I must get forty emails from the International Rugby Board a week…I’m almost considering opening up a direct phone link with Dublin to save them to bother of typing.
But among the developmental announcements, the beginnings of World Cup qualification at some dusty corner of the globe and the twenty weekly missives on the Sevens circuit, the ones that prick my interest are the referees appointments.
Sadly, this is a reflection on the over-importance of refs and their particular foibles to our game. The summers’ assignments came in just last week, and of course the first thing one looks for who has been given the Lions tests.
Chris Pollock, the New Zealander, will take the first test, France’s Romain Poite the third. Predictably, the pivotal test of the series, the second match, goes to the IRB’s current ref-du-jour, South Africa’s Craig Joubert.
Yes, that Craig Joubert, who roundly ruined the Scotland-Wales game in the Six Nations with his arm in the air for what felt like hours on end.
Joubert may be, as Scotland coach Scott Johnson insisted after that game, “a quality human being”. But it strikes me as incredibly odd that the South African seems to have a monopoly on rugby’s biggest matches of the moment.
This year he took Scotland-Wales and “The Crunch”, England versus France, the annual game that brings together rugby’s two biggest markets in Europe and is thus probably the biggest game on the planet outwith Lions and RWC years.
He did last year’s Six Nations decider between Wales and France. He did the Rugby World Cup Final AND the semi-final between New Zealand and Australia the previous week. Even FIFA aren’t corrupt enough to pull that one in their World Cup.
I wouldn’t have a problem if Joubert had been outstanding in these games – perhaps he looks great on those clipboards the refereeing assessors clasp to their breast secretively when you see them in the stands – but he’s ruined at least three of them.
Now he gets the biggest game of the entire rugby year as well.
It is interesting to contrast the reaction to the last two refs of Wales’ Six Nations campaigns, both of whom were deemed to have been conned by the smartness of the champions’ front row.
Joubert’s reward for annoying Scotland is to get the biggest game of the year, Steve Walsh’s reward for annoying England (admittedly, not for the first time and hopefully not the last) is to get one “international” game this summer, the Lions’ knockabout against the Barbarians in Hong Kong that opens the tour.
Clearly, it’s a bigger black mark on your assessment if England are upset than if it’s Scotland.