February 9, 2000

Talofa Fellow Ruggers,

The dictionary defines a referee as follows:

Referee: 1. Official in certain sports and games. Often the chief official who interprets and enforces the rules and sometimes keeps score. 2. One to whom a matter or question in dispute is referred for decision or settlement.

This may be a strange way to start a weekly specials letter, but it's a necessary preface to my rantings.

Last weekend, in a cup match, in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, I had the displeasure (on Saturday) of taking part in a very poorly-officiated game. On Sunday, I had the pleasure of coaching a High School contest that was brilliantly officiated. Here are all of the sordid details.

Saturdayís match was a Division II Menís Cup Match. The results of the game were never in doubt. My team won fifty-something to nothing, youíd think it would have been an enjoyable game. Unfortunately, it wasnít. I never knew it was possible for a referee to blow his whistle for 80 minutes without stopping, but thatís just what happened.

Let me just say before continuing, we at Hooker Rugby Supply are very big fans of referees in general.

If you can imagine it, there were over 20 free kicks awarded due to scrummage infractions. Iíve been playing for 14 years, and I can say that the average number of free kicks for foot up or feeding might be about 3 per game. Moving on to rucking, this particular referee would give us about 1/16 of a second to play the ball before calling "not releasing." As the game wore on, both sides grew more and more frustrated, which resulted in fighting, and "words."

One might make the excuse that it was because the other team was getting crushed, but that was not the case. I look at myself as a weekend warrior. I donít have any illusions that Iíll be playing in a National Championship any time soon, but I would sure like to go out and play a competitive, well-reffed game.

On the other side of the coin, on Sunday, the High School team that I coach had their second match of the year. The kids on both teams, played their hearts out, but unfortunately, my team lost. Even so, I enjoyed that game a lot more than winning fifty to nothing. The referee in this game, quite simply, let the kids play. He made the calls when necessary, and he let play continue when infractions were insignificant. The winning XV, losing XV, coaches and the referee all had an enjoyable afternoon.

I guess the question is, how far apart are these two referees, and what can we do to make the lower quality referee better?

A reminder, I sympathize with the referees. I like the referees. I may even cross over to the dark side soon. This is what I think should be done. The average rugby team practices about 8 times a month. The average referee practices 0. Now, now referees donít get upset. I know that some of you practice diligently. Why not have referees get together 2-4 times a month to practice? I know local unions have meetings, but a meeting is very different from a practice. When a referee is evaluated, maybe the contest should be videotaped. Besides the post-match conference, further in-depth study could analyze for weaknesses and tendencies. This way the "problem areas" could be practiced under the leadership of a refís coach ( i.e.: Mike Geach in Dallas)

If I become a referee I want to be the best that I can be. For me to succeed I have to practice. These were just some thoughts from a warped and fragile little mind.

Pat Laczkowski
Hooker Rugby Supply