One of the most important things in rugby is respecting the referee, its always been the one thing that separates rugby from so many other sports. One of the first introductions into rugby is you never argue with the ref and call him 'sir'.
While watching football you will see players surrounding the officials trying to influence them, continuous protests from players, supporters and even coaching staff in rife in the game and unfortunately is now accepted.
In rugby only the captain and player involved in infringement are allowed to speak to the referee and generally only the captain is allowed to approach the referee and ask any questions.
In my opinion this is what makes the game of rugby so great, it teaches discipline and respect. Whether you're playing mini or top flight rugby the attitude from players should always be shown in the same context. As the professionals display this discipline it also aids the young contenders follow replicate their heroes behaviour, aspirational behaviour is educational behaviour, players must lead by example.
Sergio Parisse to his detriment has recently discovered that verbally abusing a match official certainly is not a wise move, now serving a 30 day ban after carrying out that action. A harsh lesson to learn but also a strong message to send out, this will not be tolerated in the game. Parisse has by far been the strongest player in the Italian team through the first couple of fixtures of the six nations, but now that force and leadership has been removed from the Azzuri. The strength of the punishment is demonstrated in the fact his banning period is longer than Cian Healy who was handed a three week suspension for an attempted stamp on the ankle of Dan Cole in the Ireland v England fixture. Evidence of respect the man in the middle!
Over the last few seasons refereeing decisions are starting to become more scrutinised and a referees performance is becoming as important as the teams playing the game itself. Fans now know as much about the officials as they do about the teams, their preferences on penalising scrums, playing advantages and many are even picked by supporters for favouritism or opposing a team. So why have we gone from accepting the word of the referee to questioning him and almost doubting his credentials to officiate a game, what has changed and is is it possible for it to return to the "good old days"?
The RFU appear to feel that there is an issue with this due to the action earlier this season against Richard Cockerill and Conor O'Shea for post match comments regarding the officials performances. Both have been issued a letter of warning stating they will have to curb their comments or face disciplinary actions for bringing the game into disrepute. A bold move by the RFU and for many a possible welcome step, an attempt to reinforce the respect of the referee is an attempt to draw back the original ethos of the game.
There are many points of view for contradicting the officials calls and why they are so heavily scrutinised, the list of judges is ever growing ranging from fans, players, coaches and television pundits. Many have suggested that the power of recent years has been diminished from the referee as the IRB have become so stringent with their laws, yes the laws are there to improve the game but the referees interpretation of those laws is waining. Citing committees and the TMO have become much stronger and are there to aid referees but also highlight decisions missed or errors made by the officials, to a point that the referee could become slightly isolated and gain their self a reputation for making poor decisions.
For the reversal of the argument do the referees at times do their self any favours? Recent fixtures have highlighted that some officials seem to be being influenced by the crowd. The crowds are becoming more vocal towards the officials in shouts of 'forward' or the one I personally hate 'off off off', and sadly it appears they are taking note and listening to the crowd and administering sanctions reliant on the chants.
Understandably to walk out in places such as Welford Road, Kingsholm, Adams Park etc must be a very intimidating experience, but to be a top flight referee surely you are expected to be able to ignore such pressure? If they succumb to such pressure that truly states they are not doing a professional job and this failing should be highlighted, therefore they should become fairly scrutinised and face their own sanctions? In a possible melodramatic sense if somebody is under performing in their job how long will they stay in that position?
Unfortunately we have witnessed a few decisions of late that can draw upon the argument that a refereeing reshuffle may be needed? A TMO decision handing a penalty try in which some may consider as harsh and a potential covering tackle may of come in if a trip had not occurred. An inexperienced official who unfortunately didn't seem to have a grasp on scrummaging and repeatedly penalised the team moving forward intact almost seeming quite hapless through the majority of the fixture. We also witnessed a harsh yellow for not retreating 10 at a tap and go even with no warning? Yes it is fair to say everybody has an off day but some errors seem basic fundamentals of the game yet error and judgement still go amiss.
A large concern for many comes with the youth rugby, with the game becoming more and more popular the young players look for inspiration from their elders. With general attitudes towards the referees children will learn and take this on board, and continual disregards of the officials decisions how much respect will be left by the time they hit adult rugby? An eight year old watching now in ten years time what will be the evolutional passage? I've noticed of late how the feeding of scrums has filtered down from the professional game down into junior rugby, so showing that youth mimics their idols. If the future of rugby players or supporters see that the Referee is not respected by likewise players or supporters could we eventually lose the one thing that still makes rugby the gentleman's sport we know and love?