Playing the 9

One of the intriguing things that you often come across is the syndrome where commentators on TV use phrases to explain referee decisions which are not actually in the laws. I’m not saying the commentator is wrong, just that they invent phrases as a shorthand. This becomes more of a problem when players also start to use the phrase, and the link to the actual laws has been lost. A great example is “Playing the 9”. You will often hear this phrase when a scrum-half is tackled before or as she is reaching into a ruck to get the ball. But if you look at the laws you will see nothing specific about this infraction. As is often the case, it is actually a combination of laws which make it illegal to tackle the scrum-half at a ruck when she doesn’t have possession of the ball.

Continue reading Playing the 9

Match Report – 18th February, 2017

White 0 v 46 (7T) Green

Match Context

I was looking forward to what I expected to be a close match even though Green remain unbeaten this season. White had played some good rugby when I was there previously in January, albeit with some help from a few first team players. As you can see from the score it was a very one-sided affair. White played with little structure and made poor use of possession. Green, despite having no replacement players, played a solid game and had backs who completely outclassed the White defence.

The weather was excellent. The pitch was in good condition for this late in the season.

My Overview

This was obviously an important game for me after the frustrations of the game last week. I let myself down and had something to prove.

I still didn’t feel I was back to my best, but this was a huge improvement on last week. I felt far more on top of the game, aware of what was happening and how to respond, and came off feeling I had done a good job.

One thing I am becoming far more aware of is that I am constantly monitoring my performance as the game progresses, with particular focus on the negative. This isn’t good since it has the effect of reducing my confidence as the game progresses. I need to think about a more positive ‘voice’ throughout the match, rather than kicking myself for the odd mistake. This approach must come across to the players to some extent – I certainly must appear and interact differently with them than someone who was thinking far more positively throughout the match. One to think about.

Targets agreed ahead of the game

Following on from my last assessment:

  • Breakdown – get there early (be the third man to arrive!)
  • Breakdown – positioning to get best view of ball, players and defence.
  • Breakdown – tackler release, tackler away, ball available, watch arriving players.
  • Lineout – don’t ball watch
  • Call and signal advantage (and advantage over)
  • Use shirt colour (and number if possible) when communicating
  • Have zero instances where my lack of clarity with signals at penalty or free kick confuses players


I wonder if I’ll ever be satisfied with this aspect of the game? I am never convinced that I am on top of things for the whole match. Things started very well. The teams were disciplined. I made some early interventions to set a good standard. Players were clearly responding to my instructions. And I didn’t find myself thinking “What on earth am I doing stood in this position, and how did I even get here?”.

Being more specific:

  • I arrived nice and early in the majority of cases.
  • Positioning was far better. Still room for some improvement in some cases where I got a bit sucked in, but most of the time I had a good view and could monitor for offside at the same time.
  • I felt more in control of the patterns of play and what to watch for (tackler, ball, arriving players).
  • I’m still not 100% confident I am making good decisions all the time, but this may have as much to do with mouthy players than my decisions to be honest.
  • Yet again though, as players became more tired, discipline fell away and we were back into wrestling. I could have used ‘unplayable’ more and earlier. At the same time I think I could have let some play continue despite the chaos in front of me. This is all about judgement, and it is still developing for me.


Satisfied with my performance here. Positioning feels far more natural now.

This was a bit odd for most of the match because Green decided to stick to a very mobile 3-man lineout for the entire match. I ended up pinging their prop for straying into the 5m which I have never had to do before. Pleased that I remembered Ask-Tell-Penalise on this one too.

But I completely missed A-T-P on early lifting. I spotted it quite early in the match and found myself hesitating to say anything. Then I moved straight to a FK. The penalised players were confused and not impressed. This was not “EXPECTED” and I could have managed it better.

Signals and Communication

Miles better. Much, much clearer on the penalty and I’m now finding more time to think about whistle tone. I’m getting there!

Disappointed that in the last 10 minutes. My signals were less clear and in one case completely absent at a penalty. Players were immediately confused. I just lost focus and, to be honest, was very tired by the end of the game. But still a good improvement. Also, consistent use of team colour and number when possible was better.

Application of the Laws

No howlers.

