Union had professional fouls long before it had professionals, but the increase in the stakes makes it important that we do something about the growing number of players who persistently break the rules and get away with it.
I am not referring to high tackles, stamping or other fouls that can injure an opponent. The referees have the power and the will to deal forcibly with those. But they are much less equipped to act against the professional foul, which is the deliberate offence aimed at denying the opposition the advantages their play should bring them, and which ruins the game in the process.
Mainly, the offences are killing the ball in the ruck and encroachment by the backs. Referees are usually quick to spot them and award penalties but there is normally no punishment for the individual offenders. In Cardiff's game against Milan last weekend, the Italian team conceded 35 penalties, 23 in the final half-hour, and most of them were for killing the ball and, with it, the game as a spectacle.
If your opponents are going unpunished for killing the ball, you are better off varying your attacks, but that does not alter the fact that the rules are being openly flouted. Referees have the power to send off persistent offenders but few of them seem willing to do so.
Union has not taken to the idea of using a sin-bin for general offences but perhaps they should introduce it purely for professional fouls. If every player who killed the ball ran the risk of being ordered off for 10 minutes they might think twice - and I have personal experience to back up that view.
When I played rugby league in Australia last year, they had a sin-bin system for professional fouls and the referees were encouraged to operate it without warning.
In one game, our opponents hit us with a move that ended on the half- way line. Our defence was all over the place as the other team prepared to take a quick play-the-ball and I could see that they had a clear overlap.
A try was certain so I immediately ran forward and put myself offside. The referee blew up and, as I was congratulating myself at saving a try at the expense of a penalty, he sent me off to the sin-bin.
I hadn't had a warning but I cannot deny that I deliberately offended to stop our opponents scoring and he did the right thing. I'm afraid that professionals are inclined to take advantage if they think they can get away with it - it is up to the authorities to drive the thought out of their heads.
If the referees were armed with the sin-bin option I am certain they could stamp out the professional foul in the space of a few weeks and the game would greatly benefit.
It would also help if touch-judges became more vocal instead of just waving their little flags at backs who encroach over the offside line.
Giving the referees immediate support in this way would help bring us up to the standards of the southern hemisphere, where they are far more strict on offences like this and the players have learned a greater respect for the laws. There is no doubt it makes for better and more flowing rugby and would ensure that the game in Britain continues its advance.Reuse content