Coaches representing the teams participating in the RBS 6 Nations have supported the IRB's ongoing commitment to ensuring clear and consistent officiating during the showcase event, which kicks off this weekend.
At the annual IRB meeting between coaching and refereeing representatives in London, key topics for review and discussion included achieving a stable scrum and fairly enabling quick ball and space for attacking teams.
During a highly-positive forum, all agreed that while consistent match officiating is key, players, coaches and match officials all have a responsibility to ensure that the Laws of the Game and a positive ethos is upheld and that a collective approach is required when facing issues concerning the Game.
And following a robust selection process and final preparation meetings in London this week, the IRB match officials are ready for the start of the RBS 6 Nations with no new areas of emphasis highlighted from those given priority status by the IRB at all levels of elite Rugby.
No change in focus for referees
IRB High Performance Match Official Manager Joël Jutge confirmed the 'no change' message to the RBS 6 Nations coaches at a meeting in London, underlining the ongoing commitment to consultation and communication between the IRB and its Member Unions in all areas of refereeing practice.
Wales coach Rob Howley said: “The interaction between the officials and coaches provides us with an open forum where we can review, discuss and prepare ahead of the tournament.”
“It allows clarity across the board and enables us to understand what is required and to discuss with the officials what is expected from them. The result will benefit the tournament with us all looking to reduce foul play and focus on an attacking brand of Rugby.”
Chairman of the IRB Match Official Selection Committee John Jeffrey said: “Performance review and selection are key areas of preparation for all our match officials.”
"It is also vital that we have the buy-in and support of the Game’s top coaches so that the players know exactly what to expect from officials while being clear on what their own responsibilities are.”
Responsibility does not lie with one person
“The meetings between coaches and the IRB refereeing representatives are a very positive and welcome forum. Everyone wants to see a high-quality game delivered by players and referees and that is what we are committed to delivering. And, as the Law book states, the responsibility for ensuring this happens lies not with one individual – it involves coaches, captains, players and referees.”
With quick ball and space being crucial to attacking movements, it was agreed at the meeting that referees would focus on ensuring this was not prevented illegally by defences, with tacklers, assistant tacklers and arriving players all obliged to show compliance.
Another important aspect of the Game discussed at the meeting was the scrum with coaches being told that front rows must be more compliant as referees have been instructed to be less tolerant of infringements in this area. All agreed that there is a collective responsibility to address current issues in this area and straight engagement and secure binding will be expected.
The IRB and its Member Unions are committed to addressing the issues that make collapses and resets prevalent at the elite level of the Game. The Scrum Steering Group, comprising Union scrummaging experts is currently reviewing the engagement, while the Scrum Forces Project at the University of Bath is in its final year of an unprecedented study into biomenchanical forces in the scrum to enhance player welfare and best-possible coaching techniques at all levels of the Game.
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“Having spoken to the coaches this week, they all know exactly what the IRB is aiming to achieve with the referees and they have been informed that there are no changes in emphasis. It is encouraging to note that the coaches have all bought into the process and are in agreement with the key areas of focus,” added Jeffrey.
The referees also met as a group this week to establish a clear and common direction for the upcoming tournament.
International referee Nigel Owens, who will take charge of two matches during the RBS 6 Nations, said: “From a referee’s perspective a meeting like this makes a big difference for everyone to be on the same wavelength in terms of what is expected from us and by us.”
“There is a clear direction for the tournament in terms of giving teams a chance to play attacking rugby while penalising foul play. So it’s certainly of benefit to get together as a group in order to improve the product that is the 6 Nations and get that extra per cent out of everyone on the park.”
“We had a similar conference ahead of Rugby World Cup 2011 which worked well and I’m sure the same will be said of this one. After all, the laws and directives are ultimately there to enhance the Game.”
The meeting included: Jacques Brunel (Italy), Rob Howley (Wales), Scott Johnson (Scotland), Declan Kidney (Ireland), Graham Rowntree (England), Philippe Saint-André (France), John Feehan, Jon Davis (both 6 Nations), Donal Courtney (European Rugby Cup and member of IRB Match Official Selection Committee), Joël Jutge (IRB IRB High Performance Match Official Manager) and John Jeffrey.
The Scrum Steering Group comprises: David Barnes (IRPA), Mike Cron (NZRU), Didier Retière (FFR), Brian O'Shea (ARU), Norm Mottram (USA Rugby), Richie Dixon (GRU), Ken Quarrie (NZRU), Graham Mourie (Chairman of IRB Rugby Committee), John Jeffrey (IRB Council Member and SRU), Gavin Williams (RFU), Dr Martin Raftery (IRB Chief Medical Officer), Joël Jutge (IRB IRB High Performance Match Official Manager). The group is supported by Dr Grant Trewartha and Dr Keith Stokes, members of the University of Bath research team.
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