Six Nations diary, weekend four – amazingly, worse than the last last week.
After last weekend’s Craig Joubert Clown show for the England France debacle, I came into this weekend with some renewed optimism – surely the six Nations company would have gotten their act together and spoken to their referees about the bizarre and inexplicable decisions they were making? It turns out I was wrong. We were all treated to more of the same and with the same contempt – certain teams (the big rugby markets) being favoured, and certain teams being punished/unfairly treated. In many ways, it was worse than last week, as this time the TMO’s wanted a piece of the comedy action in the Ireland France match.
Let me once again acknowledge that referees have a hard job, and say that I couldn’t do it. They control a game with millions watching, and they are only human and under alot of pressure. They are bound to make mistakes from time to time; such is the nature of humanity and sport – that’s why they get an easy ride most of the time and rightly so. But when does it all become too much? When do co-incidences and calamities become more than just plain old human incompetence? Again and again we the PAYING fans (whether by buying tickets, or paying your licence fee), have to accept that some teams are not getting a fair roll of the dice, and that we have make do with unfair contests. And it has become so commonplace no one is talking about it. It is happening too much now for it to be simply poor refereeing. It is not poor refereeing. It is beyond that. Understandably, you won’t hear the TV pundits attack referees for two very simple reasons – One – they can’t attack the very foundation of their product that cost them a fortune because –Two – the next time the coverage contracts are being negotiated they’ll be left out in the dark by the powers who own this competition. But the faces of the BBC lads on Saturday after the Scotland /Wales game said enough. They can see it, just like you and I can see it.
The dream tie of Wales v England for the title decider has now been set up, and Six Nations Rugby Ltd, Company number 358420, 2nd Floor, Dolmen House, 4 Earlsfort Terrace Dublin 2, must be be having a hard time believing their luck. The tournament will now have many millions of extra viewers worldwide with a meaningful showdown for the title now a reality. Indeed all of us rugby fans are no doubt looking forward to it. But does the ends justify the means? Let’s take a look at this weekend’s games, and how things got to this point.
Scotland V Wales Round one of a three part Comedy Classic – Act one – I expect you to die of Boredom Mister Bond
Craig ‘Blow-veld’ Joubert might be the funniest guy you don’t know. He could be laughing his head off at home with a white fluffy cat in one arm and a glass of Brandy in the other, wondering how he keeps getting away with refereeing games Stevie-wonder style. The World cup final, Wales v France last year, England v France, and now this game (and there have been others). After our widely-read report on him and his ‘performance’ against France two weeks ago, the Six Nations company had Youtube close down the Youtube account of the user whose match video we used to illustrate Joubert’s carry-on. The article is still there, but the videos are gone. If you have the game recorded though, you can still follow the match clock times. This week, for Craig Joubert’s latest trick, he managed to yet again destroy any semblance of entertaining rugby for the paying public.
This game set an official record for the most penalties ever attempted in an international match. That’s official by the way; I’m not making it up – it is a cold hard fact. Joubert whistled everything – watch the game back for all the scrum penalties (which were a lottery). For most of them, the ball was at the base of the scrum and he could at least have called advantage and let things play out. But he didn’t want that. He systematically went about dismantling any chance of Wales cutting loose and getting into a rhythm. He stopped them playing and he stopped Scotland playing. Wales were by far the better side on the day but could only win by ten points in the end. Enough to set up the theoretical title decider against England the following week but realistically, with England due to rack up the points against Italy, the title still looked like it would go to the largest and most lucrative Six Nations market – England. We won’t dwell too much on this game – we’ve said enough about Craig Joubert last week, and it’s up to you now to watch which home unions give him games in the future. He’s is totally unsuited to rugby refereeing in his current form. Yet we guarantee you he will shag up more games in future because he serves a rare purpose (and i’m not talking about Flipper).
Ireland v France – Act two, the hilarious fantastical adventures of Steve Walsh
The debacle continued right into Saturday night. You know where we’re going to first – the TMO (Nigel Whitehouse)/Stevie Walsh non-decision. Keith Earls, Louis Picamoles, & Debaty are all sprinting after the ball in a race to the try line and there’s only one man winning – Keith Earls. Debaty knows this, and who can blame him for giving Earls a shove – had Ireland scored, the game was effectively over, and he knew Earls was going to get there. We saw the slow motion so many times, there was no doubt in our minds whether it was a penalty – the only question was whether or not it would be a penalty try or a simple penalty due to the fact Earls was perhaps not certain to have scored had Debaty not fouled him. ‘Penalite!’ said the French gents in front of us in the pub…. ‘bat nat a pen-al-ee-tay try hawheehaw heehaw’‘,we all cheered, having great fun.
