The footballisation of rugby #1 – Pat Lam

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.

80.48 Con

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.

Con 3

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).

Con 4

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.


6 thoughts on “The footballisation of rugby #1 – Pat Lam

  1. Really if you’re going to contradict Lam at least get your facts right.

    83.27 Cuthbert did not “place the ball”, the Cardiff prop in driving over him to clear out the Connacht defender knocks the ball out of Cuthbert’s grasp with his knee as he drives forward, and it squirts forward and then out the side of the ruck after which Cuthbert places his hand on top of the ball and pulls it back in. The incident happened on Hodges side of the ruck, there were no players between him and the play, and yet he remarkably missed it…?

    It was a Connacht scrum at least, or the ball was playable as it was no longer in the control of the player in the ruck.

    Suggest that you look at factual events rather than pompously criticising Lam for challenging yet more dreadful officiating which seems to blight Connacht’s games too frequently, and is a feature of many Pro12 games too often frankly.

    Yes refs make mistakes, but it has to be said that Hodges is probably the only referee I have never seen admit/apologise on pitch for an error (there have been plenty), arrogance beyond his skill set. Whistlevhappy rugby killer is Leighton, there is rarely Amy flow in games he officiates.

    Also the lack of transparency in the authoring of these articles completely undermines their objectivity…!


    • Thanks for reading but I think you have missed the overall point of the article.

      Lam wasn’t “challenging yet more dreadful officiating” he was highlighting two incidents in 80 odd minutes of play that went against his team. If he really was keen on improving standards in rugby officiating he could have pointed out Connacht’s two illegal rolling mauls that led to their first 10 points. He could have pointed out that the penalty given against Hobbs that led to the first Connacht try shouldn’t have been given. It is not a surprise he didn’t raise either of these incidents post-match.

      The article is trying to say that in today’s game nearly every ruck, maul, scrum and tackle could be interpreted in different ways depending on your view point. Across 80 minutes this will lead to dozens of debatable incidents. We can’t allow coaches to selectively pick one or two incidents from their biased viewpoint and broadcast these post-match; it undermines officials, it is not objective and it takes us down the road that football has taken.

      This doesn’t mean officials are above challenge and improvement but there are correct channels for doing this which is the route Lam should have taken.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. in support of Connachtfans comment, i do not think he “missed the overall point of the article”.
    You titled the article in an inflammatory way – yes I agree Lam should have lodged a formal complaint rather than go off on a rant, but the bigger issue which I hope will get the focus it deserves as a result: We need refs to be accountable in a way that goes beyond a post match semi-apologetic “my bad”.
    We are so far ahead of football with the TMO alone, Professional Rugby is truly a modern game: now lets get the reffing into the 21st Century.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Interesting. I liked the inflammatory title and the way this article was sortof headed. I can’t judge whose analysis is right but, IMHO, merely by analysing the incidents to the degree you, did you are actually further contributing to the “footballisisation”. You either accept the coaches’ ability and authority to dispute incidents/decisions after the game or you don’t (and frankly, hasn’t this always been done by everyone involved, players and coaches alike, at the barm after the game? The only difference now is the coach is simply using modern technology to add video data and facts to his case (whether right or wrong). However, judging from the comments, it seems there are others who think the footballisation hasnt gone far enough…


  4. Pingback: The footballisation of rugby #2 – Niko Matawlu | theblitzdefence

  5. Pingback: My mate was right – rugby ethics really are no better than football’s | theblitzdefence

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