Decisions, decisions
Rowly Williams,
March 7, 2012
Referee Dave Pearson and Ireland coach Declan Kidney, France v Ireland, Six Nations, Stade de France, Paris, France, February 11, 2012
Dave Pearson took the decision to postpone France-Ireland © PA Photos

Into the penultimate weekend of the Six Nations we go. It has been a slightly fractured tournament, with France's initial clash against Ireland postponed in what many said were controversial circumstances.

In truth, the only controversy was the scheduling of the match at a time of year when weather conditions had been deteriorating daily. Referee Dave Pearson did what any right-minded official would have done when faced with an unsafe playing surface, he said "sorry folks, adjourn to the bar". The fact it was a Test match and not a level 5 local derby mattered not. Pearson had nothing but player welfare at the heart of his 'match off' decision.

Later in the Championship, Steve Walsh popped into Twickenham to handle several hundred years of animosity, also known as England v Wales, and did so with (what many commentators felt), aplomb. Did the C word raise its head again? Well, briefly and only then depending which side of the controversy coin you came down on. England's last-gasp effort to score in the corner came down to a TMO decision which, after several views, gave the old Colosseum 'thumbs down' for David Strettle's attempt.

Several blurred, fuzzy and out of focus stills have been produced since the non-try, with suggestions and claims that a try was nearly, definitely, possibly scored, but when all is said and done, Iain Rammage's decision of 'inconclusive' was the only plausible call. A ball rolling from the palm and leaning against an outstretched hand is hardly 'holding' the ball when grounding, is it?

If the watching spectator, or TV audience, chose to, they could find what they might consider a controversial moment or two among any of the matches and cry foul, but of course referees have the bigger picture to look at, and it's a question of judging what is material in the context of the match, and was is not.

The cries that erupt from a stand as an attacking player perhaps mistimes a run, or by design finishes ahead of the ball with the pass then going to the next player, suggests a referee should whistle immediately, but the fact is that if that player is not material to that passage of play then why bother stopping it? The player has had no effect on the match, what the opposition does next, or committed some other material offence. If he does do any of those, then yes stop play and penalise, otherwise let the players play. At those ticket prices it's what the spectator wants.

Deciding not to whistle and make a decision is a decision in itself of course. Think about that for a second will you, because referees make this mental call to themselves multiple times in a match every week. It's why matches aren't littered with 50 penalties plus, why there is more than 15-20 minutes of 'ball in play' every week and why those decisions not to make a substantive call, allows referees to concentrate on getting the 'big ones' right.

It goes without saying that even then there'll be some mistakes and a few missed calls, but by and large the accuracy levels of the officials during the tournament have thus far exceeded any errors made. I've steered away from referee stats this time around because, while an important gauge as to how teams are playing and how often a referee needs to intercede in play, it's important to recognise they consider their more important role to be knowing when not to. Now that's a really good decision.

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