Helped by video assistance for twenty years, equipped with a microphone for thirty years, well before their colleagues in other team sports, rugby referees have always been one step ahead. But that does not seem to be enough for the international body of the oval, World Rugby, which keeps putting the work back on the job. This year alone, the game directors have had to integrate five new rules or arrangements, two of which are still very far from being fully absorbed by the men at the whistle as by the players.
One is called 50/22. It allows a player to kick in touch from his camp, in the opposing 22 m, and to recover the throw-in if the ball rebounded before going out (before, it came back to the opposing team). Excellent in principle, since it is about promoting the attacking game, this innovation caused a wave of panic at the start of the season. “In the first match, we messed up despite the video, because we weren’t used to asking for a wider shot which would have shown us that a kick granted was invalid”, explains Laurent Cardona, Top 14 referee.
Player safety first
But it is above all a new tackle rule prohibiting a player from accompanying his teammate in his fall when falling on his opponent which gives headaches to the referees. “We must make a decision very quickly taking into account the danger, the intention, the influence of this fault on the rest of the game”, continues his colleague Cédric Marchat, who nevertheless welcomes these new rules: “It’s good to constantly adapt, it keeps us from rusting!” “
→ ANALYSIS. French rugby union dreams of a founding weekend
Well in his political role, the technical director of refereeing, Franck Maciello, reminds him that the priority of the authorities is to protect the sporting integrity of the players, in a physical context which has hardened a lot for twenty years. Formerly slender, the rears have lost nothing in speed, but weigh about twenty kilos more.As for the forwards, the “big ones” as they are nicknamed in rugby, they have retained their mass and gained in speed. “You don’t need to have completed an engineering school to understand that the weight-to-power ratio makes impacts much more dangerous”, explains one of the youngest Top14 referees, Thomas Charabas, 32 years old.
“Not always easy to follow”
Less tongue-in-cheek than his colleges, this super-graduate who reconciles his work as a professional referee and a post of emergency doctor in Bayonne, does not hide certain difficulties of adaptation in the first weeks. “Learning the new rules and understanding them isn’t the hard part. The difficulty is to apply them in a fraction of a second, in the letter but also with the intention of the player who erred.In the preparation camps where we trained among referees, we did not always agree between us on the decisions. “
Thomas Charabas is not at the end of his sentences because other adjustments, particularly concerning tackles, are underway in the bodies of this constantly evolving sport. Which has changed its rules more than a hundred times, since the first codification of rugby in 1846.