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Bracey The Clown and the decline of refereeing

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Post by Guest Tue Dec 08, 2020 11:50 pm

So over the weekend we had to witness Bracey The Clown pull out another rabbit from the hat - although the French will rightly be aggrieved that said rabbit was full of myxomatosis. And had been dead before kick off. In fact, it's the same rabbit he's been using for the last 2 years.

The final play of the normal 80 minutes included two rather blatant knock ons in the tackle - first by Billy Vunipola and then again by Owen Farrell. 60 seconds later England were celebrating a game and 'tournament' saving try. He then followed this up with an incredibly harsh penalty for what should have been a match winning kick for England before awarding a knock on from the extra time, half time French kick off that very blatantly wasn't - instead of France forcing a retreating England back to their own 5m line, a scrum was given on the 22, which led to a penalty, which led to territory in the French half, which led to the win.

To say he unduly influenced the game would be a monumental understatement.

I've been critical of Brace before but it now might be becoming clearer to the rest of the rugby-watching public that he's a severely limited official. To me, if I had to describe him to someone who stopped watching rugby 10 years ago, I'd call him a completely humourless, highly strung version of Steve Walsh. Brace comes across as too engaged in the game itself - but not as a referee. Walsh always struck me as a frustrated player (the egotistical use of the big screen and repeatedly catching the ball in open play hint at that) and I get the same impression from Brace. The best referees remain detached from the small ebbs and flows of the match while still having a 'sympathy' for what you could call the spectacle - Nigel Owens would be the perfect example of this in an open style of rugby. Barnes would be the best example of someone more strict yet consistent. Jermoe Garces would be a good example of someone detached from the game, but at times somewhat too detached, which has its own problems.

Instead, every time I see Brace, I see a weak man influenced by the crowd, home advantage, 'prestige' of the teams involved, and also 'momentum' of the game and effectively 'rewarding' bias. If I could explain it I'd say it's as if he's reffing to a sense of 'expectation', rather than the game itself. If refs usually (or used to0 reward 'going forwards' in the scrum irrespective of whether it's being done legally, then Brace basically applies this logic to every aspect of the game. He seems too emotionally invested, yet impossible to talk to for captains - highly strung, basically, partly because it seems like he seems out of his depth and not relaxed, which the best refs usually are. Of course, I could be wrong, but when I see Brace I see someone who doesn't think like a referee - he thinks like a fan, or rather an observer, who is out of his depth as a ref.

To turn this in to a wider discussion about refereeing, which seems depressingly poor at the moment - though this isn't a recent phenomenon, with the likes of Joubert being prone to bending to the pressure of favouritism - what is going on with the way WR manages referees? It's not a topic I know a lot about so it would be good to hear from people who do have either knowledge or experience of the way it works at the higher levels of the sport.

Is a tenuous grasp of French really enough to promote Brace at every opportunity? As if nominal bilingualism counteracts the completely atrocious communication skills of a referee whatever tongue he chooses to use? Is there also the 'politics' or rugby influencing matters? The IRFU is an incredibly power union, Dublin is the literal commercial home base of rugby despite its origins in England, and the referees operate out of Dublin. With Brace reffing for Ireland, irrespective of his background, is there some favouritism going on? Implicit or otherwise?

I also can't help but wonder why rugby seems to be going for a two tier approach to reffing as well - reffing seems to be a young man's game due to fitness and just how much more ground refs need to cover (and at speed) compared to even 20 years ago. The thinking seems to be to get men in their early or mid 20s in to the professional game, while ignoring more established, experienced referees who have good amateur experience. Is that really a positive? I'd particularly look at the scrums for this as an example where experience is lacking. Why does there not seem to be a reasonable manner of progression from grassroots rugby to professional to international unless you happen to be in your 20s?

For instance, why on earth has Marius Mitrea just dropped off the face of the earth? He wasn't selected to travel to Japan despite France sending 4 of theirs despite 3 of them being utterly useless. Mitrea started off very shakily in pro rugby but for me was easily one of the most improved refs and in fact had the potential to be one of the best in the world. He had that grasp of detachment from the game while still being sympathetic to the spectacle. Is rugby still an old boy's club where the big boys dictate everything? Where the big unions - namely France, England, NZ, and Ireland, and to a lesser extent Oz, SA, Wales, Scotland - say what goes and the rest are just making up the numbers? I genuinely don't know but this does seem one area of the game where question have to start being asked.

