Killian goes Down Under

The University Observer’s resident New Zealand columnist, Killian Woods, offers further insight from the Rugby World Cup

The robustness of a sport must be established and maintained by its governing body. FIFA has been consistently subjected to criticism for mismanagement and failing to govern football, and suffers from a tarnished reputation for its shortcomings. Unfortunately rugby is falling into a similar pattern whereby its governing body, the International Rugby Board (IRB), is instigating disrepute in the game.

Dealing with the administrative requirements of a sport is comparable to the gentle, but firm, grip needed to handle baby chicks. Hold too tight and it will be crushed, but too loosely and the chicks will slip out of your control. At the moment, the IRB are effectively strangling the sport and stunting its progression through a series of decisions that sees them stuck in a feud with the teams and players they are meant to represent.

Rugby is usually held up as a wholesome alternative to many sports due to the broadminded nature of its approach towards respect for referees and gamesmanship exhibited by the majority of players. However, considering the confusion surrounding fundamental aspects of the game, such as its laws and governing authority, it is hard not to feel that the game is tainted, with the antagonising agent being the IRB itself.

Fundamentally it is the application of their attention to detail that is the main cause of the heightened disputes with players and nations. Too much attention is being fixated on miniscule aspects of the game, such as reprimanding players for breaching advertising procedures, and not enough on clearing the perplexity surrounding the laws, particularly involving the breakdown.

The All Blacks captain Richie McCaw shouldn’t be troubled by questions in the lead up to a World Cup quarter-final about how Northern Hemisphere referee Nigel Owens is going to interpret the laws of the breakdown and fringes of the ruck. This is an unnecessary concern for any rugby player. Yet at the moment we are continually preoccupied pre-match about the possible side effects a contest will endure due to referees having their own exclusive understanding of fundamental laws of the game.

Laws in sport should be outright and definitively leave no argument from any party as to their implementation. Yet through the laws committee, the IRB have managed to cause unmitigated confusion which results in referees managing crucial aspects of the game, such as the ruck, in their own unique way.

There should be abrupt measures taken to clear this misunderstanding, but instead the IRB’s first priority as of late focuses on managing seemingly frivolous facets of the game. At first it sounded like a believable joke, but England centre Manu Tuilagi and Samoan winger Alesana Tuilagi being reprimanded, and fined $10,000, for wearing unapproved mouth guards that breach tournament advertising regulations typifies how the IRB’s intentions are skewed.

The IRB’s priorities are equally questionable regarding key decisions made in structuring the fixture schedule of the tournament. Blatant prejudiced tendencies against tier two and three nations have been distinctly evident. This preferential treatment of the tier one teams has resulted in teams like Tonga, Canada, Samoa, Fiji, Japan, Romania, Georgia, Namibia, Russia and the USA having to endure quick turnarounds between games.

Canada, Samoa and Georgia, for example, were forced to play only four days after their first pool games on the 14th of September. This short recovery time had huge consequences on the three teams and their ability to consistently field their strongest starting XV throughout the tournament.

It also granted their opponents an unfair advantage. France, Wales and England had eight days of preparation, four days more than their opponents. The IRB are entrusted to facilitate fair play in the game, however, they openly afforded tier one teams greater recovery times at the expense of tier two and three countries.

Admittedly, the IRB were in a difficult position, and were under time constraints that restricted the length that could be allocated for the pool stages. However, pandering and favouritism to tier one nations is not the way any sport progresses, and rugby will never develop into a popular worldwide brand if such unequivocal bias exists.

The process required to resolve the matter at hand must begin with the IRB itself. As an entity, it must treat all members as equals and promote healthy competition in the sport through a fairly structured competition and judicial process.

The problem is that the IRB see no issue with merely warning England officials for switching match day balls between Jonny Wilkinson’s kicks. They recklessly allow a Welsh referee to officiate the South Africa vs Samoa game, a match that had huge repercussions on Welsh progression in the tournament. They allow a situation to arise where Samoan players have to fund their own flights home from the Rugby World Cup. They are clueless.