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Officials need to play their cards right to end cynical play

Liam Gill of the Reds at the bottom of the breakdown against the Rebels.

Liam Gill of the Reds at the bottom of the breakdown against the Rebels. Photo: Getty Images

As a coach it's hard not to go back and analyse key moments of a match which influence the overall outcome or rhythm of a game. Generally these moments aren't the flashy tries or pieces of individual brilliance and are often missed by the casual fan.

When reviewing these plays you do so not to criticise a decision and nor am I advocating a change to the laws. Rather these moments are analysed as they provide good discussion points on the cause and affect that key moments have in a rugby game and the overall impact they have on the outcome and entertainment factor.

Think back to just before halftime of the Reds and Rebels game last Saturday. The score was 6-0 to the Rebels and a try for the Reds would have been vital from a scoreline and psychological point of view.

Attacking scrum on the right hand side, the Reds are feeding the ball 15 metres out from both the tryline and in from touch. There's a short-side on the right that is big enough to be defended and you have a scrum which 95% of the time goes the way of the attacking team. Statistically more tries come from scrums so the ingredients are perfect.

The crowd moves to the edge of their seat and everyone is thinking…try time.

The scrum packs and we all wait in anticipation for the backline to be unleashed with a pre-planned and practiced set-piece move, created to exploit the rare opportunity where seven defenders are forced to cover the 65 metre width of the field. This is where the best odds exist for an attack where they can be confident of at least bending the defence's line.

The front row collides and the whistle sounds. The referee awards a full-arm penalty to the Reds. The shot at goal is chosen – and executed – before the players trudge back to beyond halfway where the game recommences with a long kickoff. At this point the Reds begin their journey to get out of their own half and back down the other end of the field. The psychology in this part of the field is vastly different to when you're at the other end – you won't see the flashy stuff here!

Had a try been scored from this key moment it would have shifted the mindset of the crowd as they would spend halftime thinking about what might be and not what went wrong. Anticipation is a big part of sport and the opportunity for supporters to 'feel' the atmosphere is a major reason.

When I reviewed the Rebels game this is one pivotal moment that sticks out and I am left wondering what might have been. Missed opportunities are critical in sport, including the ones that aren't always as easily spotted, and this is an occasion where we felt we could have potentially changed the dynamics of the game.

Discussing the cause and affect of these situations is also interesting so let's dig deeper to assess the outcome this moment had on the entertainment and result of the game.

A penalty at the scrum does many things. It makes the actual scrum disappear for a start. Your immediate reaction might be that this is a good thing but probably not for the team on attack.

The penalty goal will also tick the box as an outcome and therefore it can be argued that an advantage has been given to the attacking team. When you consider scoring tries is our primary focus, this argument is only valid when the penalty is awarded outside of goal kicking range.

Not many captains will turn down three points but the reality is this means the opportunity of seven points disappears. You also need to add the loss of territory and 75 metres resulting from the ensuing kickoff. It's a discounted haul for the attack.

I can hear you all yelling tap and go! This would please those on the edge of their seats and is actually a viable option provided you have a reasonable chance of scoring, or at a minimum, engineering a tactical advantage.

It's so viable that we even tried this tactic in the second half but to no avail. We accrued a series of penalties and advantages and eventually took a shot at goal before retreating to the other side of the field. We spent five minutes attacking their line and could have kicked at goal, but we really wanted to score a try.

This brings me to my next point. The yellow card for cynical play seems to have drifted from the game. While I can't believe I am advocating this, the reality is yellow cards equal more tries and it also serves as a deterrent against repeated and deliberate infringements.

On average at the Reds, we concede one try for every yellow card we receive. That's an extremely high ratio.

As much as seeing 15 players go against 14 is unfair, so to is cynical play that goes unpunished. It deprives the fans and takes the fun from a match.

I'm of the belief that there is enough homogeny in today's game. It has been boxed to create equity rather than encourage superiority. While we play around with the interpretations, we need to be vigilant on the affect this has to our game and we need to understand the cause of how the game is played directly links to fans.

We need them to be sitting on the edges of their seats in anticipation of what is about to come. Not sitting back and ruing what could have been.

