18 JANUARY 1957, Page 11

Refereeing Rugger

By OLIVER EDWARDS ILI E. must see that the opposing players do their inbest to retire ten yards from the mark, that the kicker's side are behind the ball when it is kicked, that the kick is taken on the line through the mark, and that the ball travels five yards in a direction towards the opponents' goal line (or up to the kicker's goal line, if the kick is taken behind it) t before being played by the kicker's side. In addition, the whole intention is that the kicker's side should take the kick as quickly as possible, and thus gain all the advantage sur- prise tactics can give.' So the referee of the rugby game—to gloss that passage from this wise and lively little book*—must be able to hold within his field of vision about twenty men (in a dozen different locations, some probably behind his back), realise what they are doing or not doing, know some of the intents in some of their minds, observe a barely visible spot and a wholly in- visible line, measure two stated distances at one glance—and all this in a moment of time. It can't be done. But many try it, and some get near to Perfection. Sit high in the stand and count how many mistakes you can be sure a good referee has made. Remember, though you may see something he doesn't, he certainly sees things You don't, and what he sees may be outdating what you saw. He has the eyes of Argus and the heels of his murderer Mercury, the prophetic faculty of Cassandra, the wisdom of Nestor, the impartiality of Rhadamanthus, the authority of Jove. He can be seen, and now and then heard; but corporeally he is a ghost, setting thirty men an example by never obstructing one of them. He has been prompted to take on the job not only by what His Grace of Canterbury calls 'the sheer love of power' (or pleasure of ordering other People about) but also by the fascination of what's difficult. In theory, the referee, already in his early middle years maybe, turns in his tracks to keep pace eighty yards at a stretch with the fleetest threequarter flat out. He can't, but he does. Cerium quia impossibile. Iffunoglich ises, drum eben glaubenswert.'

It's done by flair, instinct, experience, fore- knowledge of how the average player will react, and an awareness that the best players are not average. Add to this a mastery of a complicated legal system, for the referee May not, like learned luminaries in another place, put off his ruling till next week while he consults the odcles. Now Or never (with due salute to the Advantage Law). The split-second decisions he has had to take himself when a player have become the habit of his mind. His job reflects a code that has enrap- tured the>, great ones of the past—those born to the purple, a Bush, a Wakefield, a Stephenson— and, below them and their peers, a whole range of lesser talents, down to the laggard dreamer. Perpetually impelled to seek What he shall never * Tiii ART OF REFERCLINU. Edited by H. F. Ellis and illustrated by Fougasse. (Rugby Football Union, 2s, 6d.t find—his anti-self, the man of deeds he isn't and cannot be; not but what the game may help even the likes of him to find a quick way through a gap. Soccer, to make the comparison (now I'm in for it), denying as it does to grown men any worthy employment of their arms, must be con- tent, for all its twinkling head- and foot-work, to be to rugby as whist to bridge, auction to con- tract, draughts to chess, water to wine.

One solution to the rugby referee's big prob- lem—this a priori impracticability of his task— might of course, as Fougasse seems to be sug- gesting in his illustration on page fifty-six, be to appoint a second referee who would keep up with play in a helicopter, his ground colleague conferring with him the while by walkie-talkie. On the whole I would deprecate this. Soon or later the heti would be bound to crash on a set scrummage, and (although the backs could readily provide a seven-a-side game in substitution) the Twickenham turf is just too valuable to expose to such a risk. The eruptions of Fougasse are generous in number and charming throughout. His drawings swarm with the beetle-headed morons you never meet on any rugby field.

A delightful thing about rugby is that, like everything else, it is always going to the devil, always on its last legs, in most urgent need of reform, giving much sad occasion for heavy knit- ting of the brow. Things were so much better in the old days. The burthen of this booklet, apart from its natty elucidations of the referee's fate and function, is that the Laws contain but a modicum of regulation and leave lots of scope to the imaginations of those unacknowledged legislators the players themselves. The players, almost without knowing it, confect additional little rules of their own, unwritten, and not always sensible or necessary. Some of these are simply bad habits. Thus the pedantry,. seldom departed from, by which the placer's job devolves on an overworked scrum-half instead of one Of the gentlemen of leisure (as they too often are) on the wings. The indiscreet drop-out is treated 'mercifully instead of as a courteous invitation to goal-kick practice. And the time lost over line- Outs (or lines-out, as the best writers write but I hope never say), the dilatoriness with which they are staged! Too many of them are treated solemnly as a set piece. Surely there is room to insert 'without delay' somewhere in . Law 27. The temptation to 'give the forwards a breather' is so great (as usual the prescient Shakespeare has said the last word : In sequent toil all forwards do contend), even though you're giving the enemy a breather too. More 'surprise tactics' wanted here. The referee might perhaps help by brandishing the Law against time-wasting, but one sees his diffi- culty. More quick throw-ins then, by anyone, not necessarily a wing-three. Let the full-back field and throw to a three, say. This book stresses that the minimum number of players constituting a line-out is nought. I'm still not convinced that something might not be done legislatively to get the Advantage Law to apply to the uninten- tionally bad throw-in. It's the referee's job to judge of intention, and the deliberately faulty throw-in would con- tinue to incur a penalty, as it does now. (We used to sling it one-handed plumb slap to any- one we pleased with- in the width of the field, but these young men, with their two- handed lobs the sport of the wind, giving the opposition all the time in the world, are degenerate, aren't they, Dai?') Someone has declared that exciting and vigorous outdoor games are a jealous invention of the old to keep the thoughts of the young away from sex, and some continental Europeans will have it that our rulers here cunningly foster sports and games to deflect our attention from politics and the things that really matter. How- ever that may be, and whether or not certain rulers elsewhere have learnt a trick or two from ours, competitive games can serve to sublimate something of tribal and national antagonisms, and even the most ill-tempered and violent of these clashes are less destructive than the wars they symbolise and may eventually replace. I long to see a rugby match between Egypt and Israel; it might be played perhaps on the Gaza strip—with an Indian referee, Mr. Nehru style—for the cham- pionship of the Semitic League. I put my money on Israel in advance.

