The England coaches have come out recently and said that referee Steve Walsh affected the result of their match against Wales on Saturday. After the players took defeat on the chin, as rugby players should, the decision of the coaches to come out in attack of the referee now is a little strange and certain to provoke controversy.
Going into the game many England fans worried how Walsh would affect proceedings. He has a history with England, having infamously clashed with former England fitness coach David Reddin in 2003. He has had to be taken off their games in the past, and his problems with alcohol and bans are well documented.
All of that said, he has actually refereed quite well this championship. When Ireland played France, in atrocious, monsoon-like conditions, he allowed the game to flow and it ended up being not a bad game. Contrast that to the penalty-laden, stop-start snooze-fest that was the Craig Joubert-ruled Scotland v Wales game the same weekend, and Walsh deserves some credit.
For the England v Wales game he was harsh on England, no doubt about it. But harsh does not mean wrong - there were very few, if any, decisions that were incontrovertibly incorrect. England conceded 12 penalties to Wales' seven, which is not even that much of a difference (although England did also concede four free-kicks).
So the first problem with the coaches' criticism of him is that it smacks of sour grapes. England lost because they were the worse team on the day, not because of Walsh's interpretation of the rules. No referee can be responsible for a 27-point margin of defeat - it is simply not possible.
The second issue is the public nature of the criticism, which is becoming all too commonplace in the game. There are proper channels to go through when assessing referees' performances - the coach can fill out a form with his thoughts or complaints, and the referee is then consulted with the feedback. If Lancaster, Rowntree et al feel aggrieved by any perceived injustices this is the way to make themselves heard.
So, the issue is not really whether Walsh was right or wrong with his decisions. That is something that will continue to be debated, and a consensus between those wearing red and those wearing white is unlikely ever to be reached.
The issue is that England's coaches should not have publicly had a go at him. Under IRB regulations he cannot respond and, whether right or wrong, it makes them seem petty and like sore losers.
Sadly, moaning about the referee is something that is creeping more and more into the game. This season Conor O'Shea and Richard Cockerill have both been warned about their conduct following attacks on refereeing standards.
If Sergio Parisse is handed a ban for abusive language towards the referee during a game, does it not smack of double standards if coaches are allowed to rant at them after whistle? Respect, particularly towards the referee, is everything in rugby - that goes for coaches just as much as players.
- Sports & Recreation