With no referee, there is no game of rugby

Guinness Pro14 Rugby, Referee, Edinburgh Rugby, Scottish Rugby

Let’s talk referees. Seems to be a vogue topic. Well it certainly is for Richard Cockerill. And it always is for my fellow Radio Scotland analyst Peter Wright.

Guinness Pro14 Rugby, Referee, Edinburgh Rugby, Scottish Rugby

Marius Mitrea in action in the Guinness PRO14 match between Edinburgh and Zebre.
©INPHO/Craig Watson

The last four weeks there have been so many inaccurate decisions or non-decisions that it’s actually becoming a joke.”

The view of Cockerill after Edinburgh’s 16 – 15 victory over Zebre on Friday. Previously he has bemoaned decisions favouring the apparent “bigger team” and chastised the quality of refereeing across the Pro14. Deflecting focus from a string of poor Edinburgh performances? Perhaps, however he has admitted performances have been unacceptable during his interviews. But his vendetta on the Pro14 referees for their apparent vendetta towards Edinburgh is far more newsworthy.

Edinburgh’s plight is a position Richard Cockerill is not used to. He has come from two of the powerhouses of European rugby, Leicester Tigers and Toulon. So maybe adopting the José Mourinho “siege mentality” where highlighting that the entire world is against Edinburgh Rugby is how he thinks he will build that team unity needed to arrest the decline. He certainly needs to work hard on the areas he identified during his press conferences:

“”What we’re doing in the training week is a lot better, but at the moment the players when they’re under pressure don’t seem to be able to transfer that to the matches.”

Training must translate into performances at the weekend. During some recent work with Sandstone Communications we presented on the importance of recognising intelligence and ignoring useless information that negatively impacts decision-making. There is a lot of information in a game of rugby, and Edinburgh need to find the relevant intelligence to improve decision-making. Mental clarity, I think, will help reduce the indecisiveness and basic errors that plague Edinburgh.

A Referee Doesn’t Go Out to Have a Bad Game

A referee is an easy target, for fans, coaches and players. Especially when the going is tough. As a former player I know the frustrations, at times it felt like the referee had decided who was going to win the game before it even started. And it was never my team! When you think you are making progress at training during the week but it doesn’t materialise at game time it can be infuriating. You want immediate reasons why it hasn’t happened. Human nature looks for excuses, eyes wander and there is the referee.

One or two decisions against you and the sense of injustice mounts. Edinburgh will review their performances and the referees will do likewise. Both will also analyse their next match. For Edinburgh it is about looking for opportunity. Perceived refereeing weakness is one area to consider. Similarly referees will do their homework on what to expect at the weekend. Where might there be issues given the teams playing at the weekend? The aim for all is to get better. For players and coaches that is winning. For referees that is improving consistency and quality of decisions. All have a responsibility to entertain.

Referees have technical support, they have two assistant referees and must strive for improved consistency because an inconsistent referee is the most frustrating to deal with. Finally, one coach said to me after a game, “a referee has never missed a tackle or dropped the ball.” In fact, they have never collapsed a scrum either. Until the player’s and coaches play the perfect game maybe they should focus on that.


Images from Scotland’s number one rugby photographer, Craig Watson. For more images and info, check out his website:

Colin is a rugby analyst for BBC Scotland. You can listen to his thoughts on the first round of European rugby on Radio Scotland from 13:00 on Sunday 15th October.

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