01 October 2011

Who Referees the Referees?

Well, today's not been a good day on the sport front. I was at my cousins' for most of the day, stranded there with an unexpectedly immobilised bike -- a new inner tube is needed, it seems, and some fresh repair patches -- and took advantage of their telly to watch the Merseyside Derby, them all having gone off to the match themselves.

It was an ugly, nasty, messy match, wholly ruined by Jack Rodwell having been sent off less than halfway through the first half for having done something which was scarcely a foul at all, and hardly something that warranted a red card. After that Everton ceased the swarming advances that had already promised so much and committed themselves to a frantic defence, occasionally venturing a sketchy counter-attack. If we fouled after that, we did so in a panic. The game had been ruined.

And that, frankly, was the icing on a rather foul cake, as I'd already been disgusted that morning by England having cheated Scotland out of a place in the quarter finals of the Rugby World Cup. You remember the episode in the last minute of England's match against Argentina when an England player held back an Argentinian for just long enough for his attempt at a foot rush to be wasted, following a sustained Argentinian attack on the English line? 

As the commentator said: 
'Oh, he pulled him down it seemed... the officials are unmoved...every South American in this main stand wasn't... Argentina feel they should have had a penalty...'
Well, the referee and his henchmen didn't care, and England, having played in a deeply cynical way for the whole match, scraped a 13-9 win.

What rule was broken there? 10.4 (f) looks like the key one:
'Playing an opponent without the ball: Except in a scrum, ruck, or maul, a player who is not in possession of the ball must not hold, push, or obstruct an opponent not carrying the ball.'
The sanction for that's a penalty kick, of course, although 10.2 (a) comes into play if the offence is deemed to have prevented a try, and of course the referee can always caution and even send off players for such offences too.

That was a few weeks back, but today we saw exactly the same thing happen again, in more or less the same part of the pitch, with Chris Ashton likewise obstructing a foot-rush, and at a time when Scotland had numbers ready to come to support: Just listen to the commentator:
'Blair... to Parks.... Ford... finds Paterson. Scotland running through the hands easily with Danielli who chases his own kick. Was he obstructed? Beautifully taken, but picked up by De Luca, who couldn't take it cleanly... the ball was knocked on... so much to talk about. Awww.... was that the opportunity for Scotland to nail their try?'

Was he obstructed? Yes, he certainly was. Look at Ashton there, grabbing Danielli with both hands, his left hand on his shoulder, his right hand reaching around across his chest and with both neither leg supporting his weight on the ground as Danielli breaks free of him.

And was it Scotland's opportunity? It certainly looks that way. After all, look at how the Guardian described the event at the time:
'Was this Scotland's chance gone? Danielli chips and chases down the left, and so nearly latches onto the ball deep in the corner. He can't get to it, but de Luca is just behind him. All he has to do is pick the ball up, take two steps, and plonk the ball down for a try, but he lets the ball slip through his hands like a bar of soap, and the chance is gone. Oh my. You can't be passing up opportunities like that, especially when you play in a team who struggle to score tries.'
That's how close Scotland came to scoring there. And no, nobody bothered after the match bothered to talk about Ashton's obstruction, despite it having been a clear instance of such, and something that may well have thwarted a Scottish try. I guess there was too much else to discuss, and maybe it seemed mean-spirited to take the shine off Johnson's lumberers. And so England won 16-12, having for the second time in the tournament scraped a victory by four points, each time having managed their win after shamelessly and illegally obstructing an opposing player trying to foot-rush towards the goal line.

There was a time when English people would rather lose honourably than win through cheating. Sic transit gloria mundi...

(And in the meantime, I look forward very cautiously to tomorrow.  Should Ireland beat Italy? Yes. Will they? Who knows... given how this World Cup is going, it's entirely possibility that Italy will play out of their skins, hammer us in the scrum, panic us, and win a very ugly match. These things happen. Fingers crossed that they don't, so.)

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