15 comments so far

  • You seem to be making the subtle point that the Reds inability to score tries was due to the referee and not your own players. The fact, sadly, is that the Reds weren't good enough to breach the Rebels defence on more than one occassion. There was one period where the Rebels infringed but overall they played a disciplined game.

    The scenario of the scrum 15 out is all well and good, but the reality of the Reds this year is the ball would have been held up in the centres, or shovelled to the wing with no gain in ground.

    While I agree there is a case for a yellow card in the second half, I don't believe there was a clear-cut incident for which a YC should have been awarded. At best it was 50-50. Cause for a snide piece in the Herald? I think not.

    Mario Speedwagon
    Date and time
    March 15, 2012, 10:07AM
    • Reminds me of the Reds-Waratahs game last year. The Tahs had a scrum on the Reds' goal line. Given that the Tahs' scrum had been the better of the two all match the expectation of a try was high. The Reds proceeded to collapse scrum after scrum as they were being driven back. After 3 or 4 resets and no yellow card for cynical play or penalty try the Reds get the hit on and win a tight head. It was the turning point in the game and the Reds went on to win. Yes, cynical play should be harshly dealt with.

      Date and time
      March 15, 2012, 10:22AM
      • If the scrum in that situation was such an advantage, why not elect for another one?

        O M Wootts
        Date and time
        March 15, 2012, 10:24AM
        • That's exactly what I was thinking.

          Date and time
          March 15, 2012, 1:56PM
      • As a past whistler I wonder when I watch the modern refs - do they really understand what the players ar trying to achieve? I have seen a game played at a country outpost without a referee but have never seen a game where the referee was the only participant! Link, you are spot on. There has even been a case where a penalty try was awarded and the offending player was NOT yellow carded! I even dreamt where EVERY scrum penalty awarded in the attacking zone 22 went to the attacking team - and they were NOT allowed to kick at goal. Collapsed scrums became a thing of the past. Go The Reds!!

        Grae Gafia
        Sandstone Point
        Date and time
        March 15, 2012, 10:40AM
        • "A penalty at the scrum does many things. It makes the actual scrum disappear for a start. Your immediate reaction might be that this is a good thing but probably not for the team on attack"

          A penalty doesn't make the scrum disappear at all - the non infringing team does by deciding to take a different option. If you wanted a scrum, have a scrum!

          All this talk of cynical play reminds me of the Reds v Force match and the NFL style blocking going on from the Reds in nearly all facets of the game; in particular players getting in front of a player taking a catch and preventing potential tacklers getting through - and also the very interesting lines being run by support players so as to prevent a would be tackler reaching the ball carrier. The Reds are masters at this tactic (see Will Genia's try against the Crusaders in the final last year for a great example).

          I'm not saying all teams don't do this sort of thing, but taketh a plank from thine own eye before thou taketh a splinter from another's (or something).

          Perth via Rakaia
          Date and time
          March 15, 2012, 12:05PM
          • Agree the Reds have a knack of having player in the way at opportune moments, but Genia's try was because of a defender rushing out of the line. He was asking to be sidestepped.

            Date and time
            March 15, 2012, 2:05PM
          • the man did rush up, but I would argue Genia only managed to sidestep him because there was a Reds player in the way


            Perth via Rakaia
            Date and time
            March 15, 2012, 2:32PM
        • Ewen, what is wrong with a scrum reset? Whilst I love the way you get the team to play, I hope from now on you guys will reset the scrum in such situations.
          For scrum penalties, why don't they introduce an option that if you elect to reset the scrum, you reset with an advantage rule - ie/ you lose the scrum then you will get the ball back for a short-arm penalty. OR, perhaps ban kicking for goal from scrum penalties but still allow a kick for touch with the throw-in?

          Date and time
          March 15, 2012, 12:56PM
          • I agree with the concept of dealing out far more yellow cards for cynical play. Based on the games I've watched this year - I would say that 2 yellow cards per game would have been a fair result, as there is always moments of play that are deliberately slowed down. Whilst people will cry that this would turn the game into a sideshow, you will soon see that the game will open up, tries would be scored, and teams will think twice about being cynical. Yellow cards are a good thing for the game - use them refs!

            Date and time
            March 15, 2012, 1:12PM

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