Rugby referees are there to uphold the rules, not sustain the spectacle

Rugby union's rules are complex enough without also having to discern intent

Referees such as Marius Mitrea, centre, pictured speaking to Billy Twelvetrees of Gloucester during a European Challenge Cup quarter-final match against London Wasps on April 6, 2014 in High Wycombe, England, are paid to enforce the rules and not maintain the spectacle of a match. Ben Hoskins / Getty Images
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Remember the days when a referee was lambasted if he showed a red card, even if it had been warranted, on account of the fact he had ruined the spectacle?

How amateurish does that idea sound now? It seems bizarre to think there was ever a time when officials were encouraged to treat offences leniently, just to make sure the contest did not suffer.

Professionalism, both with players and officials, has consigned such attitudes to the archives. The sport is better for it, but still some old habits refuse to die.

Like with Jared Payne's tackle in the air on Alex Goode when Ulster lost to Saracens in their European Cup quarter-final last weekend. He had his eyes on the ball all the way, so it could not have been deliberate, his apologists said. So what? Rugby union's rules are complex enough. If the official is then tasked to adjudicate on intent, it is an impossible job.

Maybe he should refer to the televised match official (TMO). Once he has had his say, it would be best to call three or four character witnesses to vouch for the honesty of the perpetrator. Perhaps someone from forensics could sit next to the TMO and offer their view.

Or perhaps he should just stick to the fact it was reckless, dangerous, and avoidable, and do the needful by showing red.

The idea that Payne’s dismissal “ruined the spectacle” does not work, either. The match was all the more memorable because of it, not just because of the issue it raised but because of the monumental endeavour of the Ulster players in spite of their disadvantage.

pradley@thenational.ae

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