Remembered to give scrum option when ball kicked dead through in goal. Remembered to give penalty from the point ball landed when kicker was impeded.

Management of Players

This was almost guaranteed to be better than last week. Overall this was a positive aspect of the game. The White 7 was a pain and I managed him well alongside the Captain. Both teams were very respectful.

I realise that I could be even more assertive and need to think about body language again. Too many times, especially when I am not 100% sure of myself I break eye contact with players – a massive clue that I may have some doubt. This will come with work and as I gain experience.


Glad I got back out. Far better performance from me and feel I am moving forward again. Breakdown still a focus. Player management also a focus area. Communication was better but still needs work. I need to get a positive mindset all the way through the match.

Previous Match Report

Match Report – 11th February, 2017

Red 7 (1T) v 43 (7T) Gold

Match Context

A match between Red who had only won their first match of this season and Gold who are third in the table. The previous meeting had resulted in Gold winning by a three-figure margin.

Bleak weather conditions with snow flurries and, according to the Met Office, a wind chill bringing things down to -5.

The pitch had been badly flooded and had been cut into to drain it. Leaving sections extremely poor.

Both teams had a full squad and experienced front rows. Happy days….we get to scrummage.

My Overview

If I had written this report yesterday I would have been very disappointed with the match. I am trying to be more reflective today.

My two week gap was telling. My positioning was poor and I kept finding myself in odd positions having not read play well. I stumbled sometimes with my signals and communication. I felt less in control than my previous matches and also less aware of some aspects of the game.

The match descended into a brawl in the last 10 minutes and I had to blow for full time 4 minutes early at the request of the skippers who felt they had lost control of their players. Joy.

The worst thing was that not a single MN player shook my hand at the end of the match, nor did they shake the hands of the opposition. That’s just very, very poor in my opinion.

But, let’s break things down and try to be more reflective.


Following on from my last assessment:

  • Breakdown – get there early (third man to arrive!)
  • Breakdown – positioning to get best view of ball, players and defence.
  • Breakdown – tackler release, tackler away, ball available, watch arriving players.
  • Lineout – don’t ball watch
  • Call and signal advantage
  • Use shirt colour (and number of possible) when communicating


I would have hated to watch this on video. I found myself in completely the wrong position countless times early on in the match, and couldn’t even tell you how I managed to get there. A massive step backwards from where I had managed to get myself. But I’m sure it will come flooding back.

When I was in place I think I managed the breakdown well. This was classic Level 10 stuff with increasingly chaotic play as the match progressed. But I went through my mental drills and feel I spotted the right offences regularly. The two or three occasions where a player challenged I am very confident I got right.

I used ‘ball unplayable’ early when necessary to keep the breakdown under control.

I rarely got myself into a position to watch the defence.

I was far more consistent using player numbers and shirt colours when talking to players at the breakdown.

I got a “Fellas, if we just listened to the ref instead of shouting out we would be doing a lot better”. That’s a result. Needless to sat that was a Gold player not Red.


Much better in terms of watching the players.

I felt I managed the maul from the lineout well and there was little difficulty. I even managed to spot my first example of the ball coming off the top to a player who then took it into the ‘maul’. I gave ‘accidental offside’ for this. Correct call?

Signals and Communication

Calling and signalling advantage and advantage over felt back to where I had it previously.

As I said above use of colour and number continues to improve.

I’m pretty sure that my hand signals and communication of penalty and scrum offences was not what it could have been. There were too many instances of players looking confused which is down to me. The Red skipper told me in the bar that he felt my signals could have been stronger and that his players were confused a number of times. As he put it “Sometimes they didn’t realise you had blown for a penalty. They still wouldn’t have gone back 10, but at least they’d have known that’s what they should have been doing”. He’s probably right on this occasion. He was wrong on many occasions on the pitch.

This is obviously a critical area for me because it builds everyone’s confidence in what is going on, what I am doing, and the decisions that have been made.

Application of the Laws

Overall this was a good area. One howler though when a player charged down a kick in the 22 and went on to score a try. I blew for a knock-on which of course it wasn’t. I would still be dwelling on that one if it had been a nip-and-tuck game.

Management of Players

This was a difficult area of the match. I have been to Red three times and it has always been a challenge. Gold were very good in this respect.

