July 21, 2005

Welcome to the Dog Days Fellow Ruggers,

I played in a 15’s game a couple of weeks ago. I'm still asking myself why! It was HOT; I mean Africa hot!

Things were not going well right from the time we pulled in the parking lot. Many of the players got lost, so it really cut into the warm-up time. We were playing a team from across the river in Canada, so those games always seem to have a extra bit of passion to them. We had a very young ref who was overly thorough in the pre-match directions. This was a “tell” to me that this ref might be over his/her head. The whistle blows and in the very first ruck, I make a good clean tackle and they recycle the ball without any problems and then - Climb Every Mountain - boots come raining down upon my targeted frame. I kept my cool, as I have had the occasional boot put on my person.

From there, both teams and the ref were feeling each other out. Hard hitting was the order of the day. After every ruck was over someone, would toss in a extra hello to their opposite. All of the factors of the day were starting to build. The other team was really good at messing with our ball and the ref seemed to let the close play go.

I believe it is standard practice with rugby referees to set the tone for the game in the first ten minutes. This lets the players know where the ref is and how he is going to call the game. This particular ref was almost invisible early in the game and when the whistle finally came out of the pocket it was almost too late. With the close play, the heat, and the cross-border rivals, play had reached a high condition Orange Chippy level. It also seemed like the whistle would not stop blowing. In my head it was one long unbroken tone. I really do not want to make a short story long, so I will tell you that the game went on like this for about three quarters. Surprisingly, no one was throwing any punches, just a lot of pushing and a copious amount of doo-doo talk. We were down 10-7 the whole 2nd half and we were driving for a go ahead score, then we had what seemed like the 100th dust up and I guess the ref had enough, and the game was called 15 minutes early. I am pretty confident that we could have pulled off the victory. We had all of good old Mister Mo on our side. It was just a matter of time before we pushed one over.

We have all played, coached or refereed a game like this. The key for us all is how do we overcome the Chippy game. As a player, the number one thing to do is keep your cool! Rugby is an 80 minute game and losing your temper will suck the energy right out of you. The best way to get back at an opponent is to jam the ball down their throat and when they have the ball, you need to knock them into tomorrow. Make their grandkids say ouch, keeping in mind, of course, to keep the tackles clean. Do not give the ref a reason to blow the whistle. Your captain is in charge of keeping the peace on your side. If he/she loses their cool the ship is sunk. When you pick a captain you need to find a player that can fire up a team to jam that ball down a throat, while at the same time they are cool and collected. He needs to work with the ref in a calm manner. By doing so, the ref will not have to worry about any team’s extra curricular activities.

As a referee, the bottom line is simple; you need to keep control of game. Set your stall early, so the players know how you are going to call the game. Be fit enough to keep up with the game. Also keep your head on a swivel. It is sort of like learning to drive a car, you need to survey the field every few seconds, never look just straight ahead. That is all I am going to tell the ref to do, because they love to reply to these emails and I do not want to get them mad at me.

Coaches... this one is tricky. On game day you need to be vocal from the sidelines. As a coach you need to keep your cool as well. You know as well as I do, a ref hates back talk from the coach. You are the captain of the sideline. When you have a stoppage of play you need to make sure your players are focused on the game plan and not revenge. My big million dollar question is how do you work on Chippy game situations in practice? My first thought is to have a ref come to practice and turn a live situation into a chip-fest. See how your players respond. Make sure you discuss the activity afterwards so they know what the ref was doing. A coach can do the same thing, if you can not get an official to come to practice. The key is to put players under stress and then throw them a curve. Keep their stress level as high as possible and then force them to make split decisions. You need to stress to your captain and co-captain the need to keep control of their team.

If everyone is working towards keeping control, we can all focus on just playing the game. When I look back at this particular game, I have no doubt that in a regular, non-chippy game we would have come out on top. I can guess that you hate to lose as much as I do, so heed at least some of my advice.


Pat Laczkowski
Front Row Outfitters