The present situation in these islands may well foreshadow the world picture of times to come. Having ceased, or nearly, to oppose one another by military force, our tribes (disguised as counties, towns and provinces), and our quartet of contrasted nations, fight it out on the field of sport. The case of rugby in the four home countries is of some sociological interest.

The English have never recovered from the Norman conquest. They carry a pattern of class distinctions in the marrow of their bones. With certain local and other variations, rugby is U and soccer non-U.. A great pail of England's vast population is therefore out of the reckoning for the rugby union game, and that means that each of the other three nations is, or might be, numeri- cally more of a match for her.

But, so far as rugby-playing goes, Ireland and Scotland tend (repeat, tend) to copv England in that aspect of her social structure. Ireland, still helped by a legacy of ampler feeding in the Forties (remember those Dublin meals?), con- tinues to put up a good show. She can pick a strong national team from a relatively small number of first-class players. Curious that in this, where the advantage of unity is quite obvious, the Irish are united. Their rugby transcends politics and the technicalities of passports, flags and anthems. Any proposal to split Irith rugby would be laughed out of court by Lord Brooke- borough and ex-Blackrock-threequarter Dev in mellow unison. Poor old soccer, like trade, fol- lows the flag and suffers accordingly.

But Scotland, for all that she now has the beating of France, is feeling the strain. The best and fundamental cure for the troubles of Scottish rugby might well lie in a systematic attempt to broaden its social basis, link it more thoroughly with the enthusiasm and passion of the nation at large, spread it still more, if it can be done, among men from the limb-developing, shoulder- building occupations and industries. It's no reflec- tion on good players of today to hazard that still better ones may grow tomorrow.

Wales is the model—except for her little- utilised north : her limitation in rugby is terri- torial, not social. Wales has the classless society that Russia is toiling all her life to find. (Russia's revolution—poor old girl—was soon caught on the wrong foot : before and since, it has been difficult for her to produce any human types but serfs, czars and secret police.) Wales can call, in principle, on all her sons, including the extra strong, from mines, docks, heavy steelworks. And no participation in top rugby without brains as well ('Use your bloody 'ead, mun').

How brilliantly variegated the styles of play of these five nations at their best—leaving aside the prowess of the Commonwealth countries overseas. The iridescence of the scene gives a hope that the world itself, when it becomes One World, may not after all sink into utter uni- formity. The English solid and accomplished, calculating, in a good sense; not always pressing home a winning advantage. The French mettle- some, excitable, especially near the line, even if gradually learning the wisdom of control. The Irish tough, fiery—fiercer as you go west ('Give them the garryowen, boys')—but with marked local differences : Leinster, for instance, inclining to the suaver English type—it's the Pale after all. The Irish are, in any case, for reasons of national temperament, the least predictable. A famous half-back, missing before an international at Cardiff Arms Park, was found in the nick of time fast asleep in the bus that had brought the team to the ground. He woke up, and played a blinder. A star forward turned up for an international match with a total of one stud on his two boots. The other nations? The Scots hard, rugged, a shade unimaginative perhaps, but with a full com- plement of studs. The Welsh, a spark, a touch of genius, risk, fling-it-around; fiery too. England- Ireland makes a good match. Ireland-Wales less good : they're too alike.

I have wandered from The Art of Refereeing, got 'marooned on the touchline,' as this darling book warns us not to. Just one tip now to add to the store of advice it offers to the up-and-coming referee. Once your fortieth season is past ('Couldn't very well start the game till my teens, could I, Dai boy; Cardiff High hadn't gone over to rugger in.my day'), try a handful of washing- soda in the postludial bath. It helps.