When ‘noise’ levels started to rise I told both skippers that their teams were in danger of being penalised if they did not stop calling out to me. That did the trick perfectly.

The game descended into a number of scuffles in the last 10 minutes. This was Red becoming tired and very frustrated. I don’t really know what I could have done to stop this. It was exactly the same pattern when I refereed the Red III’s in September. When I asked to speak to both captains I did have a comedy interaction:

Me: OK fellas, I was very clear in the briefing before the match. Who is responsible for the discipline of your players on this field?
Gold skipper: Sorry sir. That’s you sir.
Me: No Lee, that would be you.
Gold skipper: Oh. Sorry sir. Yes sir.
Red skipper: In that case sir. Can you just blow for full time, because things have got out of hand out there?

Needless to say, with 2-3 minutes remaining I duly complied.


Still feel crap about the game. I let myself down on positioning and communication. I don’t mind not advancing as much as I can because I choose not to be out there every week, but I don’t like going backwards. I will probably pull out of South West 7’s and try to get another 15s fixture next week if possible.

Match Report – 14th January, 2017

Blue 29 (5T) – 12 (2T) Black

An absolute classic example of a Level 11 match. Nobody was quite sure if there would be enough players to start the game. Nobody was quite sure who was playing in which position. I was the only person to bother to warm up. We had to delay the start by 10 minutes because players were still on the way for both teams. Scrums were uncontested from the start. Neither team had a kicking tee. One player had a prosthetic leg (yes really!). Both captains agreed that neither team was likely to last 80 minutes and requested 30 minute halves. Like I said, welcome to Level 11. The only thing unusual was that I actually had two touch judges for the match.

Weather was fair and the pitch was in good condition (once I had removed a large bush as I warmed up…obviously alone).

Blue started with 14 players and were soon down to 12 because of injury. Despite this they played by far the most coherent game with good use of their fly half and wings to score the majority of their tries


  • Lineout – focus on positioning at front and then following the ball as it is thrown in.
  • Lineout – communicate more with the backs.
  • Increase my use for shirt numbers for offences.
  • Remember options available especially in-goal.

Management of Players

This was far from challenging as a game, but I was concerned before the match that the nature of the game would lead to poor discipline combined with low skill levels and a large number of ‘old hands’ who see challenging the referee as part of the sport.

I was deliberately very firm and confident from the off. I made sure that I was very clear of expectations at the breakdown (always an opportunity for a flash point at this level) and talked more than I normally would to players to ensure I set a good standard from the off. This worked well and there was very little trouble at the breakdown even at the end of the game as players became very tired.

At this level the breakdown is always very scrappy and contested hard. I tended to use ‘unplayable ball’ earlier than I would have in the past to break things up early. This combined with clear comms about hands, off-feet and releases meant that this part of the game was well managed.

It became evident that the Black 7 was a younger player with less experience. It took a firm talking to him and the captain to calm him down in the ruck. I also had to manage the Blue 12 in a fairly heavy handed way to ensure that he was playing within the bounds of safety after a couple of ‘clear outs’ where there was no use of arms at all.

Line Out (no scrums to discuss)

This was a major focus area for me during the match. I concentrated hard on tracking the ball back through the lineout and also turning to monitor both sets of backs. This is staring to come more naturally now and I am starting to see the lineout from a different perspective.

Communication and management of the backs was far better at the line-out. I consistently monitored position, communicated with them when necessary and signalled when the line-out was over if a maul had formed.

Shirt Numbers

This was an area of minor improvement. I did manage to use shirt numbers around 25% of the time at offences but this is an area I still need to keep working on especially given it helps my confidence and comes across well with the players.

I must have been doing it more than I think given it helped my to identify consistent issues with the two players mentioned above.

Other Points

I have started to use time when the ball is dead to talk to players who are infringing but not in a way that is worthy of a penalty. Again this helps to manage the game, build the confidence of players and make and future decisions easier to sell if the player knows that you have already spoken to them ‘off the record’ about an aspect of the game.

I suspect I have gone backwards a little in terms of position at the breakdown. It felt, on reflection, that I may have been too close on a number of occasions (sucked in by the wrestling) and could have monitored the defensive line more closely (I’m sure my assessor will let me know next week).

