SHAUN EDWARDS: Rigid refs are putting casual fans off rugby – officials need to be given more leeway

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SHAUN EDWARDS: Rigid refs are putting casual fans off rugby – officials need to be given more leeway around red and yellow cards… and England shouldn’t panic despite recent concerns

  • It is clear that referees need more leeway regarding red and yellow cards
  • We’re seeing many incidents of players protesting to attract attention of referees
  • The system is too rigid, which isn’t effective for casual fans of the sport 

Sometimes the best advice comes from people who know nothing about the game.

When I was a player, I had a terrible season when I lost my place in the Great Britain rugby league team. There was a guy who worked down at the running track and he said to me: ‘You’re not quite as aggressive as you used to be, are you?’

He didn’t know much about rugby but his words really stuck with me and within a few months I was back in the team.

It is clear that referees in rugby need to be given more leeway around red and yellow cards

It is clear that referees in rugby need to be given more leeway around red and yellow cards

I had a similar experience at the weekend, when I had a few friends round to watch the games. They don’t watch much rugby, but they hover between sports and one of them said to me: ‘The problem with rugby, Shaun, is that the referees are on TV more than the players.’

It put them off, and these are the kind of neutral fans the sport needs to attract.

There was one red card and two yellow cards in England’s game against Australia. Rugby isn’t an easy game to officiate but we have some fantastic referees. I just think they need to be given a bit more leeway around red and yellow cards.

The heavy focus on referees can be off-putting for casual viewers of the sport

The heavy focus on referees can be off-putting for casual viewers of the sport

As referees follow a strict formula we're seeing players protesting to attract their attention

As referees follow a strict formula we’re seeing players protesting to attract their attention

At the moment, if you hit someone on the head it’s a red card. Obviously the game needs to be safe but I think the system is too rigid.

Because referees follow a strict formula around cards now, we’re seeing players protesting to draw incidents to their attention. I worry that too many players are appealing every time there’s a little bit of contact.

It’s like soccer where the players throw their arms up in the air. That’s not rugby, is it? I’m worried we might be at a bit of a tipping point.

People ask me how France won the Six Nations and the first thing I say is we didn’t get any red or yellow cards. Most fans would like to see fewer cards in the game.

People pay a lot of money to watch a Test match and I’m sure they would prefer to watch 15 versus 15. I just hope they don’t start voting with their feet.

DON’T PANIC, ENGLAND 

My message to England fans would be that you’re not too far away. Eddie Jones is copping a lot of heat after a few defeats in a row but things can soon change. Trust me, I’ve been there. 

When I was coaching Wales, we lost to Australia 11 times in a row, by pretty much a score each time. Everyone was talking about mentality and hoodoos. Come 2019, the year of the World Cup, we beat them twice when it mattered. 

Eddie Jones has faced a lot of criticism recently but things can changed very quickly

Eddie Jones has faced a lot of criticism recently but things can changed very quickly

That’s how quickly things can change. England aren’t losing Test matches by 30 or 40 points. They’ve lost by relatively small margins, discounting the Baa-Baas game.

When I joined France, we were winning and losing big matches by one score. If you’re within that margin, you’re on the edge of turning defeats into victories. 

It sounds simple but the key to winning in international rugby is keeping the opposition out of your 22. You need to stop giving Australia penalties because that’s when they kick for the lineout and launch an attack. 

SORRY CAMPO, THE GAME’S CHANGED

I read David Campese’s interview in Sportsmail last Saturday and I’m always wary about former players looking at the game through rose-tinted glasses.

He wants to see counter-attacking tries but the game has changed since the 1980s and 90s.

I’m partly to blame because I introduced the 13-2 defence — where you have 13 players in the front line and two full backs — that makes it difficult to score on the counter-attack.

There are more tries now than there have ever been in international rugby, but most of them are from mauls or pick-and-go.

Loads of tries are being scored and they’re worth just as many points.

The players don’t celebrate any less just because they haven’t run the ball in from their own 22.

LETHAL FINISHER REGAN GRACE READY TO IMPRESS FOR RACING 92

It was interesting to see Regan Grace switch codes this week and sign for Racing 92. I’ve watched Regan from afar and he’s developed into an outstanding league player.

 Playing on Racing’s indoor pitch with Gael Fickou and Virimi Vakatawa will suit him. He’s a very tough kid and he’s extremely quick. His finishing is lethal. I’m very excited to see how he gets on. 

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