Is it time for a roboref in rugby?

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It’s week 2 of super rugby and we’ve already seen a number of referee inconsistencies that have had a significant impact on results. It’s time we relook at our approach to refereeing in the game of rugby.

For me, there is nothing more irritating than a ref that has too great an impact on the game.

This is when I start to throw things.

The way I see it; referees are supporting actors who are employed to ensure that the rules are followed and that, wherever possible, the Oscar goes to the game of rugby. Oftentimes, refs think that because they have a whistle and wear neon coloured outfits – they are traffic cops and as such, are the most important people on the planet.

The reality is that ref can play a massive role in games – and sometimes even tournaments – and have they. I mean, who can forget Bryce Lawrence’s career limiting performance between the Springboks and the Aussies at the 2011 Rugby World Cup? Or Craig Joubert at the 2015 instalment? Or Romain Poite sending Bismarck to the naughty corner for walloping Dan Carter good and proper (and legally)?

I digress.

The main problem with referees for me is the fact that due to the vast nuances and the velocity of the game – too often there is too much room interpretation. Far too much subjectivity.

Too much humanity if you will.

Image credit: onEdition

To illustrate my point, this weekend – there were three incidents that were all similar in malice but had different results.

The first was the Scott Higginbotham incident – contact with the shoulder to the head – straight red card. Then there was Julian Montoya who went flying into a ruck, armless, and connected Kwagga Smith on the “neck/head area”. This time, yellow card. There was another incident when the Bulls’ Pierre Schoeman was pinged for a swinging arm to the Hurricanes player’s head – yellow card.

What I am getting at is that all three of the above incidents involved dirty play and the head/neck area but due to the interpretation of the ref and the TMO – they received leniency.

Would red cards (as opposed to yellow) have changed the complexion of the Lions/Bulls game? You betcha! At least in the case of the Bulls and the Lions games.

Rugby needs to move away from the archaic principle where there is a single “man in charge”. While we have taken strides in the right direction (calling touch judges ‘assistant referees’ and giving the TMO more power) – we are FAR behind world leading sports like the NFL.

In the NFL, there are 6 refs on the field at a time – each with their own area of focus, a head referee to to make the final call, and even a review booth which referees can use to review decisions when required to. The head ref even talks to the crowd – relaying calls.

That’s one way to go.

Another way would be to do something radical and get rid of on field referees all together.

Why do we need human intervention?

Sure there is something traditional about having a referee but at the end of the day, as long as the stadium allows for it, you could have a panel of refs reviewing the game from a favourable vantage point and making calls by forum – from the bleachers.

Or what about a computer that uses machine learning, artificial intelligence and the most advanced technology in synthetic robot skin to look, sound and perform like Steven Walsh? That’d be a treat.

Ok, while I’ll admit that rugby is not known for it’s pioneering spirit and the above paragraph might not ever work – you see where I am going with this? Rugby needs to evolve to keep it’s audience and one of the places we should focus on is our referees.

What’s your thoughts? Am I on to something? Do you know someone who can knock together a robotic referee and teach them the rules of the game? Good, pop us a comment below or a tweet @leftbacks and let us know!

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