Proposed Areas for Focus

  • Lineout – re-enforce improvements on position and management of backs.
  • Shirt numbers – let’s get that way above 25%
  • Still no idea what my whistle tone is like.
  • Get focus back on position at the breakdown and scrum

All in all a good day at the office. These games are difficult to manage and the feedback from the players at the end of the match was probably the best I have had. In reality, for a referee at my level, the key is to get out on the pitch and to allow a bunch of blokes to enjoy a game played safely, fairly, and refereed at their standard. Job done on that front!

Match Report – 7th January, 2017

Blue 41 (5T) – 12 (2T) Black

Not the game that I expected to referee. Black stepped in at the last minute to make sure this ‘friendly’ match was played after the original visiting team were given a league fixture. This raised the standard of the opposition significantly and to compensate Blue brought in 4 of their first team forwards.

Weather was fair but the ground was extremely heavy and cut up very badly during the match. Due to an injury requiring an ambulance we switched pitch at half time which helped a little.

The standard of play was higher than I have previously experienced and I had a thoroughly enjoyable game. The game was also played in extremely good spirit.


  • Visualise the start of the match and nail the first 15 minutes of each half.
    Continue to work on position at the lineout
  • Stamp out chatter and noise at the breakdown.
  • Manage the breakdown at the level of the final 10 minutes of my previous match which was by far my best performance in that area to date.

General Performance

Despite missing a few weeks over the Christmas break, this was my best performance of the season (i.e. of my career!). I felt fully in control of play, gained the respect of the players as the game progressed, built good relationship on the field, maintained good continuity of play and applied the laws well. Fitness levels also felt very good during a fast moving game on a difficult pitch.

Visualisation of the start of the game while in the changing room was good and I felt more engaged at the start of the match than I ever have. I let myself down on this aspect in the second half where I was more concerned about the injured player and the pitch change than I was about the likely pattern of the second half and the restart.

A development target for me is to start to notice the shirt number of offending players. I feel this improves the communication with players and their confidence in the decision, plus it allows me to more easily spot patterns with consistently offending players. I don’t do this enough at the moment.

Management of Players

I started with a very confident, direct and assertive style at the early breakdowns and this paid dividends. The entire match involved very little chatter and calling out at the breakdown. There was initially some from the Blue 5 who was by far the most talented player on the pitch (normally a First Team flanker) but even he calmed down as I spoke to him and also as he saw that I was making sound, fair, consistent decisions. He was my ‘best mate’ by the end of the match.

Discussions with the Captains was limited. I made sure I acknowledged any comments and checking in with the skippers at half time both were happy with the way the game was going.

Two player-management high points for me:

  • An apology and strong agreement from the player receiving a YC for a late tackle involving no arms – “Absolutely sir. I’m sorry”.
  • Overhearing a player coaching others to keep hands out of the ruck after I had consistently flagged this to players. i.e my management led to the players managing the breakdown more actively themselves.

Set Plays

Overall the scrum went well. I intervened early in the match to set a good standard and slowed down cadence to match the situation in front of me.

One mistake at the scrum was allowing a collapsed scrum to continue 10-15 seconds longer than I should. It was a dangerous situation that I missed initially and could have led to a serious injury.

Lineout is starting to become an area that I want to focus more on. I have improved in terms of my positioning and managing the gap, but the following areas are ones I would like to improve:

  • Positioning still doesn’t feel right to me. I am getting stranded too much when the lineout is won and the ball comes quickly to the receiver. One to discuss.
  • I am not signalling to the backs when the lineout is over, and probably not monitoring the offside enough.
  • My monitoring of offside at the scrum and breakdown is improving but needs to remain a focus.

Point of Law

Overall I thought I applied the laws well. Two areas for improvement:

  • I still do not give the option to the skipper when a ball is kicked through in-goal. I tend to signal a drop-out rather than offering the scrum option.
  • I should have given a Yellow Card for a tip tackle (or at least had a strong word) but I missed the shirt number of the offending player who had legged it by the time I had checked the injured player was ok.

Other Points

I caught myself with my hands on my hips at one point. A really odd habit and terrible body language.

