The ‘captain’s challenge’ has been a dog’s dinner, says Courier rugby writer Steve Scott

Rugby Rant: Scrap the captain’s challenge

IT’S FAR better to trial law variations with elite teams instead of students, if it can be done. The Rainbow Cup, hastily tacked onto the end of the Pro14 season for no good reason, was the ideal place to do it.

However, none of the three variations in play there has been an unqualified success. The goal-line drop-out for a ball-carrier held up in-goal or defenders grounding the ball clearly favours defences instead of attack, and there’s much too much of that in rugby already.

The 20-minute red card replacement has not led to a spate of cheap shots, as some feared. But neither have we seen a heinous incident that really merited losing a man for an entire game. The jury is still out on that one but if it doesn’t make much difference, why bother?

But the captain’s challenge is a pure stinker.

“The game is played on the edge of legality and it’s solely the officials’ job to sort it all out”

The idea is to let the captains ask the officials to reconsider their decision for try-scoring and foul play incidents, or to challenge any refereeing call in the last five minutes of a match. There is an element of finger-pointing and telling tales about it. Can we not get away from the public schoolboy element in rugby?

Secondly, it messes with one of rugby’s crucial points of difference: the game is played on the edge of legality and it’s solely the officials’ job to sort it all out.

Thirdly, there’s already far too much of referees staring at screens. The first Rainbow meeting of Glasgow and Edinburgh took 140 minutes of real time to play due to three challenges – two successful – but neither would have been missed by the TMO.

captain's challenge

Big screen at a Rainbow Cup match (Getty Images)

Even Leo Cullen, coach of the league’s most dominant side, Leinster, describes it all as “challenging” and “distracting”. In South Africa one week, according to Bulls boss Jake White, there was a collective 63 minutes of time added to Rainbow Cup matches because of it.

Away from the game in Europe, when it was decided that the referral system wouldn’t be used for Super Rugby Trans-Tasman, Hurricanes skipper Dane Coles said he was glad about that decision.

A captain’s referral might be required if there had been a tsunami of missed or poor TMO decisions. I may be watching the wrong games but I haven’t noticed even a handful. It’s a solution to a problem that doesn’t actually exist.

We should trust in officials to spot foul play or groundings. We need to reduce the dead time caused by TMO consults, not increase it. And like our southern hemisphere counterparts, we should shelve the captain’s challenge.

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