It's understandable that rugby went through the growing pains of professionalism over the last 10-20 years. We're seeing an horrific aspect of that today with the news of concussion and the effects that it (sadly, inevitably) had on the first batch of players. No doubt the first 'fully professional' generation who came through after the late 90s will be next in line. And so you can forgive the Jouberts and Steve Walshes of that previous world for being flawed in the way they were. But now? What's the excuse now? As far as I can tell rugby referees are lacking a serious heart when it comes to the game - Nige is a great example, but so was Tony Spreadbury.

Has making refereeing professional actually improved standards of officiating? By introducing a profit motive - for unions and individuals alike - has it provided an awkward phony war in rugby where the big boys just flex their muscles in another way, akin to project players or harvesting Polynesia, except this time it's pushing your own referee forward for one of the incredibly limited number of spaces in the elite refereeing program, despite said referees not being very good? Of course reffing had to go professional - we need the TMO to be pro, we need paid touch judges/assitant refs (just ask France in the Top14 where the touch judges are amateur), but is the system we currently have up to scratch, or is it just another stitched up system?

Because I cannot fathom how Andrew Brace is allowed within 10 miles of Twickenham on an international match day, let alone trusted to officiate the actual game.

I can't be the only one scratching my head at how poor the standard of reffing is at the moment. I match it Luke Pearce, Nigel Owens, Jerome Garces, and Wayne Barnes as the only reliable and regular international referees. Only one of those is up and coming. That's not good.

What needs doing? What needs fixing? Given the linguistic problems for the likes of Georgia, Argentina, France, Fiji/Samoa/Tonga, and sort of Italy (though most of their players seem to be Anglospheric at the moment), do we not need to be prioritising moving towards less of a verbal form of refereeing, akin to football? Not relying on refs 'coaching' players at the rucks? And do we not also need to see an improvement of refereeing from the less common countries, not just relying on the Anglosphere and France to provide 95% of regular elite refs?

I genuinely don't know how or what to fix, and as I said I'd be interested if someone knows of work being done to improve what, to me, is a fundamentally broken system at the moment. Thoughts and prayers welcome.

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Post by Guest Wed Dec 09, 2020 5:52 pm

Can't find video evidence of said incidents just yet but here's a rugby journo's thoughts:

https://twitter.com/joshgardner/status/1335611284210016256

https://twitter.com/joshgardner/status/1335613592998121472

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Post by Guest Thu Dec 10, 2020 9:12 am

n the grand scheme of things I very rarely criticise the officials. Certainly relative to other posters I'm not a ref basher. However, there has been a clear decline in the last few years when you would assume be going the other way given the professionalism of referees. I've asked the question about whether there are unintended consequences of this or not. It's a valid question relating to an actual issue within rugby as opposed to symbolic virtue signalling as has become the fashion of the year. Do you contribute anything useful to this forum? Feel free to break a habit of a lifetime if you want to get your teeth stuck in to the topic.

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Post by Guest Thu Dec 10, 2020 9:15 am

Evidence of Brace's incompetence laid bare.

I couldn't believe it when watching it live. Very hard to justify. He's looking directly at Farrell when he knocks it on.

https://twitter.com/derekalberts1/status/1335611900038615046

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Post by Pete330v2 Thu Dec 10, 2020 1:07 pm

Team performances should always decide the shape, flow and ultimately the outcome of a match, unfortunately all too often the officials, in particular the referee, stamp their mark on the game. As an Ulster fan I always hate to see George Clancy, not only is he incompetent but he does seem to dislike Ulster (this might simply be my biased perception). That aside he does tend to blow his whistle a lot which destroys the game as a spectacle, let the little things go and let the game flow. Joy Neville on the other hand, another Limerick native I believe, is IMO excellent and likes to let the game flow whilst being very decisive when the time comes, more decisive than most officials.
I've never been a fan of Brace, he's not a ref I like to see officiating any team I support but Wayne Barnes would have once been in that same category yet he's become an excellent official. Perhaps Brace and anyone like him need a bit of time. Clancy on the other hand can f..................