Looking forward to my assessor coming to see my in a couple of weeks to tell me what my whistle tone is like. I struggle to monitor it myself.

Proposed Areas for Focus

  • Lineout – agree an approach with my buddy on positioning and put it into action.
  • Lineout – start to communicate more with the backs and monitor them.
  • Increase my use for shirt numbers for offences.
  • Remember options available especially in-goal.

Match Report – 27th November 2016

Blue 5 – 75 Gold
Played in good conditions on an excellent pitch.

Match Targets:

Standing with your hands on hips (as seen in video from last match)
Standing at back of line-out

Positioning at front of lineout on attacking side
Focusing on whistle tone
Slowing down cadence of scrum
Using clear primary and secondary – don’t rush it

Focusing on first 15 minutes to set the standard high
Visualise kick-off in the changing room to get myself in the right mode
Being assertive and being decisive at the breakdown


Obviously a very one sided match. Gold got their bonus point within the first 10 minutes of the game, playing uphill! This continued to lead to a 0-51 score at half time. The second half (especially the first 10) were far more closely competed and more enjoyable to referee. The final quarter was very heated with two yellow cards and a large scuffle as frustrations and fatigue both started to set in, but overall a game played in good spirit.

I was concerned, after three weeks of a horrid virus, that my fitness would be an issue. I was probably a little slower to some points of play, but not a problem overall. In fact I may have been a little lazy when I was trying to consciously make sure I would last the 80.


Only the camera will tell if I stopped putting my hands on my hips. My body language overall has certainly improved, but the hips thing is completely subconscious and I am not aware of whether I stopped doing it or not.

I stood at the back on the line-out just once when there was some complaining in previous line outs about closing the gap. Other than that I positioned myself on the attacking side roughly opposite the defending scrum half. I did, once or twice end up on the defending side by mistake (doh!). I also focused on more positive positional movement, tracking the ball back once it was in.


Whistle tone is such a simple thing, but is still something I need to focus on. It correlates more with how I feel about the situation in front of me rather than the call that I have made. It’s difficult to explain. But I know I still have work to do. At least once or twice a match the offending team at a penalty have not realised that a penalty, rather than a scrum has been given. More effort required.

Scrum cadence was far better this time. However, Blue went uncontested towards the end of the first half which is always disappointing, but was definitely the right call from a safety perspective.

Like the whistle tone, I still need to think more carefully about clarity and cadence of primary and secondary signals. Improvement yesterday, but still a work in progress.


Visualisation went well in the changing room, but didn’t translate completely into a strong 15 minutes. There was nothing particularly wrong with the first 15, but it still takes me a good 5 minutes to get into the swing of the match. The first 15 of the second half is less of an issue.

I also used the half-time to reflect on the match and what would be happening. Gold would be playing downhill so the trend of the first half was likely to continue. A tired Blue team playing uphill would be desperate to kill the ball and slow down the pace of the game – watch for this at the breakdown. We were to continue with uncontested scrums, so clean ball was going to be available quickly – keep on your toes and think about positioning away from the scrum to give me the best chance of following play. I was wrong! Blue came out and actually started to play, putting Gold under a lot of pressure and making a real impression on the game. But at least the reflection at half time made me think.

The breakdown was reasonable well managed. I think I was better in the last match, but I still controlled it more often than not. There are still more occasions than I would like when the ruck becomes a brawl and I hesitate a few seconds too long, allowing the third or even fourth offence to happen before taking action.

In terms of general assertiveness and confidence, I felt I controlled the game well and worked well through the captains. I had a classic in the second half to the Hornets skipper – “Time off. Skipper – that’s three penalties in your 22 in the last 80 seconds. One there, one there and the last one there. All of them at the breakdown. It stops now please. Time is off. Please have a word so I don’t need to take any further action. Understood?”

I managed the YCs well and remembered to separate the players before dealing with the offenders.

I smiled a lot and had a great, enjoyable game. Good feedback from the coaches and captains afterwards.

Match Report – 30th October 2016

Gold 7 (1T) – 36 (6T) Red


Open play and a fairly even affair. Gold’s forwards dominated the scrum but lost the majority of their line outs in crucial areas. Red were far stronger as a coherent force and made the most of the opportunities available leading to a comfortable win secured in the first half and strongly defended in the second.

