I was one of many Welsh Rugby fans today that was bitterly disappointed to see the team crash out of the World Cup after having so valiantly reached the semi finals. Like so many other people I believe that the Welsh team were robbed of their opportunity by an unfair decision by the referee. This is not to say that the official lost Wales the game, I think that there were so pretty basic errors on the field when it came down to the nitty gritty, but I do believe that he had a detrimental effect on the outcome of the game, and the perception of the game by a good many people.
Lets be honest, the officials of any sporting fixture always fall foul of blame when it comes to the analysis of difficult decisions, but after the massive effort and great leadership that the rugby fraternity has shown in making available to the referee’s, touch judges and the fourth official some of the most advanced technical enhancements in sporting judgement, I don’t believe that it is far fetched to expect the match officials to make full use of the facilities at his beck and call to make careful and considered decisions.
As a fan, I’d rather have a game delayed by a few minutes to make sure that the best possible decision is made for the good of the game. I am certain that the multitude of fans would say the same. I am even certain that the French fans, who I guess are pretty staggered to learn that their team is now in the final of the 2011 World Cup somewhat undeservedly in my opinion, would agree that the decision made on the field today negatively impacted on the game overall.
I suppose there will be some that would argue that if the tables had been reversed I’d not be making such a statement, but let us examine the facts.
I believe that there are two teams that have been despatched from the world cup competition this year through questionable decisions by the officials. Yes Wales is one of them, and secondly I would considerSouth Africato have been denied an opportunity through the disallowing of a try by Patrick Lambie in the quarter final game against Australia for an alleged forward pass.
I accept that being an official is a difficult responsibility and as human beings we are bound to make errors. It is for this very reason that after considerable campaigning to eradicate this uncertainty from the sport, that considerable investment was made to support the officials. It is therefore irresponsible to not make full use of these facilities in sensitive and decisive decisions that are going to make a massive impact on the players on the field.
I am fully aware that players missed opportunities on the field. I know Hook had ample chance to level the score board before the break. We know that Jones could have converted the conversion attempt after the try, and should have taken the chance for a drop goal when the opportunity presented itself late in the second half. It was disappointing that when it was really needed, the boot of Halfpenny just didn’t have the oomph to carry the ball a few inches higher. Yes all these opportunities presented themselves through the course of the seventy odd minutes that the Welsh team played without their fifteenth man. Is it fair to ask if these misses were as a result of added pressure, frustration and disappointment after the official’s decision?
It is natural for a team to dig deep when their number is reduced. It is natural to go defensive to avoid attack. However I do not accept that France looked like an attacking team in any way shape of form during the game. For this reason alone, the Welsh team were lucky and were able to produce moments of fantastic drama on the pitch as they carved their way through the French defence to score a try.
The French in fairness played a strong defensive game, making very few errors under pressure and therefore reducing the chances for the Welsh team to turn penalties into points. This ultimately was the downfall of the Welsh Team. Without the strength of numbers to maintain a robust defence while applying attacking pressure consistently over the course of the game meant that our main scoring potential through forced errors was snuffed out by a well disciplined French team.
The lack of a co-ordinated attack from the French also gave Wales breathing space as they were able to push forward without running themselves ragged in covering the gaps in the defensive line. So while it was unfortunate to see the referee’s decision sour the nature of the game, I can honestly say that I do believe that the Welsh team should take comfort from the fact that in the end it was a mere point that knocked them out of the running to lift the Web Ellis trophy next weekend.
In the greater scheme of things, I am of the opinion that men who are given the responsibility of refereeing such an important match, men like Allan Rowland who have vast amounts of experience and should have known better, should be held accountable for the dodgy decisions that they make on the field. If a player steps out of line and brings the game into disrepute through their actions, the governing body issues disciplinary procedures, fines and even bans to players. The same should apply to match officials who are too quick to jump to a conclusion when tools for considered judgement are at their disposal.
It is wrong when the decision of an official becomes the main point of focus and the enduring memory of a match, and the efforts, sportsmanship and determined grit of a team to win despite the adversity is forgotten. It is wrong when the fans, players and our nations are denied the opportunity of a balanced and dynamic sporting spectacle by the misjudgement of one individual.
Today’s event will eventually be forgotten, and the game will eventually be spoken of as the time thatWalesalmost made it to a World Cup Final. The sad fact of today’s fiasco is that the brilliance of the likes of Warren Gatland, Sam Warburton (who incidentally had been praised up to this point for being such a remarkable ambassador for fairness and sportsmanship in the game), Leigh Halfpenny, Gethin Jenkins, George North, Luke Chateris, Toby Faletau and so many more who played their hearts out and pulled off a remarkable achievement of becoming the dark horse of the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
I believe that the IRB needs to do some deep soul searching after these issues. Rugby is a game to be decided by two teams that clash in controlled violence in an effort to score a try. The official is there to enhance the game, not impact on the result of who gets to the final through making a hasty decision, even if it was a decision he felt he was forced to make in following the laws laid out by the IRB. This isn’t sport anymore when one man can alter the perception of a game in the eyes of the International community, and you only have to look at the reaction on the net from all manner of corners to realise that this time they have got it badly wrong.
I pray that Wales get to keep the genius of Warren Gatland for at least another four years as he continues to mould, shape and build a team that has every right to expect to win a World Cup Final. I also hope that the IRB learn from the mistakes made today and by 2015 in the UK we have a fairer, better trained and more co-ordinated approach to officiating the matches of the next World Cup. After all we cannot afford to continue to spend millions of dollars on events watched by millions of people who ultimately perceive the sport as a major disappointment.