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Number cruncher: which rugby refs need to pull up their socks at scrum time?

Ahead of the Heineken Cup kick-off, Andy McGeady digs out the stats on the new scrum laws.

Conor Murray: scrum-halves being watched closely by officials.
Conor Murray: scrum-halves being watched closely by officials.
Image: INPHO/Billy Stickland

Reproduced with permission from AndyMcGeady.com

THIS SEASON THE various European leagues had seen a joyful return to the delicate art of the scrum half feeding a ball straight but timed so that his hooker could get to it before his opponent. This wasn’t by choice, rather a change brought about by the year long IRB scrum trial of which the straight feed is a key part.

Over weeks six, seven and eight of the Top 14 league in France a very curious phenomenon took place. In those 21 matches, no referee awarded a single crooked feed in any of the 328 scrums that took place.

What happened in week 9? Be patient. We’ll get to that.

A Look at the Non-French Leagues

In a combined ten rounds of Premiership and Pro 12 play this season there have been none without a crooked feed. And each of those rounds has one fewer game than the fourteen-team Top 14.
The Premiership, five rounds in:
image

And the Pro 12:

image

The disappearance of the crooked feed offence from the charge sheets in France was therefore quite odd.

Comment from France

The Central Commission of Referees is the body in charge of refereeing in LNR rugby, which includes the Top 14. In a statement they said:

Nous sommes conscients de ces statistiques dues à la fois :
- à une amélioration des comportements des joueurs
- à une plus grande mansuétude des arbitres que nous avons re-sensibilisé sur le sujet

…roughly translated as…

We are aware of these statistics which are the result of :
- improvement of the players’ behaviour
- the referees are more lenient and we have made them aware of it again

This statement was received after the week 9 games had been played.

What Happened in Week 9?

In week 9 of the Top 14 from out from the gloom of leniency there had appeared eight crooked feeds in France.

Problem solved?

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Life is never so simple.
image

On the surface, a remarkable rebound to the early days of the season where a crooked feed was seen in at least every second game. Did the scrum halves have a bad directional weekend across the league? Had the French referees been given a rocket by their governing body?

Or was something else at work?

image
Ah.

6 of the 7 Referees in Top 14 Week 9 were from the Pro 12

In light of the previous three weeks of leniency it’s interesting that Jerome Garces was the only French referee involved in week nine of the Top 14. The remaining six were from the Pro 12 – Scots, Welsh, Irish and Italians to a man. Coincidence it might well have been, but it would be a mighty big one.

Impact on the Heineken Cup?

Heineken Cup players and coaches will head into this weekend’s games with officiating teams from different leagues

On the competition’s first evening Connacht (Pro 12) will face Saracens (Premiership) with the Top 14′s Pascal Gauzere in the middle. Similarly, Romain Poite will oversee Ulster and Leicester while on the other side of things Top 14 side Toulouse will face Zebre of the Pro 12 with Premiership ref Luke Pearce on the whistle

Top 14 scrum halves seemed to have an easy ride for a few weeks but they got a rude awakening last weekend

French referees, the microscope is upon you.

P.S. a special note for Premiership referee Andrew Small who, after taking charge of five matches in the 2013-14 season, still hasn’t found it necessary to penalise a crooked feed. This column can but presume that Mr. Small’s rumoured pre-match threat – anything deviating from ramrod straight will see an instant red card for that halfback, an immediate thirty point penalty for their team and a group ticket to see Mrs Browns Boys, The Movie (on repeat) – has had a broadly successful impact.

*possibly rumoured by this parish

Credit: All referee data courtesy of Opta

For more, check out AndyMcGeady.com and follow @andymcgeady on Twitter >

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About the author:

Andrew McGeady

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