Conditions were excellent as was the playing surface. The game was played in good spirit with a small number if niggles in the second half.

MT was good enough to come along and video the match, and JH (Premiership AR!) turned up for good measure watching the second half. His first changing room comment was “I had forgotten just what a lonely existence you guys have”.

My Agreed targets for Improvement

  • Smile goddamn it!
  • Visualise the first minute of the match ahead of kick off and then nail the first 15 minutes.
  • Intervene early at the breakdown to set the standard, keep things safe and to stop the chaos.


First of all let me point out that this is a particularly interesting review for me given anything I say can be proven or contradicted by the video. No pressure, but if this write up bears no relation to the video then my credibility in writing these descriptions of apparent self awareness is shot to pieces! Despite that, I wont hold back and I’ll say that this was by far my best performance and most enjoyable match so far. The midweek discussion was hugely helpful and, it’s early days, but I do think I’ve turned an important corner.

I felt far more in control of the players’ communication to me, my relationship with the captains, and my oversight of the game. My confidence grew through the match rather than diminishing as it has in the past, and this left me feeling far more positive and resilient as a result.

I was worried that the video would get to me and would influence my performance. I’m glad to say I (almost) totally forgot about it. The one exception was a stupid mistake applying a simple Law which had me kicking myself because it was on camera and was such an simple error. Beyond that I just got on with it.


This may well be the last time I feel compelled to start with my thoughts on the breakdown, and I’m pleased to say this is the first time I am highlighting it for positive reasons.

As agreed I simplified my thinking at the breakdown, kept in mind a clear picture of what should be happening, spotted the difference if it occurred and acted quickly and decisively to set a standard early on. This worked a treat and there were very few instances of the breakdown genuinely breaking down. I may have been a little slow at some points and could possible just have had a scrum restart, but this was a massive improvement for me and had a big impact on my control of the game in general.

So now it’s time to move on from this obsession and to look at the breakdown literally from a different angle. In general I need to up my focus on offside, but certainly at the breakdown getting my position correct and watching the offside of the defending team is an area to focus on. I am guessing I am watching the defensive line no more than 50% of the time. It will be interesting to see what the video shows up in terms of my positioning at the breakdown.


In general I have fairly poor awareness of my positioning relative to play and likely flow of the game. Again the video will be helpful, but a few thoughts:

  • Both JH and MT commented that I predominantly (in fact exclusively in the first half) stand at the back of the lineout.
  • As discussed above, movement at the breakdown is inconsistent.
  • I got knocked over AGAIN! (To be honest it was quite a good save. My view is I used my core strength to stay upright. The video will show I just landed on another play and bounced back to my feet.)
  • My position at the scrum is also quite static.

The Laws

I have become a little rusty on the laws. I’ll use the next couple of weeks (I have a break next weekend) to refresh my knowledge. A case in point is early in the game Red kicked into in-goal. The Gold 15 touched down and I gave a scum-5 rather than a 22 drop-out. Total mental block which was questioned by the 15 but I stuck to my guns – so at least I sold my decision well.

This will be easily overcome but is a frustration given I prided myself in my knowledge of the Laws. Homework time!

This is important to me because (a) it obviously knocks the confidence of the players in you if you make errors and (b) a solid grounding helps with my self belief.

Set Pieces

The gap between bind and set could have been better and I fell into the trap of not setting the standard early enough….will I ever learn!

I suspect I am too close to the scrum to be able to monitor various aspects.
JH recommended that I ‘invest more’ in the lineout, varying my position more and dealing with the simple factors such as maintaining the gap.

Signals, whistle and advantag

I hope the video shows some good primary and secondary signals. I suspect my whistle tone doesn’t vary enough and JH felt that I was too hurried giving the secondary signal.

I normally feel I play advantage well, but this game didn’t feel to be quite there. My evaluator mentioned previously that I didn’t always call advantage over, and there were some moments in the game where I could have played advantage better but didn’t and one moment where I got myself confused – I didn’t remember this clearly enough to describe but I remember thinking that I was probably wrong to give a penalty advantage and then called advantage over to get out of the issue.,


I managed to achieve this one this week. The second half of the match became quite heated with a lot of niggles between the backs, but I kept positive and there was still good rapport and a positive feel overall to the end of the match.

