Rugby Coaching Blog | Professional Rugby Advice & Coaching

Should we pity the rugby referee? by David Clarke
August 11, 2009, 8:30 am
Filed under: Dan Cottrell, ELVs, Rugby Refereeing | Tags: , , ,

rugby referee
First, before I even start, we need to remember we are all in this together. Without each constituent part of the game, we would not be able to even venture onto the pitch.

Does that mean that refereees should be free of criticism? Of course not, and I don’t know many who would say otherwise. On the other hand there is a time and place for criticism, just as there is with the players.

I feel a certain amount of pity for referees at the moment. The new season in the Northern Hemisphere is almost upon us and watching the New Zealand club competition, I see plenty of interpretation.

There are new laws in place, and emphasis on others. The referees at all levels are under pressure to get these areas correct AND the normal laws of the game whilst the players and coaches are conspiring to outwit both the opposition and the referee.

In fact some referees will admit that some laws will be refereed hard in the first few months and then things will revert to the old ways.

That is not the only problem. Speaking to some coaches over the weekend, referees at the lower level are not so well informed. So whilst the coach and team might be playing to the current rulings, the poor old (and young) referee is struggling to cope with the old set of laws.

I suppose patience is a particularly useful virtue. It is a tough dish to swallow when you are losing a spicy game to some rotten decisions.

A rugby moral code will never happen by David Clarke

Mike Tindall torn shirt

What is acceptable and unacceptable in rugby?

Some coaches will condone cheating because they know that it allows their team to win. Some coaches will condone pushing the laws to their limit because it allows their team to win. Some coaches will forgive referee’s mistakes when it benefits their side, because it allows their team to win.

Moralising about rugby is what the governing bodies do. Play safe, play fair is the message they are duty bound to tell us. And quite rightly so.

But in the reality of a league match, international fixture or a youth cup game, what coach is not going to find themselves in a moral dilemma about whether to bend the rules a little bit.

“If I don’t do it and the other team does, and we lose, what then?” is a well worn excuse. However, it has some validity.

The law of the game and the law of the rugby jungle work closely together. Though we don’t see too many pictures like that of Mike Tindall these days, plenty of players and coaches will tell you that stopping a player lying over the ball is tough in the modern game. A helping of “shoe pie” will remind a player not to be there next time.

The law of the rugby jungle is about tough love. Physical pain against the whistle of the referee. But this attitude will not make players stop transgressing in the future. Jungle law is about punishment after the problem, and does not make prevention an option. “I will continue to lie over the ball until I get thumped and then I will stop” won’t make for a better game.

It would be much better if players and coaches didn’t cheat in the first place. It is like a game of bluff in the bar after the game. Who is going to pull out of it first. The team that decides to be whiter than whiter will probably lose against the team that continues to cheat. Who is willing to take that risk?

Better Rugby Coaching

Sealing and bridging: profit and loss by David Clarke


Last week I posted the IRB reminders on the interpretation of the law about “bridging and sealing”. It is not explicitly stated in the law book but here are the rough definitions:


Bridging: forming a bridge with your legs or knees and hands or elbows over the ball.

Sealing: securing yourself to the tackled player, preventing the opposition grabbing the ball and if driven back, taking the tackled player and ball with you.


Since, in the spirit of the game, players are meant to stay on their feet, any attempt by players who are not on their feet to prevent the ball being contested is illegal.


Market forces have prevailed though. Coaches and players are always seeking ways to profit from the laws.

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Teams losing their feet over old law by David Clarke

Sealing and bridging is confirmed as illegal. This month referees were told to be more vigilant in the tackle contest area and lots of teams struggled.


This is mainly because of poor technique in the contact area. Players go off their feet because they are not balanced as they arrive and they tend to drive down and not up.


Here is that ruling again, plus a clip of a ruck drill.

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