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When rugby stopped being the game they played in heaven

Rugby union is one of the great games of the world and brings together so many cultures and backgrounds. Its history is long and the international game naturally invokes a deep sense of patriotism and passion, as if you are going into battle for your country.

However, from this armchair, one can only get the sense that darker forces are at play to control the game and in doing so destroy the game.

It is almost as if a soft, politically correct elite governing body has felt compelled to assert itself and impose an iron fist rule of law that defies all manors of common sense. The nitpicking, dictatorship-like officiating has become a joke, and the disgust of a tiring rugby public is palpable.

Referees, unfortunately, are the instrument of this rule. They appear to be mandated with trying to find minor infractions to punish, while the power-hungry television match officials seem hell-bent on injecting themselves at any opportunity and justifying their salary. Rugby is/was a flowing game, a running game, a game where sensible interpretation and common sense win the day through good officiating, but no more.

The officiating has gone beyond the surreal, and officiators seem stuck in the middle of a big brother World Rugby hiding behind the guise of ‘player welfare’ and a growing disenfranchised public who wish things could go back to the way they were.

Minor insignificant infractions stop the game and are harshly dealt with. Ridiculous and time-consuming TMO checks, often for plays that happened minutes earlier, are driving the sport into the ground to the extent it’s almost becoming unwatchable. Too often the referees are becoming the centrepieces of the game. Why are people switching off and going back to heartland club rugby and schoolboy rugby? Because the professional game is becoming unbearably frustrating to watch.

World Rugby claims the crackdown, resembling something more like a COVID lockdown, is for player welfare, but the decision-making leaves most spectators bewildered. Freeze framing and forensic examinations will find cracks in anything in life. The flow of the game and interpretation is everything for rugby to be a spectacle, and while cards are handed out like chook feed these days, it achieves absolutely zilch in regard to player welfare.

Caleb Clarke of the Blues (R) is sent off with a red card by referee James Doleman during the round seven Super Rugby Pacific match between the Blues and the Moana Pasifika at Eden Park on April 02, 2022 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)

(Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)

Ninety-nine per cent of the rugby-playing world don’t play with the forensic eye of a big brother TMO or a referee who is determined to find penalties to pounce on, so how can this be a player welfare issue? Let alone the fact the professional players themselves are conducting contact training every second day that would be littered with so-called cardable offences.

It’s trying to achieve the impossible – that is, controlling a contact sport where millisecond collisions happen. In doing so it is destroying the very game it is supposed to be serving.

Rugby is becoming an embarrassment, and the heads of the NRL, AFL and A-Leagues must be licking their lips with the apparent self-destruct button World Rugby has hit. Our beloved Australian rugby governing body has done enough self-harm over the past two decades, they don’t need any help in shredding the game even further in this country.

Red cards used to be reserved for foul play or something extremely deserving. Now they’re dished out willy-nilly. We have yellow cards for attempted intercepts, penalties galore for the most minuscule infractions and scrum resets which often result in a lottery for a penalty. All of this is destroying the game that spectators and broadcasters have paid big money to be a part of. The TMO is a blight on the sport and is genuinely a big brother in the sky watching over players like kindergarteners in a sand pit.

It seemed to all start around the 2019 World Cup. Remember Samu Kerevi being penalised for a too-aggressive ball carry? And it’s only got worse since.

Jack Goodhue

(Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

Has this officiating helped player welfare at all? We know it hasn’t at the amateur level. At the professional level it surely hasn’t either. I can’t see any tangible results of the strictest imposition of the game’s law other than leaving a frustrated rugby world.

When will sanity prevail? How many more people turning off will it take before the administrators of the game actually realise they have no sport left to govern?

Watching a game of league highlights this insanity even more. I daresay there would be no players left on the field if the same ridiculous adjudicating was imposed in the NRL. There would be 20 red cards every game. It begs the question: if other codes have moved on from the ‘player welfare’ argument, why hasn’t rugby?

To clarify, ‘player welfare’ is paramount, but it must be in a sensible considered fashion that takes into account all factors and implications for the game. Current-day officiating is not sensible. It’s moronic.

League had their crackdown moment in Magic Round a few years back, but they rightfully sat around a table and decided they simply could not continue like that, as it was achieving nothing while also destroying the spectacle. Unfortunately, union and the powerbrokers in the northern hemisphere haven’t had that moment of awakening. We wait in hope only that things can return to some sense of normality.

World Rugby also claim that they don’t want mums and dads being turned off from having their kids play. Wake up! Rugby is dying in Australia, Unfortunately, we also have to compete with NRL, AFL and the A-Leagues, who are happily taking the market share. Australia should serve as a warning shot to World Rugby of what will happen to the game if this insanity persists. People will and are turning off.

I’m calling it false advertising nowadays. A rebrand of the code is required, as the game they used to play in heaven, a game that didn’t have a bonanza of yellow and red cards, endless penalties and 400 scrum resets, no longer exists.

Just let them play.

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