Law School: Paddy O'Brien Q&A

(IRB.COM) Friday 1 April 2011
 Law School: Paddy O'Brien Q&A
The scrum is one area discussed by Paddy O'Brien in Law School

In the latest edition of Law School on Total Rugby Radio, IRB Referee Manager Paddy O’Brien answers questions from Rugby fans around the world as well as talking collapsing scrums and the usage of television match officials.


Q: A concern of many via the Total Rugby Facebook page is echoed by Craig Walters from Australia’s question … why are scrums taking so much time?

A: I think this is something we have got to go back to the players with and I have said this for some time. You go to any club game throughout the world, whether it be in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Wales or wherever and anything up to the professional game the scrums are not an issue. When we get into the professional game it is an issue and a lot of it people are blaming it on the crouch, touch, pause, engage sequence. Now I don’t think we have got that right and I don’t think rugby thinks it has got it right, but the actual calling of that sequence is not where the time is lost, the time is lost in teams taking their time assembling their scrums.

If you look nowadays when they put a scrum clock on the TV, by the time the referee calls crouch half the time 30-40 seconds has gone before even that stage, so I think what it is, is it is actually the rest time for the players. Before it used to be at lineout time, players would sort of wander to the lineout, now with the quick throw ins the ball is out, the ball is back in.

There is a huge issue there with the scrum and with the timing and as everyone well knows we can’t change anything between now and Rugby World Cup, but there certainly will be a group look at the whole scrummaging area of the game post World Cup.

Q: The Law states neither side can push until the ball is in the scrum, surely the way the whole thing is being set up at the moment means that actually the push, there is confrontation so it is inevitably some movement before even the ball is in the scrum half’s hands.

A: Well the ball is in the scrum half’s hands, but you are right, the scrum is moving prior to the ball going in. Has the Law kept up with the Game? That is the question I suppose the scrum group we get together will have to ask, or do we go back to passive engagement? They are all a number of issues that have to be discussed, but while you have teams apart and as you quite rightly say then getting called to engage there is going to be movement, so I don’t think we should kid ourselves on that, that is a fact of what is happening at the moment.

Q: Michael Turner from Valetta in Malta asks why not go back to the old scrum Laws when there were hardly any collapses?

A: I think that is something that will be discussed. I think people need to remember the fundamental reason why the scrums are where they are at today and that is safety, believe it or not. Since the crouch, touch, pause, engage has been introduced there is no evidence to show that there have been catastrophic injuries at scrum time. Now if you look at prior to that there were several, so it is a safety issue and safety is always paramount to the Game.

Whilst it is not good on the eye, these are the issues that need to be discussed at length from all the stakeholders. It is not just a you and I solve it overnight by answering a question, it is a huge issue in the Game, but I am pleased to say at the moment it appears to be the one big issue in the Game whereas a couple of years ago we had four or five which I think have been cleared up.

Q: One of the knock on effects of that would be also that it would be much easier regarding the refereeing of the straight feed into the scrummage?

A: Oh absolutely, I get that question all the time and I don’t hide behind the fact. It is impossible for the referee to referee that area of the Game when he has got so much to do at scrum time at the moment. For those who say that is just a cop out, get out there and try it. I can tell you now, it is a huge area of concern for us and if we had a passive engagement all the referee would have to do in my view would be to look at the binding and the scrum feed and I have made a commitment that if we can get a more satisfactory engagement process I will make it my job to make sure the scrum feeds are correct, but while a lot of people out there now say the referee is copping out, I don’t buy that at all.

Q: Another popular question, summed up by mclooner on Twitter, what is your opinion on the controversial try in the match between Wales and Ireland at the Millennium Stadium?

A: Easy to give an opinion on that, the match officials got it wrong, simple as that. We have told the Irish coaching staff that and also the referees have told them that. That was a human error by the referee or the assistant referee and the referee himself who at the end of the day must take responsibility. It was an error, we try not to make errors but we are going to, and we have just got to make sure we try and correct it going forward. I think the game has been littered with errors by match officials over the years, like it has been littered with errors by players. A mistake by the match officials, simple as that.

