Inside Rugby: Time for referees to crackdown on repeated offences
Referee Andrew Small's ears are probably still burning following the broadside fired by Leicester Tigers director of rugby Richard Cockerill after the Gloucester game on Saturday.
Cockerill's post-game comments about Small "guessing" and needing to be "educated" about the laws of the game sparked some fascinating debate this week.
For me, the referee was clearly wrong overseeing the scrum at Welford Road by yellow-carding only one Gloucester player on the back of 10 offences in that particular facet of the game.
Small set a precedent by warning Gloucester after their third scrum offence, and saying that the next one would, quite rightly, lead to a yellow card.
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That was good officiating and carrying through with his threat was also the right thing to do when Shaun Knight was sent to the bin.
But from the 25th minute onwards, he took no serious action to stop the visitors doing exactly the same thing another six times.
If Small had applied the letter of the law, which states yellow cards can be given for persistent breaches of the same rule, or for deliberate infringement to prevent their opponents from gaining a decisive advantage, Gloucester could have ended the game with 14 or even 13 men.
I have heard, and read, a few people this week saying "nobody wants to see that" and that it would be "bad for the game".
It would certainly produce an uneven contest. But whose fault would that be?
Would an utter humiliation be the catalyst certain teams may need to work harder on their scrummaging?
Would their coaches spend more money on their front row resources, instead of spending it elsewhere?
Maybe, they would start putting in the same amount of work that Leicester do on their scrummaging in all weathers on the training field to make themselves better.
Maybe, they would learn to just hang in there and push, instead of cheating and looking for a way out.
If Leicester had continued to infringe at the breakdown that would have been "bad for the game" but they would have kept losing players to the bin – as they did on their fourth and fifth offences.
If Tigers had consistently gone off-side in open play to cut out the threat of Freddie Burns and Jimmy Cowan, that would have been "bad for the game" but they would have had players shown repeated yellow cards.
If Leicester had continually pulled down driving mauls, the same sanctions would have been applied.
So for Gloucester not to be penalised for repeated scrum transgressions was wrong.
The bottom line from last Saturday's game was that Gloucester were trying to nullify Leicester's vast superiority in one particular facet of the game by repeatedly cheating.
Make no mistake about it, that is their choice to do so.
If that decision results in the game producing a lop-sided scoreline after players have been sent off, then it is not the referees' fault – it is the fault solely of the players who decide to cheat.
They are the ones ruining the game – not the referees who should merely be adhering to the laws of the game.
Leicester spend time and money on making sure they can exploit their strengths in the scrum and gain valuable ground on the pitch which can be used to their advantage.
If opposition teams are not good enough to compete with them there, they should not be allowed to get away with simply collapsing, popping up or wheeling the set-piece.
The scrum is still a massive part of this wonderful game of ours and its various nuances should be protected.