There was some heavy duty moralising after Anton Lienert-Brown and Aaron Cruden gobbed off at referee Brendon Pickerill two weeks ago at the death of the Blues-Chiefs clash.
Now, after the scarcely credible decisions made last weekend by fellow Super Rugby Aotearoa refs Ben O'Keeffe and Mike Fraser, that crime doesn't seem quite so wicked, does it? In fact, I reckon more elite rugby players should remonstrate with erring refs because, if there is enough, we may achieve what the game badly needs: a captain's challenge.
Some critics weighed in piously after the Blues-Chiefs schemozzle; they said rugby was skirting dangerously close to football's excesses where players routinely surround the ref, bitching and bawling.
But then came last weekend's matches, revealing Fraser's astonishing inability to detect he was being conned by the Highlanders' Aaron Smith (and subsequent ruling out of a perfectly legitimate runaway try to the Blues). That was only slightly outweighed by O'Keeffe's inability to recognise a clear knock-on (and subsequent awarding of a try-that-wasn't to the Crusaders' Sevu Reece), taking the game away from the luckless Chiefs.
Everyone could see what had happened in both instances, it seemed. Except the ref. Oh, and his two assistants and the TMO – which I now believe might as well stand for Transcendental Meditation Officer.
This level of inadequacy needs to be addressed; a captain's challenge seems best.
There will be two main requirements – unfortunately it will require yet another official, like a match referee, as in cricket. They are not involved with general play but rule on any disputes and, overall, to protect cricket's code of conduct, including whether a bowler's delivery is legal or not.
In rugby, the match referee's role would be slightly different – ruling solely on captains' challenges. Each captain would be given one challenge per match, which could be used at match-defining moments like those presided over by Messrs Fraser, O'Keeffe and Pickerill in the last two weeks.
The match referee would have final say, outranking all other officials, including the on-field referee and his cohort of helpers. The responsibility should really be lodged with the TMO but the last two episodes have suggested that something magical happens to the TMO at such times - they somehow lose the ability to complete basic tasks, like which way round to sit on the toilet or which shoe to put on first.
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If a captain has used his challenge previously and a match-defining mistake subsequently occurs, too bad – so the intention is to persuade skippers to avoid invoking the challenge until they really need it.
As usual, rugby league is ahead of rugby union in this regard with the NRL employing captains' challenges in the 2020 season. However, they were so paranoid about slowing the game even more, they watered it down.
The NRL rules are:
• The only decisions to be challenged involve a structured restart of play (penalty, scrum, drop-out, strip etc.)
• Challenges are not permitted where the referee allows play to proceed
• Each team is allowed one unsuccessful challenge per game
Captains can challenge decisions around those specific areas until they get one wrong. It could, in theory, go on endlessly. In practice, it hasn't really affected games or results – it's just meant play has stopped for minor injustices. They can't challenge over a disputed try.
Rugby needs what is simultaneously a much honed-down and more significant version of that. A captain's challenge could have decided whether Pita Gus Sowakula had scored against the Blues; whether Quinten Strange had knocked the ball on in Reece's try; and whether Aaron Smith should be recommended to a local amateur dramatic society for tripping over Karl Tu'inukuafe when it was far easier just to pass the ball.
Want another example everyone will recognise? How about the drawn All Blacks-Lions series of 2017 and the ludicrous decision by referee Romain Poite to change his offside call against a Lions player. That ruled out a match- and series-winning penalty kick against them.
A captain's challenge and a match referee would have sorted that out too – although a case can be made over what happens when a match referee has an attack of being unable to see what everyone else can. Fair enough, human error may never be eradicated but at least a captain's challenge gives a better chance of getting the right outcome from the most important passages of play.
However, for the rest of every match, the status quo would apply. That still brings the captain into play – and talking to referees as made into an art form by Richie McCaw and Sean Fitzpatrick.
It also means that gobby outbursts by the likes of Lienert-Brown and Cruden would be quelled and, possibly, even have penalties attached to them.