Path to extinction: Wallaby greats blow up after Folau farce
SOME of Australian rugby's biggest names have warned that the future of the code is at stake as they add their voices to a chorus of frustration and confusion following the June Tests, which were marred by a series of contentious referee and TMO decisions.
Both the Wallabies v Ireland and All Blacks v France series were plagued with controversial cards and calls - and the decision to cite and then suspend Israel Folau has added further fuel to the fire.
Folau has appealed a one-match ban for his aerial collisions with Peter O'Mahony and the hearing will start at 8pm on Thursday.
But whatever the outcome, there has been significant damage to rugby's reputation as a spectator friendly product.
Rugby is a complex, collision sport and complaining about the referee is as old as the Reverend William Webb Ellis.
But it is hard to remember a time in the modern era where life has been more confusing for the rugby fan.
Specifically, the increased role of the television match official, a lack of clarity as to what's kosher in aerial challenges and what's not, and a lack of consistency around deliberate knockdowns are doing the heads in of players, supporters and pundits alike.
Wallaby greats George Gregan, Drew Mitchell and Brendan Cannon debated the big issues around the game during Wednesday night's episode of Kick & Chase .
Mitchell, 71 Tests for Australia: "We're on the path to extinction for a lot of rugby supporters who are losing faith as to where is the game is going.
"We're talking about changing the tackle height to nipple height, we're talking about this (aerial challenges), the interpretation around the deliberate knockdown rule.
"(Ireland flanker) CJ Stander has chosen to lift his player (O'Mahony) and lost control of him.
"It's a contest in the air and when you've got a player on your own team choosing to lift, you take responsibility for the safe landing of your player.
"This shouldn't even be a penalty, let alone a yellow or a judicial hearing. It's rubbish.
"O'Mahony came down poorly because CJ Stander didn't do his gym work and couldn't hold him up.
Gregan, 139 Tests for Australia: "That's weak (Folau's one-match ban). World Rugby's got to define the aerial contest and then educate the people in the middle, the TMO and get in touch with the people playing the modern game - players and coaches - and get an indication of what they think an aerial contest should be.
"Because I think they're so far apart (in their views), hence we've come to this situation.
"If you're taking this (aerial competition) out of the game then you're losing a fair bit of the fabric of the game.
"Rugby is a collision sport, there's contests all the time. You make a tackle, you're on the ground, there's a contest for the ball.
"Do it fairly but the nature of our game is people are going to land awkwardly from time to time.
"Izzy's going for the ball - eyes, arms, everything. It's a contest - you're going to get your limbs and your body intertwined when you're contesting the ball.
"If you want to stop any of this happening, then just have no contests. Have the players on the ground and you can't jump for it, real simple.
"The aerial contest is a wonderful, athletic thing."
Cannon, 42 Tests for Australia: "It's a PR exercise to justify what they're (World Rugby) doing (with a one-week ban).
"They've given him (Folau) 10 in the bin (yellow card) anyway, his penalty was enough.
"CJ Stander said he felt terrible because he dropped him in his lift.
"Izzy gets there because he's a magnificent athlete.
"O'Mahony's not capable of getting there on his own - this happens in Aussie rules every weekend.
"It's flavoursome at the moment because of what happened in the France v All Black Tests.
"Beauden Barrett fell awkwardly and was very fortunate not to be seriously injured. That looked really bad but the intent from both players (Barrett and Benjamin Fall) - they were fixated on the football.
ON THE RISING INFLUENCE OF THE TMO ON HOW A GAME IS CONTROLLED
Mitchell: "There's too much grey area and the TMOs are having far too much influence in our game.
"And the people who are adjudicating these things have lost touch with the game and to where the game's going in terms of the speed and the contest.
"We never hear from referees and TMOs coming out and explaining their decisions when at the moment there's a lot of negative dialogue around rugby.
"The confusion, the frustration, there's just too much of that going on. They need to come out and say 'this is the rule, this is what it is, or we've made a mistake.' Referees need to be accountable as well. Front the media and come out and explain some of your decisions that are contentious.
"Otherwise it just leaves frustrated fans, all of us to just sit here and scratch our heads and blow up."
Gregan: "No disrespect, you need your men in the middle and you need your TMOs. But you want the impact to be minimal and you want to be talking about the skill level of play and have a nice flow.
"You don't want to be talking about referees after matches. The way the game is being officiated at the moment, you talk about the referee every week because they have such a big impact on the game and I don't think that's a positive thing.
"I don't think people turn up, 44,000 people on the weekend (at Allianz Stadium), to see the man in the middle having a bigger role to play than the 30 players.
"Speed up the process, they could definitely do that. Make a decision and move on."
Cannon: "I don't know how it's happened but somehow the TMO now has almost sole authority on the game - not the man in the middle who is the match referee, it's the TMO.
"Technology is having too much influence in the game. When we played it was just two touch judges and the match official in the middle. He had the power and the respect.
"You're going to make mistakes but now that we slow it down in super slow motion - play it (replays) in real time because that's what the referee has got to decide.
"The influence they're having on the modern game is profound."
ON THE FUTURE OF RUGBY ONE YEAR OUT FROM A WORLD CUP
Mitchell: "They need to do something about it now because as we're watching now with the football World Cup, there is too much chat around the VAR (video assistant referee).
"Every game there is a VAR contentious decision and all the dialogue is about that. There's memes and all sorts of things.
"We don't want that next year when the Rugby World Cup is on and for a great sporting event like that to be only speaking about the TMO.
"Because the TMO is responsible for everything, the guys in the middle are shy to pull the trigger on a decision because they've got Big Brother over their shoulder watching them.
"They've got too much say. And why did it take till Wednesday to actually have this (Folau) hearing - they (the Waratahs) are playing on Friday."
Gregan: "The aerial contest is only going to become more and more of an issue because the quality of kicking, all around the world, has improved.
"Defences have improved so one of the best ways to attack is the kick, particularly the kick pass. So if you want to catch - you're going to have one of these ludicrous situations where the person can't.
"Where are we going to go, because that's an incredible bit of skill, the kick pass.
It's a contest and it's not a perfect world. It's really simple. If a guy's got his eyes and he's contesting the ball - it's pretty obvious when you're contesting and it's pretty obvious when you're not.
"That's that feel and common sense which may be lacking in the modern game."
Cannon: "Embrace what's good about rugby. Other sports do it.
"On the NRL judiciary they always have a former player. You need a player's perspective, in relation to the feel, the flow of a game.
"Also just the subtlety of the interpretation around it. World Rugby is pushing people away because of the laws of the game and the influence the TMO and the match officials are having.
"I'd be offended if I was a referee or touch judge - it's effectively saying you're incompetent, you can't do this, I'm the one in the grandstand that has the capacity to do it.
"The influence is frustrating. It was an awesome series (Wallabies v Ireland) and we're focusing on a negative which was a nothing out of the game."
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