The Champions Cup has been responsible for some of the most memorable games of rugby in recent times and on Saturday, Leinster and Exeter played out another classic of the genre.
There were a number of contentious decisions throughout the game, and although none of them altered the outcome of the game, it was probably due to Leinster emerging as victors.
Ross Byrne took two heavy collisions in the second half after he came on to replace the injured Jonathan Sexton. On another day there might have been some cards shown for the collisions in question, but not on this occasion.
Admittedly, the decision after what seemed like a dominant and fair hit from Johnny Hill looked correct at first look. On second viewing, it was definitely a hit with an arm to the face following the shoulder on shoulder contact.
For some people in this age of rugby, shoulder-on-shoulder is running the risk of getting it wrong and it looked like Mathieu Raynal was in agreement after the slow motion footage of the second rows hefty arm colliding with the out-half's nose.
The conversations surrounding this incident is indicative of the confusion that is in the game at present. The commentators on the day said that any three outcomes could be reached here, a penalty only, a yellow or a red card. That seems wrong to me.
How could the very same incident could result in three different outcomes with very different potential knock-on effects on the game?
Raynal went through all the protocols with his team including the buzz words of "force" and "contact to the head". It’s almost like the referees are playing out the logic out loud in the fear that anyone watching was to misinterpret their decision.
There’s a fear around the decision from their point of view too. They are now including the whole team in the decision-making process. The TMO and both assistant referees will have an input and they come to the conclusion together, quite often having differing opinions on what they’ve seen.
The TMO can also influence the decision based on their choice of wording. In any of these instances, if you use the words "force" and "head contact", you would normally see some coloured card, with the inclusion of mitigating circumstances determining whether it is yellow or red that is brandished.
Raynal, after much deliberation, made the right call in only awarding a penalty for the bone-crunching tackle on Byrne, who actually got up and shrugged it off quite well to take three points on the way to a vital performance in both his and Leinster’s season to date.
I’m sure there are differing opinions on what happened. There are those that want the game judged by the letter of the law, and others that feel the game is gone soft and it wouldn’t have been a penalty before.
However, we do have to move with the times. When coaches coach by how they would have done it in their day, we roll our eyes and conclude that they’re past their sell by date with regards to their tactics.
Our interpretations of the laws have to develop too and for the most part referees are doing so quite well
You have to judge the game on what is currently happening with regards to defensive set-ups, the attacking structure and how the set piece is being played. Similarly, our interpretations of the laws have to develop too and for the most part referees are doing so quite well.
Yet, with a different referee, possibly under a different union, they would have been coached to give out a card for a similar incident. This is where some of the confusion comes in for players and supporters alike.
Look at some other decisions across the weekend. Robbie Henshaw had a vital turnover on Saturday but he was clearly after going past the ball and using the ground to regain his balance before Raynal awarded the penalty in his favour. Sexton had a less than straight entry into the same ruck.
Players have to make decisions every time there's a different referee, based on the pattern of their penalty count in the last number of week
Leinster deserved a turnover at the time for the pressure they had mounted, but they didn’t do so legally.
Players have to make decisions every time there’s a different referee, based on the pattern of their penalty count in the last number of weeks. They also have to read the situation in the game which is a skill that the best teams have, a skill that England seemed to lose throughout the last Six Nations and their discipline really cost them.
At the other side, it’s very hard to find consistency in some of the refereeing decisions at present. There were a number of side entries and players off their feet at the ruck on Saturday, some were called, others not.
In the opening five minutes of Ulster's Challenge Cup win over Northampton, Piers Francis entered the ruck illegally and wasn’t called for it. This is just one example of many throughout the game.
He didn’t create much of a collision, so it wasn’t seen as impactful, yet he still stopped the contest for the ball and in another instance it could be harmful for a player when there’s a collision from the side.
After just 30 seconds of play in the same game, referee Alexandre Ruiz called Northampton for taking longer than five seconds to use the ball at the base of the scrum. We know this is the law, but it hardly ever gets called. And then when it does get called it seems incredibly harsh.
It’s the random nature of some decisions that can become quite frustrating. It’s similar to the crooked feed in a scrum, it never gets called, but when it does it can have a big impact on a particular play in the game. And similarly, it seems that referees don’t want to call for crooked lineouts in the last number of weeks.
Rugby is a progressive sport and the officials are trying to change the game for the better, but it needs to be done with clarity and certainty around key areas of the game
I’m all for a free-flowing game, I don’t want most of these penalties called or cards handed out. At the same time, we want consistency. Whether that’s with the team we support or enjoying and interpreting the game. Coaches want and need it and so do the players.
Nobody wins when there are inconsistent and contentious decisions.
Rugby is a progressive sport and the officials are trying to change the game for the better, but it needs to be done with clarity and certainty around key areas of the game.
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