Then the decision came and the whole pub of a few hundred went silent. Genuinely no one could believe the decision that a 22 drop out was given. It beggared belief. A few hundred pissheads in a pub can see it’s at least a penalty, so how can the TMO Nigel Whitehouse and Steve Walsh, professionals, not see the blatantly obvious and act accordingly together to arrive at the correct decision? In fairness to Whitehouse, I think it was Walsh who dismissed him for no good reason.
This is the reality of what I’m talking about when I say certain interests are ruining the game of rugby. I spoke two weeks ago about the effect Joubert’s reffing had on the people where I watched the England v France game. People were sitting there, some laughing their heads off at the screen, and some shouting, when he penalized France when Ashton was holding on in the French 22. It was that final decision that made me spend hours on that video dissection of that game. He SIMPLY could not have been mistaken.The game has become farce, especially with him refereeing.
The French guys were all shaking their head after the Steve Walsh NON-decision on Saturday (and there were lots of disillusioned Frenchies), doing that bottom lip-sticking-out headshake that French people do so well. French TV pundits (pundeets?) all agreed it was a penalty for Ireland. L’Equipe said it was a penalty for Ireland (our forum guys on the ground in France tell us). EVERYONE, bar the referee and the TMO said it was penalty Ireland.
Now cast your mind back to England v France, and the wholesale violation of French rugby by Craig Joubert. There was outrage France-wide about his performance, in some papers and on all of their forums. This site alone had thousands of French reads of our article on the game. So is it then a coincidence that the other most lucrative rugby market for the Six Nations got some bizarre calls in their favour the week after they were taken to the cleaners by Craig Joubert? This is not a conspiracy theory folks – this is a simple search for cause-and-effect. Why would a professional referee and a TMO not give a decision that the dogs in the street could see was there to be made (Earls v Debaty), and that there was no ambiguity about? This could not have been incompetence – there were no fuzzy camera-angles – it was plain as day what had happened. So after the largest rugby market (England) had a win handed to them by Craig Joubert two weeks ago, the second most lucrative market had some bizarre decisions go in their favour this week? Quel surprise! (especially after Joubert was even publicly criticised by the now-certifiable Phillippe Saint Andre). France have had a whole lot taken from them by Joubert, and Steve Walsh gave them a tiny bit back this week. Hmm, how nice. But I loved it that even the French guys in the pub were shaking their heads when they got the decision. They could smell it.
That decision kept France in the game after Louis Picamoles was given a try that was illegal to draw the game. Picamoles hit the deck, made a double movement, and Walsh put his hands up for a try. No TMO, no replay. But the French media didn’t think it was a try either.
And if you need any more reasons to question what the hell is going on, you only have to look at the official video on the RBS Six nations Youtube channel (remember, they’re actively doing some Goeballs-like censoring of all other fan videos and other ‘copyright infringements’ showing bits of the games.
The farce continues unabated.
England v Italy – Act three – ‘Was that an Italian knock on? No? I’m still going to give a blue knock on.’
Italy weathered the English storm here with a gutsy defensive display and came within a whisker of drawing the game, if not winning it. Italy were widely written off pre-game, and the handicap was around 26 points across the board. George Clancy was yet again reffing a big English home game at HQ, and most people expected things to go smoothly for England.
Looking back at the score of the England v France game and then this game, you’d wonder if two different teams were wearing England shirts. How could England beat a France team that were doing so well, make them lose their heads, dominate the penalty count, and then not manage to turn over an ordinary enough Italy side without having scare after scare in the final 15 minutes? How indeed Mr. Joubert.
Moving on, there were two hometown decisions in this game that kept the final lucrative big selling weekend showdown alive for the Six Nations company by ensuring an English win.
Towards the end of the first half Italy were surprisingly right in this game. Parisse made a break down the right hand side, thanks to a pass of spectacular beauty and deceit, and Clancy called a knock on when Italy were gong to recycle the ball with a realistic chance of a try coming. Clancy got a word from Nigel Owens and went over and asked him if there was indeed an Italy knock on. Owens said ‘I saw no knock on by blue; it was a white hand in there, definitely no knock on by blue’. Clancy said, ‘well, I’m going to still go with a blue knock on’.
