Rugby League Expert & Columnist
Rugby league laws need a radical overhaul and need to be adhered to, says Phil Clarke
Last Updated: 11/03/15 2:37pm
Play On! That’s what the referee has been saying for the last 25 years as we've attempted to speed up the sport and increase its appeal to the public.
It’s an undeniable fact that the game of rugby league is quicker than it was in the 1980’s when I first started to watch it regularly, but the increase in speed has come at a significant cost.
We’ve chosen to ignore some of the fundamental rules and have reached a stage now when we have to stop. The sport is at a risk of being ridiculed as so many rules are ignored and it often looks like an Under 10’s match when a player is given another attempt if they drop the ball accidentally.
There’s no real benefit in asking who was to blame for the shift in the rule interpretations, I suspect that it came from the games administrators who thought that it would help the sport. The referees tend to do what they are instructed to do and there’s been a message sent down to them that games with fewer penalties are what the paying public want.
But do they and does it benefit the game in the long-term? We could have a game with no penalties if the referee chooses to ignore them all.
Enough is enough
It’s ironic that it’s taken a penalty in the South of France for me to write this piece. I’ve thought about it for some time and voiced these comments to people who love rugby league, but enough is enough and this is the start of my campaign to ‘reintroduce the rules’.
For those of you that didn’t see the end of the game between Catalan and Salford last Saturday, let me explain the penalty that’s tipped me over the edge.
In the very last minute a Catalan player thought that he wasn’t tackled and ran off, when the referee deemed that he had been tackled, and penalised him. The Dragons led 40-38 and the last kick of the game was a converted penalty for the Reds which drew the match.
Laurent Frayssinous was furious and he had every right to be. For the last few years players have been given a ‘second chance’ and allowed to go back and play-the-ball if they didn’t hear the referee shout ‘held’. On this occasion the referee stuck to the rules and penalised the player. You often see a player offload the ball after the referee has called ‘held’. He is given the ball back to play it. However if he plays-the-ball mistakenly when he thought that he had been tackled, that’s a penalty. Crazy and confusing.
In many ways the problem began when we chose to ignore the play-the-ball. Players were allowed to roll the ball between their legs with no attempt to touch it with their foot. It helped to make the game go faster around the ruck, but it was a blatant disregard of the rules. Once we allowed this to go unnoticed, everything else has crept along with it.
For me it’s like the ‘Broken Windows Theory’ introduced by two American social scientists in the 1980’s. Consider a building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building and if it’s unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside.
This is what I feel has happened to rugby league. We now ignore too many of the rules because we think that a game with too many penalties is bad for business (interestingly 40% of tries in Super League start with a tap penalty, perhaps we’d see more).
We even have some stupid ones which allow a team to trap the ball in the second row of the scrum but not at the feet of the loose forward. There are almost no rules for modern day scrums other than this one. At times the referee even encourages a team to add another player when they only have five men at the scrum, even though the rules state that he should penalise the team for not having six there. It’s what the coach of a kid’s team might do with players who are new to the game and don’t know the rules.
The laws of the game need a radical overhaul and then need to be applied properly. How can you take a sport seriously when some of the rules are adhered to and some of them are not? I’m not really criticising the referees here. It’s the game’s administrators who have created this problem and they need to solve it. Quickly.
We’ve had games on TV when the referee has been criticised for stopping the match for too many penalties and it’s as if it’s his fault! As a result, as humans, we move away from painful criticism and adopt an easier life by allowing the game to play on. That doesn’t make it right and it’s the players and coaches that need to play within the rules.
We are currently at a very dangerous point in the history of the sport with regards to the rules. For the long-term health of rugby league please can we play by the rules?