Let’s help fourth officials stamp out thugs

John Inverdale
ON Friday evening the great Welsh scrum-half Clive Rowlands was speaking at a dinner in Cardiff on the eve of the Wales v New Zealand Test, remembering his part in changing the laws of rugby union. In 1963, he had almost singlehandedly been responsible for perhaps the most remarkable statistic in the history of the sport, when by repeatedly kicking the ball out of play he ensured there were 111 (you haven’t misread that: one hundred and eleven) line-outs in a Scotland-Wales match. Dull or what? They had to change things and they duly did.

Less than 24 hours after the dinner, something happened in the Millennium Stadium that we can all only hope will force a similar re-think about the role of officials in the sport. New Zealand hooker Andrew Hore punched Wales’s Bradley Davies from behind and knocked him out. It was an assault. Pure and simple. If it happened to you in the street, the perpetrator would end up behind bars. Through no fault of anyone, none of the three officials on the pitch saw the incident. It was clear, however, to the crowd that Davies hadn’t been struck by a passing meteorite, if only because the roof was closed. Someone must have hit him. And on television, we knew within seconds who it was. So why in situations like that is the fourth official not called into action?

Referee: “Did you see what happened? Was he struck by a passing meteorite or did he get punched?”

Fourth official: “He was punched by New Zealand’s No2 in a totally unprovoked attack.”

Referee: “Should I send him off?”

Fourth official: “Unequivocally.”

Brief and to the point. Early bath. New Zealand down to 14. A game-changing decision. And a sport-changing decision. Don’t think you can hit people and worry if the citing officer might catch up with you later. You take the rap there and then, your team suffers accordingly, and you still get banned for a long time.

New Zealand play with a flair and a vitality even magnificent French sides of the past would envy. But there lies within a cynicism that betrays that greatness. If rugby’s game-makers act quickly though, Hore’s despicable conduct may have done rugby a favour. Give the fourth official more power to combat thugs, and immediate retribution against the players that betray the game will in the end mean a better sport for all.