Yellow Cards

My first Yellow Cards!

Both scrum halves got themselves into a more and more heated battle. I sent the Gold 9 off for throwing a punch. This was very tricky because I only caught it out of the corner of my eye. I’ll be interested to hear how you think I handled it. Once the Gold 9 was back on it was obviously payback time and inevitable the Red nine put in a very late and aggressive tackle to get himself sent off.

Comedy Moment

I held a pass brilliantly and could probably have made a few meters if I’d tried – all apparently caught nicely on camera.

Match Report – 9th October 2016

Red v White
(Level 10 match. Weather fair. Pitch good)
Score: 20 – 3

A game that was far closer than the score would seem. Still 0-0 at 20 minutes and 7-3 by half time. Both teams are towards the top of the division and have ‘history’ in terms of vying for top spot. Red had no substitutes and so were tiring by the end of the match. Nevertheless they were the fitter, more accurate team and came a away with a comfortable margin.

My Agreed targets for Improvement

  1. Improve assertiveness. Focusing on clear primary and secondary signals. Body language. Strong use of whistle and whistle tone (especially at penalties).
  2. First 15 minutes (both halves). Set the standards early especially in terms of the breakdown and backchat from players.
  3. Positioning at scrum and breakdown. Make sure I am moving backwards to give a wider viewing angle, and also turning to more easily see the defensive line.
  4. Smile.


I pray for the day when pre-match nerves are not this bad! I’m sure it will come with time and experience, but I am still extremely anxious until I pull on the shirt. The minute I walk out for the pre-match routine I am fine though.I could just do without the 24 hrs of nausea beforehand.
It was clear from the off that this was going to be a fiercely competitive game. The game was played at a very high pace with a lot of defensive kicking. Let’s just say I can feel it in my legs today.
I thoroughly enjoyed the game. The standard was the highest I have covered. It was played in a good spirit and I felt I contributed well to the game.


At the breakdown I did consistently manage to give myself more space and repeatedly had a good view of the defensive line. I’m sure I didn’t get it right every time, but this was definitely an area where I improved from the last match. I was amazed at how much more I could see and how I had more time. I must have been breathing down people’s necks at the breakdown previously.
I am still getting in the way of players however. In particular the defensive 7 – who politely asked me to think about leaving his channel free.
Overall control of the breakdown still did not feel good. In fact, it varied through the match. In the second half in particular it seemed to be more under my control. But I don’t recall doing anything different. The highly competitive game at this level of rugby meant there were many, many players involved at almost every instance. I’m just not seeing the patterns (tackler release, tackler away, ball available, back-foot, no hands etc.) clearly enough and quickly enough to be more in control. (It may of course be that I am being harsh on myself – the Red coach at the end of the game said he thought I managed the breakdown particularly well and kept the game flowing very well).


This still needs more work. I actually thought that I had stepped my assertiveness up a level.
  • I controlled discussions with players by referring them to their captain.
  • I told the Red coach that he could say all he liked to his players, but any comments towards me were to stop immediately (he apologised and said nothing more for the rest of the game).
  • In general I was far more positive with signals and whistle.
But the first things one of the players said to me at the end of the game was “If you don’t mind me saying sir. Your decisions today were spot on, but you shouldn’t let people on either side talk to you like they did today. Just reverse a couple of decisions and we’ll all shut up”. This is exactly the same feedback as from the captain in my last match. So, still work to be done. The chatter from the players wasn’t in any way abusive or aggressive, it was just incessant appeals against the other players, especially at the breakdown.
So still work to be done and help to be given on this front. We’ll get there.


I did. Though probably not as much as I could have as the game intensity increased.

Points of Law

In a bizarre moment, the White players had a 22 drop out. Instead the 10 took a quick tap and passed the ball. I spotted the issue but then had a complete blank on the options available. I wrongly awarded a Free Kick to Red. I’ll know it’s retake or scrum at centre of 22 next time.
I incorrectly penalised for playing a player in the air when the player was competing for the ball.
I called ‘advantage over’ in a ruck just as the ball popped to the 9s hands 🙁

Comedy Moment

The Red 10 went for a drop goal. I noticed him drop back and thought “That’s odd, anyone would think he’s going to attempt a drop. Hold on he is attempting a drop!”. I went in to slow motion, but he basically kicked the ball horizontally and hit me straight in the face from about 10m. I kept my dignity and saved his blushes.

