Will the whistle-blower reveal the secret of the game?

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The Independent Online
TOMORROW is a big day for rugby, with two crucial matches, England against Ireland and Wales against France. And it could be the day when the big question the rugby world has been asking all season is settled. And that question is: what on earth has the referee just blown his whistle for?

Yes, it's true. The laws of rugby have become unbearably complicated. Recently, there have been moves to simplify them, with the result that they have become even more complex than before. Nobody understands them any more: not players, not officials, not referees. A man in Northampton thinks he understands them, but he is undergoing psychiatric treatment.

So as an interim measure the RFU has prepared this Quick Guide to the laws of rugby as they seem to be at the moment. Cut it out and have it by you as you sit in front of the screen.

1. The object of the game is to gain possession of the ball.

2. Once having gained possession of the ball, the object of the team with the ball is to keep hold of it and hide it in a place where the other side cannot locate it.

3. The idea of this is so that, when the BBC computer flashes up a chart showing Territory and Possession percentages during a game, the rugby commentator will be able to say: 'My goodness, they may not be leading in terms of points, but they certainly have had more than their fair share of the ball during this extremely exciting game'.

4. 'Exciting' is a code word used by rugby people to describe a game that has been low in skills, thrills or tries, but in which the scores are quite close.

5. At the point when the commentator makes a reference to the Territory and Possession chart that has just been flashed up on the screen, the television spectator shall say to himself, 'Hold on - does this mean that the commentator is watching the game on the screen, same as I am? In which case, what's the point of sending the bloody commentator to the ground at all?'

6. At this point, if the game is getting too boring, they shall flash up on the screen the chart showing scrums won against the head, as if anyone cared, but if this chart is not yet ready, the ref shall blow his whistle.

7. At which the commentator shall say: 'Well, I'm not sure what that was for, but the ref must have spotted a hand.'

8. At this point the captain of the penalised team shall, with dumb show, inquire of the referee what his team is deemed to have done wrong.

9. The referee shall endeavour to explain.

10. The captain shall make plain, with facial expressions, that he doesn't have the faintest idea what the ref is on about.

11. At which point the commentator might with justice say, 'Well, if he doesn't know what's happening, what chance have the rest of us got?'

12. The commentator shall say nothing of the sort.

13. Instead, he shall lie through his teeth and say, 'Well, that seems to have sorted that one out to everyone's satisfaction.'

14. Unless he is Bill, in which case he shall say: 'And that gives another kicking opportunity to the young man from Kenmare, whose father played five times Ireland and also turned out on three occasions for the British Lions, including that memorable game when . . .

15. At this point there will be a big hush over the ground as the player prepares for the kick.

16. Except for those parts of the ground where there is much booing and heckling.

17. Causing the commentator to say: 'Oh, that's a shame]'

18. Then the kicker shall kick.

19. And we shall see it again in slow motion.

20. And again and again.

21. Until you arise from our seats and scream, 'I didn't switch on this television set to see another bloody game decided by bloody penalties]'

22. In which case you are fooling yourself, because tries are now going out of fashion, the reason being that the audience can more or less see with its own eyes whether a ball has gone over the crossbar, but nobody ever knows these days whether someone has scored a try, so they hardly even bother any more.

23. A try happens, if you really want to know, when one team falls over the opposite line with the ball hidden from view somewhere inside the scrum, and the crowd shall rise to its feet but the referee shall shake his head and the commentator shall say: 'There must have been some final adjustment of the ball that we didn't see', when what he should say is, 'Oh for pity's sake, this is getting beyond a joke, let's all sod off home and leave them to it]'

24. At which point the best thing to do is turn over to Channel 4 and see if that old black and white film is any good.