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Post by doctor_grey Thu Dec 10, 2020 2:42 pm

Good comment about Wayne Barnes. I also thought he was, politely said, inconsistent. But I agree, he has morphed into quite a good referee.

Do you think it's harder to referee a match today? There is so much going on and players are so quick, it is really possible for all but a rare few to be really good?

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Post by Pete330v2 Thu Dec 10, 2020 3:19 pm

doctor_grey wrote:Good comment about Wayne Barnes.  I also thought he was, politely said, inconsistent.  But I agree, he has morphed into quite a good referee.  

Do you think it's harder to referee a match today?  There is so much going on and players are so quick, it is really possible for all but a rare few to be really good?  

With the Linesmen now being assistant refs and the TMO you'd think it would make things easier for modern refs. In this case Brace has been blamed for missing blatant knock ons but the blame lies firmly with the entire officiating team. Regardless as to where a ref is positioned when an incident occurs, the TMO has a superb birds eye view and the assistant refs can cover any blind spots as well. SO, who actually misses these incidents, who should cop the most blame?

There are many reason why it should be more difficult to officiate but there are 4 official reasons that trump all of them.

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Post by LondonTiger Thu Dec 10, 2020 3:59 pm

doctor_grey wrote:Good comment about Wayne Barnes.  I also thought he was, politely said, inconsistent.  But I agree, he has morphed into quite a good referee.    

I hated having Barnes ref Tigers v Quins, happt to see him ref Tigers v Saints. I would argue that rather than inconsistent he had a style that suited some teams more than others.

doctor_grey wrote:Do you think it's harder to referee a match today?  There is so much going on and players are so quick, it is really possible for all but a rare few to be really good?  

Much harder. Much of it due to the fact that there is so little space nowadays and thus so hard to see through all the bodies. The ref often has a worse view than the TV audience.

We also need to consider that at every ruck, maul, scrum, breakdown both teams tend to commit at least one offence. At rucks we see both teams off their feet, playing the ball, holding on to players or the ball. At mauls players are pulling it down, slipping bindings, joining in front of the ball. Scrums are a nightmare of pushing too early, refusing to put any weight in, going low, driving up, driving in, feet too far back, pulling down on the arm, tickling the hookers scrotum. Lineouts see the hooker throwing from 2m in, jumping across the line, nothing is straight, players leave the lineout and re-enter, arm regularly pulled down and only sometimes picked up.

With all this going on I would argue that you can either:

1) Let pretty much everything go (or the Nigel Owens style)
2) Try to work out which offence is the worst (or the JP Doyle style)
3) Have a checklist and penalise the first thing on your list that is committed (the Roman Poite style)


All are flawed because teams spend the whole game cheating.

So do we blame the ref for missing things, or the players and coaches for being cheating bar stewards?

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Post by RiscaGame Thu Dec 10, 2020 5:16 pm

Unfortunately, this is the second match to my knowledge that Brace has missed things, that have proved pretty costly. There wasn’t too much of a stink raised about the first in the Wales v Scotland Six Nations game (probably because he may not get to see it depending on where he was stood), but I did feel he was pretty inconsistent that day on things like rolling away, particularly with how he set his stall out by penalising two Welsh players pretty early doors.

I see he has had his game changed this weekend, seemingly due to the online abuse. That’s out of order to do that. I wasn’t happy with his performance in the Wales v Scotland game, but to go after him and to mention his dead father is disgusting.

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Post by doctor_grey Thu Dec 10, 2020 6:26 pm

Wow - didn't know people would be so upset with his performance to go off at a personal situation. Did people really do that? Agree 100% - disgusting and out of bounds.

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Post by BigTrevsbigmac Thu Dec 10, 2020 6:29 pm

I blame Owen Farrell who should have put the game beyond reach of any refereeing decisions that may have affected the result of the game.
In general LT is right in his analysis though.

