Referees need to be brave and show a yellow streak

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The Independent Online

Every club has got one. They know who they are. We know who they are. And if the game in Wales is going to flourish, they have to be stopped.

Every club has got one. They know who they are. We know who they are. And if the game in Wales is going to flourish, they have to be stopped.

I am referring of course to the players who constantly dive on the ball, killing quick possession. They are the chancers, who know how to slow the game down, who know how to play the referee, and at the moment they are getting away with it.

The reason that we in Wales are struggling to get results at club and international level is that the game never reaches the tempo that is now the norm in England and France.

I agree with Swansea's Australian coach, John Connolly, who said last week that Wales have got plenty of talented players. Not only that, but I have no doubt the players here are as fit as any one else in the world.

The problem is that we very rarely get to the double-figure phases of play where you see backs against forwards and mis-matches happening. And when it does happen with Wales internationally, you can throw a blanket over the players: they have lost the width and depth they need because they are completely unaccustomed to that amount of recycling of the ball. Our opponents, in contrast, have the ability to work those openings and then finish them off.

The Super 12 led the way about four years ago. They agreed that, rather than killing the ball, they would make sure thaT it gets played. We have got to do the same. Rather than go offside, for God's sake just stay on the back foot. Those players must say: "We know the opposition are going to win the ball, let's have confidence in our defence and give them phases, give them a chance to play."

I concur with my old Cardiff and Wales team-mate, Mark Ring, who said in these pages last week that there is a lack of midfield creativity in Wales at the moment. It's not a lack of ability. It's that confidence factor of not losing your bottle after several phases.

Overlaps get ignored, they tend to play safe, kick for touch, look for field position. That's important but when the opportunity arises you have got to take it. Why do we always wait until the last five minutes of the match before we counter-attack?

This needs every one in Wales to be singing from the same hymn sheet, and I realise that collective action has not been the motto here for a while. The good news is that in the summer there was a get-together of Welsh club coaches, Steve Hansen, the national coach, and Clive Norling, representing the referees. They agreed it was vital to get tough on players messing around at the tackle area and the breakdown.

The bad news is that they had forgotten who is playing who. A little bird at Neath tells me that they had a Welsh referee for their first match of the season, and are not expecting another one until December. Madness. It's a Celtic League, it's supposed to be a partnership, so let's get the Scottish and Irish referees involved. Mr Ramage of Scotland, I'm afraid, came in for a mild blast from yours truly last Friday night during the TV coverage of Bridgend against Pontypridd. Halfway through the second half he said he was "thinking about" giving out a yellow card for killing the ball. To misquote Elvis Presley, "A little less contemplation, a bit more action, please". Don't give three chances, or whatever it is. Yellow card them. Sorry mate – you're off. People are paying money, or watching on television. They've either walked out or switched off by then.

In England they don't hang around. The Zurich Premiership refs are hammering the ball-killers, and are not afraid to use the sin-bin. If we say we are going to rule it strictly, then do so. When teams are down to 12 or 11 men, you'll soon see them back behind the advantage line, not grabbing on, and working out defensive strategies.

It's partly to do with entertainment, and more importantly it'll be better for Welsh rugby. There may be a tough patch of a lot of yellow cards, and maybe the odd high score. But it doesn't matter. In the long run it will be a benefit internationally. Wales have got to play this way because they are not going to mangle any one up front, any more.

We've had the defensive years. It's time for the attacking years.

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