the referee needs more autonomy, writes BBC commentator and reporter Chris Jones. This Rant first appeared in the August issue of Rugby World

THERE IS little doubt that rugby union has never been a harder sport to referee. Players are not only quicker and stronger but arguably more streetwise, while coaches are constantly looking for ways to manipulate the existing laws of the game.

The ‘jackal’, the ‘choke tackle’ and the ‘fox’ (no-ruck tactic) are just three examples of modern-day players and coaches nding loopholes in the laws and exploiting them.

Yet the referee still must retain his or her authority as the main arbiter of rugby truth and justice.

thanks to the New Zealand Rugby union, us media folk fortunate enough to be covering the Lions tour are treated to an earpiece through which the referee’s communications can be heard throughout a game. Not only the referee but the whole of cials group – assistant refs and Television Match Officials – are also clearly audible.


It’s a constant din, with the artists formerly known as touchjudges providing a commentary to the referee. and while their input is no doubt useful to the whistler in the middle, it all feels a bit much.

For the Lions test matches and warm-up games, World Rugby have loaded their officials teams with the best of the best, with top referees also running the line.

But is this part of the problem? surely a top referee wants to be doing just that – refereeing? Isn’t a Nigel Owens or an angus gardner going to be tempted to highlight things the referee hasn’t seen, to the point where their help actually becomes an interference for the match-day referee?


As a result, too many big calls are being made by assistant referees, undermining the actual referee in the process. While it would be backwards to resort to having assistant referees just to run the line, there has to be a balance.

At the moment it seems like there are four referees out there, and it is becoming confusing for both players and supporters alike.