits – and needs stamping out.

The same with throwing the ball away from an opponent at a scrum or break in play, though the shot clock has gone some way towards eradicating that.

2) Messing about at conversions.

Every team does it. Having dawdled through the match up to that point, once a kick is being lined up against them players get a sudden urge to hurry things along, inevitably rushing off the goal line before boot has been put to ball.

It is, purely and simply, an attempt to distract the kicker.

Players are supposed to remain on the line until the kick has been made.

If they don’t, refs should have the right to order missed kicks to be retaken.

3) Dissent.

Totally pointless and infuriating. How often do referees change their minds?

Giving 10 metres away, or spending 10 minutes in the sin-bin, for back-chat is one of the most destructive acts a player can do.

Some referees seem to tolerate it more than others, but team captains should be the only ones talking to the match officials. If that became a hard-and-fast rule, with penalties and yellow cards mandatory when it is broken, the players would police it themselves.

4) Retaliation.

Rugby league is different to, for example, football in that it is a high-impact, contact sport in which collisions are inevitable.

That is bound to lead to tension and frayed tempers, though there is nowhere near the level of violence in the sport that marred the days before television coverage and video evidence.

Punishing players who ‘run in’ to a fight or brawl is the right move as that is what causes relatively minor incidents to escalate.

But frequently a player will be punched or shoved, throw one back and both he and the aggressor are yellow carded.

There’s sometimes not a lot a player can do if he is being thumped and he shouldn’t be penalised for defending himself. The initial aggressor is the one who begins any incident so should face the toughest punishment.

5) Kick-off on time.

Nowadays the published start time of matches seems to be a rough guide more than anything else.

Games, certainly in Super League NEVER kick off on time.

Teams are often still warming up five minutes before they are due to start, they wander out at 3pm or 7.45 for all the parading around and flag waving and the first whistle gets blown four or minute minutes after it should have been.

Why? If a game is supposed to kick off at 3pm, or whenever, then that’s when it should kick off.

If teams – or referees – aren’t ready, then fine them for every minute’s delay. That would speed things up.