So let’s examine that. He asked his touch judge Owens what happened, he then overrules Nigel Owens (the best referee in the world by a country mile) and says he’s going to give the knock on against Italy anyway. The very least Italy should have got was an attacking scrum on the England five metre line as Clancy was in error, but instead he gave England a way out and they went in at half time well ahead. Truly shocking stuff that doesn’t need any more embellishment.
For the remainder of the game Italy looked like drawing this game despite the fact their scrum was mullering England’s for the entire second half and Clancy gave them only one scrum penalty.
There was one further key moment that kept the England win on the right track. Italy had just scored a try and were by far the better team, and the score was a tantalizing 15-11 to England. This wasn’t in the script at all. So, on 60 minutes and 30 seconds on the match clock (you won’t see any of this stuff on the ‘highlights’), the Italian number 18 Cittadini tackles Tom Youngs just outside his 22. He then rolls to the right, about a metre from the ruck, FAR away from the the ruck ball, into Dan Cole’s leg. He has rolled but he can go no further, and he is not affecting play in any way. Yet Clancy, after he rolls away, shouts ‘Roll away, Advantage!’ England get the penalty, and the gap is back to seven points, and the potential for an Italian win is gone. Watch it back yourself on the numerous replays on Setanta and other channels during the week, it’s very clearly wrong. The bizarre discussion with Owens in the first half, the non-decisions for the Italian scrum in the second half and that penalty on 60 minutes 30 seconds that snuffed out Italian hopes of a win. The decision was wrong – another wrong and hasty decision at another crucial time in a game for a big side.
This clown show continued right through all three of the weekend’s games. Now that the six Nations company have the beautiful marquee fixture next week (all those weird decisions seem to have worked out so nicely for them, they should probably buy some lotto tickets) I’d imagine it will all return to normal next week, as no more luck will be necessary. And then most of the rugby watching world will forget the puppet show pantomime the Six Nations has become, and we’ll do it all over again next year, and the year after that, and the year after that.
It happened in the Heineken cup this year too. When the biggest market (England) threatened to pull out and go with the BT cup, we managed to get three teams into the quarters for the first time in years. Try and get the highlights of Pascale Gauzere refereeing Munster v Saracens if you need any more info – Munster were taken to the cleaners by him all game (in fairness, we expected it to happen), Sarries were marched up the field in the final three minutes with two shocker penalties to get a bonus point. Crisis averted, three teams in the quarters, no one is talking about leaving the Heineken cup now are they? The big money gravy train rolls on. Watch Keith Earls get wrongly penalised here, and then watch Gauzere say ‘It’s a maul’, and immediately give a Saracens penalty when it had collapsed before he had called maul. This had gone on for the previous 75 minutes but Gauzere had to award these late and crazy penalties after ‘the man who doesn’t miss’ Owen Farrel had missed six + penalties. This bullshit we’re talking about here doesn’t just happen in the Six nations you know! Anyway, it all ended lovely; the richest club in English rugby secured a losing bonus point from the ensuing kick at goal, and they have a home quarter final now as a result of it. The BT what?
Will the farce ever stop?
So what can we do? Nothing really, unless you’re like the people who laughed their heads off during the England/France game – sometime rugby watchers who really think it’s one big sham and won’t bring their kids into the game. Personally I once again feel sorry for the thousands who paid so much money to watch these games (my heart really goes out to Welsh and Scottish fans who had to sit through that tripe with Joubert). But it also goes out to Keith Earls, the ballsy Italians, all of the professional players who dedicate their lives to get a fair crack of the whip, the backroom staffs, the managers, the caterers etc. who all work towards one goal – helping their team to compete and win, only to have it all count for nothing when clear agendas are at work making a mockery of the notion of a fair game, with rules being blatantly ignored.
They (who? I don’t know) surely have to start putting some changes in place at this point, and let’s start talking about referee appointments and who exactly chooses them for which games- if I saw any effort I would start to regain some notion that rugby is no longer only about making money at the expense of fairness, transparency, and honesty. Let’s make the TMO question one questions – “I’m not sure, tell me what happened”. When a linesman is consulted, the ref should have to accept their opinion if they have one. Right now, i’m just about sick of the week in-week out farce, and i’m definitely not the only one.
What you have across the board now is a multi billion euro rugby ‘industry’, with widespread bias, that for the most part will somehow (luck…) get the results it needs to keep making as much money as possible and enhance it’s own prestige in the short term. People are not stupid, and they can all see what is going on. Perhaps the most telling remark was from a football-fan friend who I called on Sunday for a pint to watch the England game. His joking response? “Sure that’s all fixed isn’t it?”.
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