After an agonising last minute defeat the coach turned up to the press conference and seemingly questioned the integrity of the officials and, using a laptop, pointed out to the assembled media the specific mistakes made by the referee. Which football manager was this? Mourinho? Wenger? Van Gaal? No, the sport was rugby and the individual was Pat Lam, Connacht’s Head Coach.
Football lost its integrity and ceased to be a sport of decency and mutual respect a long time ago. Rugby was supposed to be different though wasn’t it? Rugby has always been applauded for fierce competition on the pitch but an underlying code of respect for everyone involved in the game meant it could rise above football and provide a lesson to all on how we should treat each other. This moral high ground seems to be rapidly eroding.
Connacht’s last minute defeat came deep in to injury time against a Cardiff Blues team still reeling from the early departure of their Kiwi coach Mark Hammett. In the post-match press conference Pat Lam let rip – interview.
It seems there are two strands to Lam’s vitriolic attack. The first concerns some personal accusations against the assistant referee Leighton Hodges which we will leave for discussion in other media.
The second part of Lam’s claims concerns two specific events that the officials got wrong. Let’s have a look at each claim in turn.
80.48 Lam said ” John’s come straight through the gate, the ball’s out, you are allowed to pick that ball up”
Cook gets hit back in the tackle and the ruck forms as the two Cardiff players prevent the Connacht playing driving through.
The Connacht player John Muldoon drives through the Cardiff defenders and then picks the ball up. The referee then has to decide if the ruck is still formed or has the ruck ended and the ball is in open play. In this case the referee deemed the ruck had still formed which is defensible as Cook is placing the ball, one of the defenders still appears bound to the Connacht player and the ball is just inside the hindmost foot of the Cardiff player.
There is also a Connacht case to be made that the ball was out and that the ruck had ended as the Cardiff players were no longer bound.
Bear in mind the referee has about 1 second to analyse all these variables and make a decision – his view is also obscured by the returning Cardiff player. Even with the benefit of slow motion there is still not a conclusive black and white verdict in this particular scenario so for Lam to criticise the referee in this case is grossly unfair.
83.27 “Cardiff clearly knock the ball on, there is no ruck, our hooker picks the ball up, it’s cleared…”
Cuthbert is tackled and the tackler is cleared out. Cuthbert then places the ball (no visible knock on) but the ruck hasn’t formed and Connacht player picks up the ball. This is a legal move and the penalty shouldn’t have been given.
So Lam has a case to make for the second penalty but let’s apply his same logic of scrutinising the officials’ decisions to Connacht’s points in the game and see where that leads us.
Connacht try 0-7 Cardiff are penalised on the half way for hands in the ruck but it is a combination of a legal jackal from Hobbs and the Connacht player losing the ball on the floor that leads to the turnover. This shouldn’t have been a penalty. From the resulting lineout Connacht employ the illegal Irish approach of players joining the rolling maul in front of the hindmost feet (covered in this Blitzdefence article).
As we can see in the screen shot above the ball is at the back of the maul and the Connacht player with the scrum cap is about to join the maul ahead of the hindmost foot to create the wedge that is so difficult to stop. It’s an illegal move which should result in a Cardiff penalty. It didn’t and the try then came from the resulting penalty that was kicked in the corner.
Connacht penalty 0-10
This penalty was given for side entry to another illegal rolling maul. A number of players joined illegally and the screen shot shows the player with the white head band about to enter in front of the hind most foot to create the wedge. It is illegal.
So if we apply Lam’s approach there is a very good case to say Connacht should only have had 7 points in the whole game. Lam talks about “facts” but rugby is rarely a game of “facts”; it is a game of very fine margins and lots of grey areas.
Players make mistakes and referees make mistakes and both viewers and coaches need to understand how difficult it is to make these split second decisions, particularly when all 30 players on the pitch are now fully professional and have been trained to push all the boundaries of legality in everything they do.
High profile people in the game like Pat Lam need to remember what it is that made rugby a special game and not allow the sport to slip the way of football, which is sadly the direction it is rapidly heading.