Rugby Union: Referees promise to play their cards right

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The Independent Online
JUST FOR a moment it sounded as though Tony Blair and Jack Straw had joined the Rugby World Cup refereeing panel. The 16 officials charged with controlling 41 highly charged internationals issued their own manifesto in Cardiff yesterday and the key message was: "Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime." However, they will not be tough on the consequences of crime, thanks to a management cop-out on the yellow card issue.

Yellow cards will be very much in evidence during the course of the biggest tournament in rugby history; indeed, we may well see half a dozen tomorrow if the Wales-Argentina curtain-raiser is anything like the last meeting between the two countries in Buenos Aires last June. Two yellow cards will see the perpetrator embarking on a long and lonely walk down the tunnel. But - and this is crucial - yellow cards will not be cumulative. A crafty miscreant could theoretically be carded once a game for seven consecutive games up to and including the final, and not miss a minute's rugby.

"Maybe in the future we will introduce a totting-up system," said Steve Griffiths, the International Board's refereeing supremo who will manage the panel of officials. "But, at the moment, we consider this to be the best way forward. There is a new citing system under which four independent match commissioners will view video footage of every game and take action if necessary. Additionally, there is a wide range of sanctions available to members of any disciplinary committees we need to convene. We want them [the referees] to be as unobtrusive as possible, but we want them to be very firm."

The officials, who include previous World Cup final referees Derek Bevan of Wales and England's Ed Morrison, have been issued with a 13-point plan covering everything from straight put-ins at the scrummage - a revolutionary change of modus operandi for all scrum-halves - to the two most serious blights on the modern game, organised offsides and deliberate ball-killing. Happily, the senior referees have no intention either of outlawing the ruck or emasculating the scrummage.

Equally laudable is the outright ban on discussions between coaches and the referee at half-time - a move that will prevent any repeat of the incident that disfigured last year's New Zealand-England Test in Dunedin, when John Hart, the All Black coach, was accused of attempting to influence the Australian official Wayne Erickson.