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'I’d rather players concentrate on playing rugby' - Lancaster wants captain's challenge binned

Leinster senior coach Stuart Lancaster wants to see the captain’s challenge scrapped.

Leinster senior coach Stuart Lancaster.
Leinster senior coach Stuart Lancaster.

LEINSTER COACH STUART Lancaster wants the controversial captain’s challenge rule currently being trialled in the Rainbow Cup to be scrapped, following another weekend of fixtures marred by the amount of in-game stoppages and interventions.

Leinster’s Rainbow Cup defeat to Glasgow Warriors last Friday night was the latest in a series of games subject to multiple TMO checks and stoppages throughout the contest, resulting in another frustrating watch.

There are concerns the amount of in-game stoppages is damaging the quality of games, with the captain’s challenge only adding to the issue.

Leinster’s game in Glasgow was just one example last weekend – with the second half of the Rainbow Cup meeting of Cardiff Blues and Zebre on Saturday lasting 67 minutes.

And Lancaster says the first thing he would do to improve the game as a spectacle is remove some of the current rules being trialled in the Rainbow Cup.

“Get rid of the captain’s challenge,” Lancaster replied when asked how he’d go about improving the games.

“I remember I was at a World Rugby meeting with England in 2014 and I remember this captain’s challenge notion being brought up then, and I remember thinking to myself, ‘This is crazy, why would we want to go down this route as a sport?’

“Anyway, I didn’t hear any more of it and suddenly it’s reappeared. I just think with the advent of TMOs, captain’s challenges, and a couple of other things, I think, one, it has created a lot of dead time in the games. Probably more importantly, maybe because there are no fans there, it has created integrity challenges about the game I think, that I’m not comfortable with really.

And you know, I think it’s a distraction for the games. I think we should trust the officials to do the job. We all take the rough with the smooth don’t we? We know it’s a subjective game and it’s very hard to referee, you just let the referees get on with it. We don’t want a game where it’s over two hours, but it’s two hours from start to finish. If you take 40 minutes of the ball in play, which is good, a 10 minute half-time, that’s one hour 10 minutes of dead time – one hour 10 minutes where nothing is happening.

“It was a frustrating game (against Glasgow) to watch as a coach, it was a frustrating game to play in for players, equally I’m sure for you guys it was a frustrating game to watch from home. That would be my number one thing.” 

Lancaster was asked to expand on his concerns surrounding ‘integrity’ challenges.

“I’d like to see the players just concentrate on playing the game,” he continued.

“This isn’t levelled at anyone in particular. Generally what it’s created is a sort of ‘appealing’ mentality. As a consequence, there’s definitely some issues there which are not in the values of the game.

stuart-lancaster Stuart Lancaster during a Leinster training session. Source: Tom O'Hanlon/INPHO

“I’d rather players concentrate on playing rugby and (let) the officials do their job. It’s been very difficult for the officials to manage this, they’ve not, to my knowledge, voted for it. I think it’s been very difficult to manage. With no crowds as well, there is a lot of noise from the sidelines trying to create the energy in the groups.

“We need a bit of a retake when the season finishes and just get back to accepting decisions, not appealing for everything, and getting on with the job of playing rugby in a way that is exciting and fun to watch without so much dead time.”

Instead of bringing in new laws, Lancaster feels more of a focus could be placed on some of the existing issues in the game.

Personally I think that the tackle area is still the biggest one that we need to get right. In my mind, I know it’s very hard to referee when there’s so many moving parts to the game and so many grey areas. But if we concentrate on getting the tackler away and asking the question, ‘is the jackaler legal’, that should be the order of events for me.

“So I think doing that bit really well would solve a lot of the problems. So tackler out the back of the tackle and making sure that the assist tackler – is he legal, yeah – I think it would solve a lot of the sort of issues at the breakdown and the speed of ball becomes quicker.

“I don’t think that’s a change, I just think that’s a reinforcement. You see a lot of that refereed really well at the moment and if we can continue down that route then we’ll get a really good product.”

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Better, more consistent communication between referees and TMOs could also help, according to the former England head coach.

“Almost like there is actually communication on the go,” he explained, “rather than stopping the game – ‘Yeah, you need to go back and check that.’ Then he has to run to his camera and then he has to look at the camera and then they have to have a conversation and make the decision.

You are talking two or three minutes every time. I think we as players and coaches have to accept that they might not get everything spot on, but I would rather have the fluidity in the game where there is a constant narrative between the TMO and the referee.

“I have seen that done well in some games, some in England, I have seen them do that really well. Particularly when the relationship between referee and the TMO is built over time.

“That lessens the need for that constant ‘Right, can we just go back’ or the captain’s challenge, ‘Right, we just need to go back and check that’ or the referee goes ‘Do we need to check that?’

“Then we have to check it and run to the camera and five minutes is gone.” 

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About the author:

Ciarán Kennedy

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