What we do need to explain, which I think has been a myth out there, the match officials are not allowed to use the television match official for that particular area and that is a fact that went before Council a year or so ago and Council said no, that they wanted a TMO kept within an in-goal, so the match officials had their hands tied when it came to using the TMO on that particular area.

Q: This leads nicely on to a question asked by Graham Jenkins and Lizzie on Twitter … are there any thoughts of extending the areas of responsibility of the TMO?

A: We trialled it two years ago in South Africa, put the paper to the Board, and the Board turned it down. At this stage no, there is no sight of it being extended. I think it is something which will probably be looked at again after Rugby World Cup 2011 because I think anyone out there in rugby would agree, we do not want a World Cup play-off match or any close match at the top level decided by a referee error when the whole world knows that, for example, a player had his foot in touch on the halfway and yet the referee and linesman are the only two who can’t review it, which I think it is a bit of a pity, but we have got a protocol and the referees will be sticking to that protocol come the World Cup.

Q: Another popular question concerned a particular game, Scotland v Ireland, and Jason in Edinburgh emailed to ask is there a limit to the number of penalties a side can received before a player is sin-binned?

A: No, not at all. The Law is quite specific, what they can’t do is repeatedly infringe the Laws of the Game. Now repeated is normally a series of offences in a short period of time, for example two or three similar offences within a three to five minute time zone a referee would seriously consider repeated infringements, but 14 over a game is not that unusual, if there were 14 from each side that is only 28 penalties in a game. I think the average at test match level it is about 20 penalties a game.

It is a discretionary tool that the referee has, whether he decides it is repeated or not. We don’t want to go down the route that basketball do where so many team fouls and it is automatically free shots, etc. The Laws of Rugby are unique to Rugby, so there is discretion there for the referee to decide.

Q: Now perhaps a tongue in cheek question, from Adrian Twigg in England … any chance of a forward pass being spotted in Super Rugby?

A:  I think it is tongue in cheek and a bit of a slant on Super Rugby really. There are no more forward passes in Super Rugby than there are in any other game of rugby, but the thing about it is a forward pass is again at the discretion of the referee. TV is very cruel on the referee at times and it is also not necessarily correct because there are times when the ball is passed at speed, and whilst it travels forward it has never been passed forward. If you think of the law of physics, quite often a player moving forward passes the ball to a player also moving at pace, and it may appear forward but in actual fact the ball has been passed straight and just because it travels forward doesn’t mean it is a forward pass, it is how it was passed.

It is an issue in the Game and of course referees do miss the odd one, but a lot of the line balls you see taken at pace are not forward and we do analysis on it and at times I think the referee is sold short by a TV commentator who will say it is a forward pass when in actual fact it is not. Because Super Rugby is played at the pace that it is, I suppose you are going to get perceptions that there are forward passes. It is not a major concern, there have been forward passes in the Game from day one. We have got to keep our referees on the ball when it comes to positioning so they don’t miss too many of them. It is an area of the Game that comes down to judgement calls.

Q: Turning to Sevens, David Ellis who was at the Hong Kong Sevens asked via the Sevens Facebook page if there are any Laws you would like to see changed specifically for Sevens?

A: That is an interesting one, I haven’t been involved in the Sevens for a year or so because we have an IRB Sevens Referee Manager. I know there have been some meetings between the coaches and the IRB Sevens Manager and there are a couple of areas they would like to see change. I mean areas like the number of substitutes being allowed, how much time they should be allowed for a shot at goal, whether the clock should be stopped etc. I think there is going to be a group get together to review the whole area of Sevens Rugby going forward.

Q: And finally, the announcement of the first ever Women’s Referee panel, what are your thoughts on this?

A: Oh I think it is fantastic, women have now got a pathway and a clear pathway on how to get there. We have got Women’s Rugby in the Olympics. Bernd Gabbei, the Referee Development Consultant with the IRB, is doing a fantastic job getting women involved in Sevens Rugby, so we will have a clear pathway for the women at Sevens level and now with the Six Nations embracing using women in the women’s internationals, it has been a great opportunity for the world’s best women referees to get more exposure and it has also shown women that there is a pathway for them. I think it is really exciting and full marks to Bernd and Susan Carty from the IRB for their initiative in getting this off the ground.