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Post by Guest Thu Dec 10, 2020 8:28 pm

Pete330v2 wrote:Team performances should always decide the shape, flow and ultimately the outcome of a match, unfortunately all too often the officials, in particular the referee, stamp their mark on the game. As an Ulster fan I always hate to see George Clancy, not only is he incompetent but he does seem to dislike Ulster (this might simply be my biased perception). That aside he does tend to blow his whistle a lot which destroys the game as a spectacle, let the little things go and let the game flow. Joy Neville on the other hand, another Limerick native I believe, is IMO excellent and likes to let the game flow whilst being very decisive when the time comes, more decisive than most officials.
I've never been a fan of Brace, he's not a ref I like to see officiating any team I support but Wayne Barnes would have once been in that same category yet he's become an excellent official. Perhaps Brace and anyone like him need a bit of time. Clancy on the other hand can f..................

A fair post, and the rather harsh 'clown' moniker is very much a reference to Clownshoes Clancy.

I have no problem with 'fussy' referees. Barnes is a great example. We venerate refs who 'let things go' like Nige but I don't think you can argue with a strict referee - as long as they are competent, consistent, and seem to understand the game. Brace displays none of these skills.

I fully agree with giving all referees the space and scope to improve and learn the game.

What I cannot understand for the life of me is why Brace is being asked/pushed to do this learning on the international stage. The state of refereeing down in the SH leaves a lot to be desired, but up in the NH we seem to have a much better track record of producing competence in officiating. That said, Brace is a shocker, he comes across as a poor ref at Pro14 level let alone international level. Fine, by all means allow him to learn, as you say; my issue is that he is evidently being fast tracked, or at least favoured, to the detriment of other referees. Why? Well, I posed a few reasons for that. However you cut it, I cannot understand how a ref like Mitrea is ignored and even pushed away from the sport (unless it is his own choice to do so) while people like Brace are promoted.

Is there simply a shortage of quality? Do people not want to be refs, for obvious reasons? Anyone coming in to it now is well aware of social media, something Barnes, Nige etc. never would have had to weigh up when deciding to pursue it as a career. I intensely dislike the football culture of abusing referees and yet at the same time I find myself scratching my head at the sheer incompetence of a decent percentage of rugby officials. I want this to be constructive criticism rather than simply emotional abuse as so many people who lash out online opt for (hence my confusion at the above accusation that I am a critic of refs, far from it) because rugby is definitely being at least tainted by refereeing.

Blunders are acceptable. Certainly, rugby has adapted well with the TMO to constantly update and tweak the way it is used to bring it in to open play. The protocols are getting better each season, albeit it is grating when the likes of Poite do what they did in the Wales game, or we have to watch 10 replays when 2-3 seem sufficient (we can still learn from the VF in Rugby League for this). But, sadly, it's not just blunders. Joubert's blunder v Scotland is at least acceptable, albeit he has a track record for the same kind of favouritism of the bigger team as per Brace. Heat of the moment, wrong call, lots of pressure, quite a lot happens in the space of 2 seconds. Mistakes happen. Joubert's performance in the 2011 RWC final, where he repeatedly cheated France out of several decisions, was unacceptable. For me, there's a dividing line between good reffind and bad reffing that doesn't rely on individual errors or blunders and while Brace clearly made several blunders on the weekend, that's not the primary issue - it's everything else. It's the incompetence, it's the lack of communication skills, it's how highly strung/aloof he is, it's the arbitrary reffing of the laws, it's the whistle happy approach to reffing, it's the lack of composure, and it's losing sight of the bigger picture and getting wrapped up in the immediate ebb and flow of the game. That's why he's a terrible referee - every ref can and does and will make blunders. But the blunders are the cherry on top of the cake, or perhaps the hat on top of the clown.

On Barnes, I feel his reputation was outdated years ago. Namely for Kiwis and the Irish. A bit like PTSD, one poor game can stick out and create a lasting memory and bias among fans. If anything, Barnes was the most pro-Irish ref over the last decade given how he officiated the breakdown and how Ireland attacked it. But it's understandable why reputations remain after one or two bad experiences. That's different to objetively poor refereeing - always a good way of judging it is by watching refs in which you're not, as a supporter, invested in anyone winning. Which was the case for me on the weekend. I can't really remember too much of Barnes' reffing in the 00s but he's been a top ref for the 2010s in my opinion.