Points to work on

Not massively different in my mind
  1. Even more assertiveness.
  2. Keep reinforcing the movement improvements at the breakdown and scrum.
  3. Study video of the breakdown and focus on patterns and what my calls would have been.
  4. Keep smiling

The Drop Out

I’m not sure why, but I have never been completely comfortable with the drop out both in terms of finding it in the Laws and also applying the Laws.

I guess I struggle to find it because I always go looking in the In Goal section of the Laws (Section 22 – in 2017) and the relevant Laws are actually in Section 13 which is on Kick-Off and Restart Kicks. Struggling to apply the Law is really just down to practice – this isn’t something that happens much in a game and so you don’t realy get into a routine.

When to Award a Drop-Out

In-Goal is a tricky area for any referee, especially a new one like me. The Laws are complex and you are in the “Red Zone” where the pressure is higher, the action is more frantic and the “volume level” is always going to be on 11.

The decision process is really quite simple. Did the ball end up in the In-Goal through an action of an attacker? That is, did the attacking side legally take the ball in to in-goal or did they kick it there (including a penalty kick at the posts)? If so, did the ball go out of play or was it made dead by a defender? If either of those are true then a Drop-Out is awarded.

Note: There is one exception here which is if the ball is kicked through touch in goal or through the dead-ball line by the attacking team, then there is a second option to the drop-out which is to have a scrum where the ball was kicked. I have never been asked for this, but there you go.

Taking the Drop-Out

Players get confused at this point because this restart just feels different. The main reason players are a little disoriented is because there is no Law about giving the kicker space. Unlike a penalty or free-kick, there is no Law about a distance to stand away from the kicker. Instead the defending team must withdraw immediately behind the 22m line. Once they are there they can stand smack on the line, and they can jump to try to block the kick. Feels different, right? The one thing they cannot do is cross the 22-metre line (free kick).

It is more straight forward for the kickers team. Like most other kicks they need to be behind the kicker, or making a real effort to get there. The sanction if they are not is slightly unusual in that it is a scrum to the opposition at the middle of the 22-metre line.

If the kick goes wrong…

Most incorrect kicks result in a scrum at the centre of the 22-metre line. These include the kick not being a drop kick, the ball not crossing the 22-metre line (remember to play advantage) and the ball being kicked directly in to touch. In the last case, the kick can be accepted and a line-out taken on the 22-metre line.

Be prepared for confusion

So there you have it – different, but not too complex. Keep these simple guides in place and all will be well, but be prepared for confusion amongst the players. I have seen all kinds of things happen. Players have tried to tap-and-go (illegal – ball did not cross the 22). Place the ball on the ground and tap it forwards and then pick it up (illegal – probably didn’t cross 22 line and wasn’t a drop kick). Both of these are confusing a drop-out with a free-kick. So focus, be prepared for a quick kick, and do not be distracted by the actions and complaints of confused players.

The Mystery of the Maul

I have been struggling for a while (from my first summer of 7s in fact) to manage the point when a maul ends and has done so legally. What was happening to me far too often was a maul forming, moving forwards a few metres and then collapsing of its own accord, or at least not through anything that I had seen that was outside the Laws.

Once this happens you instantly get players from the defending side appealing that this is now a turn-over and we should stop play for a scrum with their put in.

For a while I was confused by the fact that the player with the ball was now on the ground and I should therefore manage the situation as a tackle, telling defenders to release the player and telling the ‘tackled’ player to release the ball. WRONG!

Here is the simple routine I have now been taught:

  1. Did the maul end legally? If not then blow that whistle and give a penalty to the non-offending side (probably the attacking team).
  2. If the maul ended legally, is the ball available? If it is then call “use it” and give 5 seconds (or so) for the ball to come out and be recycled.
  3. If the ball is not available within 5 seconds then whistle and play a turn-over (note the exception that this is not a turnover if a player catching a kick took the ball into the maul).

It’s that simple. Finally I have a method.