TWICKENHAM'S ATTEMPT to gag referees failed at the first attempt in Bath on Saturday. And so, too, did the initial efforts to fill the sin- bin. The Rugby Football Union's stated desire, via Nick Bunting their National Referee Development Officer, to aspire to consistent refereeing and a universality of interpretation of the laws of the game, is a proper one.
But it was not helped by the appointment of an Irish referee. That country's officials have not been involved with the summer-long discussions by RFU referees over the laws and the changes to the remit for consigning players to the sin-bin. It was further hindered by the fact that no one at English headquarters had seen fit to brief Bertie Smith on the close-season decisions regarding the sin-bin in Allied Dunbar Premiership matches.
This resulted in a moment of farcical proportions when, in the opening minutes of what was a poor quality game, Mr Smith conjured up a yellow card, now defunct having been replaced this season by the white card, to caution the tussling Paul Volley, of Wasps and Bath's Martin Haag.
"It was a bit of a surprise to me," said Volley, an aggressive and talented flanker. "I thought they had been phased out."
Nigel Melville, Wasps' director of rugby, said: "After we have spent all summer talking about what we are going to do as regards refereeing, an Irish referee is appointed who doesn't know what is going on. It wasn't his fault. There should have been an English ref in charge of this match."
Mr Smith is blameless. And when he spoke later he explained: "I was appointed a week ago last Friday. No one at the RFU said anything to me about the sin-bin or about yellow cards not being used anymore. It was one of my touch judges who told me about the white cards."
That exchange of information took place sometime between the second and 31st minute, at which point Mr Smith produced a white card and sent Wasps' lively No 8 Joe Worsley into the cooler for what turned out to be eight and a half minutes for alleged illegal use of the knee.
There was a scrappy feel to the game throughout as first-day nerves saw numerous handling errors. Possession was something Bath appeared to want to leave to their opponents, while, as commendable as the Wasps back-row was, there was an absence of cohesion in the backs. Too often, poor decisions left the potent wings, Shane Roiser and Kenny Logan, in acres of space but without the ball.
Both sides have plenty to work on. Andy Robinson, Bath's head coach, was keen to accentuate the positive, citing Jeremy Guscott's two well- taken tries, Mike Catt's flawless goal-kicking performance which netted him 21 points, and the welcome return to action of the England prop Kevin Yates, who last month completed his six-month ban for biting Simon Fenn's ear.
Yates came on in the 59th minute to the biggest cheer of the afternoon and proceeded to beef up the Bath forward operation. But Robinson, ever the perfectionist, said: "Kevin still has a lot of work to do. There is a lot of competition at loosehead prop. He could be playing out of his skin and still not get selected."
Nevertheless Robinson admitted he was pleased with the reception Yates got and the effort he put in. As for the player himself, when he was eventually cornered all he would say was: "I enjoyed it (the crowd's reception) tremendously. Now I'm going to eat."
Rather appropriate after a match with so many teething troubles leaving both sets of coaches plenty to chew on.
Bath: Tries Peters, Guscott 2; Conversions Catt 3; Penalties Catt 5. Wasps: Tries Logan, Leota, Worsley; Penalties Rees 4.
Bath: I Balshaw; I Evans, P de Glanville (capt), J Guscott (K Maggs, 80), A Adebayo; M Catt, S Hatley (A Nicol, 77); D Hilton (K Yates, 59), M Regan (A Long, 30), V Ubogu, M Haag, N Redman, N Thomas, E Peters, B Sturnham.
Wasps: J Lewsey, S Roiser, N Greenstock (L Scrase, 50), R Henderson, K Logan; G Rees, M Friday (A Gomarsall, 56); D Molloy (A Black, 56), T Leota, W Green, M Weedon (capt), A Reed, E Rollitt, J Worsley, P Volley.
Referee: B Smith (Cork).Reuse content