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Post by Guest Thu Dec 10, 2020 9:25 pm

doctor_grey wrote:
Do you think it's harder to referee a match today?  There is so much going on and players are so quick, it is really possible for all but a rare few to be really good?  

It's very hard for us to say, I suppose.

I would suggest possibly not. Gains have been made in some places where losses have occurred in others.

The laws are fuzzier in some regards. If you watch the tackle and ball release law even back in 2005 it's a completely different sport - there really was no holding on to the ball. We now allow players to 'play' the ball on the floor in all manner of ways - holding it up for the 9, pushing it back on the floor, rolling around when tackled to get 'back on the right side'. That is both harder and easier to adjudicate - harder as it is greyer, but easier as it leaves the ref with the freedom to 'interpret' as they see fit. Which is how we end up with the two best refs, Nige and Barnes, having vastly different ruck interpretations - their quality is in consistency.

The new pressures from the professionalism of rugby are clearly tough to deal with. We have an increasing football-esque culture creeping in both in the stands and on social media. That cannot be easy but it's a sad fact that the modern world has created its own social Big Brother. It's not as if refereeing is in a unique position in this regard, unfortunately. But, you counterbalance that against payment and turning refereeing in to a vocation.

The TMO is clearly a massive help for referees and allows them to effectively defer every single big decision, in particular tries, that would otherwise have required judgement back in the day. There is a much more plural approach to refereeing - not just the TMO, but touch judges, too, when it comes to scrums for instance. This seems to be an easing of pressure at the very least from one man's shoulders.

Refs evidently need to be fit and composed and to 'TCUP', to use the Woodwardism. But the game was 'faster' 15-20 years ago. There was a lot more fluidity, a lot more movement, and a lot more swift swapping of field position than there is today. The issue is that the ref probably has more 'actions' to judge today than ever before, particularly when you consider something like the high tackle law - but this is where the TMO comes in. So, even though the game may be slowed now in some senses, there's a lot more packed in, a lot more to judge, a lot less 'headspace' in theory if you get a team like the All Blacks playing Australia, for example, two teams who move the ball but also compete ruthlessly in every aspect of the game. I'd suggest NH refereeing is easier due to the different manner of play, yet the scrums remain a huge bugbear with refs still guessing too often.

I'm open to the idea that Brace is being promoted solely due to a lack of quality among elite referees rather than anything necessarily nefarious, so I wouldn't rule out that, simply, not enough people want to be refs, and not enough of them are good enough. I'd again ask the question of why aren't amateur referees given a leg up to the professional game. I know several amatuer Welsh refs who would do a far better job than Ben Whitehouse, for instance, who surely has his role in the game due to nepotism and almost nothing else. I wonder if the societal breakdown of institutions and the trust the public is willing to openly express in, for instance, policemen, teachers etc, has impacted men from these professions wanting to referee in both their spare time or pursue professional refereeing. In which case we come back to the pressures of mob mentality disincentivising people from having a crack. Hard to say if that's the case, or to what extent it is the case.

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Post by Guest Fri Dec 11, 2020 3:26 pm

...and there goes one of the best referees.

Nige shouldn't be the standard other refs are compared to but at the moment the likes of Brace aren't even in the same league.

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Post by doctor_grey Fri Dec 11, 2020 4:39 pm

Does anyone know if Glen Jackson, the kiwi who was a Saracens fly half, and Karl Dickson, the former Quins scrum half, are still working as referees. To me, both showed great promise and an empathy for the players and the game. But I haven't seen them recently.

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Post by lostinwales Fri Dec 11, 2020 5:01 pm

Glen Jackson retired - just checked it was after not being selected for last year's RWC

Karl Dickson still active

In an interview to RPA,[8] he said refereeing at international level was his "main goal", a goal reached when in October 2020, Karl was appointed as the main referee in a friendly game between France and Wales, in the Stade de France.

And RRB has become 'guest'. Happy days.

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Post by Pot Hale Wed Dec 16, 2020 12:11 pm

Bracey the Clown??

His name is Andrew Brace.
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