Lord Tedder, then Chancellor of Cambridge University, once famously said, “Football is a gentleman’s game played by hooligans; rugby is a hooligan’s game played by gentlemen” and, at times, this can seem like a very apt summary of the two sports. In many ways, rugby is more brutal, yet far more gentlemanly than football, but there are others things that football can learn from rugby. Here are five of the most important things in rugby that, if applied to football, could make it a much better sport to watch.
#1 – Television Match Officials
Since Geoff Hurst’s debatable goal in 1966 and beyond, football fans everywhere have been screaming for better technology and officiating, but it was only this season that the Goal Decision System (GDS) was introduced to the Barclays Premier League and other high-profile competitions. However, this was an unbelievable waste of money because, for almost no cost at all, football should introduce rugby’s TMO system.
In rugby, there are very rarely decisions that spark the sort of outrage that, for example, Thierry Henry’s handball against Ireland, caused in 2009. This is because, if the on-field referee missed an incident but there is outrage from the opposition, then he can simply speak to his colleague upstairs – the TMO. This fourth official can then review the incident from every angle, zoomed in or in slow-motion. Even if the TMO cannot find conclusive evidence one way or another, the referee can see the footage on the big screens in the stadium, and make his decision then.
A high-profile case, where the TMO helped an unsure referee make an important decision, was in this season’s Six Nations match between France and Italy at the Stade de France. After the two front rows stood up in a scrum, there was an altercation involving props Michele Rizzo and Rabah Slimani, of Italy and France respectively. The referee asked the TMO to “check for foul play.” The reverse-angle, slow-motion replay revealed a headbutt from Rizzo, which was then reciprocated by the Frenchman, before the Italian retaliated with three uppercuts into the body of Slimani. Without a TMO, the referee would probably have given a penalty for standing up in the scrum, but with help from the man upstairs, the correct decision was reached: red cards for both Rizzo and Slimani.
#2 – Blood Replacements
If a footballer has a minor injury, but is bleeding, then for health and safety reasons he must leave the field of play. This is very logical and the same rule applies in rugby. However, in football, the bloodied player must either get the blood under control or his shirt swapped for a clean one if required. Whilst this is taking place, the team will either go down to ten men temporarily or be forced to make a substitution, neither of which are ideal situations.
In rugby, the ‘Blood Replacement Clause’ allows any of the unused replacements or a player who has already be withdrawn for tactical (not injured) reasons, to replace a player who has had to leave the field due to blood. If and when the bloodied player is able to return to the pitch, the blood replacement is reversed. This means that the team is not weakened numerically for the time that the player is being sorted out.
Although the blood replacement system is very useful, it is occasionally used illegally. Most infamously was ‘The Bloodgate Scandal’. This occurred in a Heineken Cup match between Harlequins and Leinster in 2009. Harlequins fly-half Nick Evans had been taken off due to an injury, but the Harlequins staff made sure that his replacement card was marked as ‘tactical’. The reason for this became clear, when Tom Williams, the Quins winger, came off due to a bloodied mouth. Evans jumped up and came back onto the pitch. Two fake injuries – the perfect crime?It would have been, except for Williams being caught winking. This sparked an investigation, which discovered that the winger had used a man-made blood vessel pump, to fake his bloodied mouth, which earned the club a hefty fine.
#3 – Sin Bins
As in a few other sports, such as ice hockey and handball, rugby operates a sin-bin system. It is very simple. If a player receives a yellow card, they sit out for ten minutes. If they receive another one, then they sit out the rest of the match. This prevents players from ‘taking one for the team’ and going relatively unpunished.
In football, a yellow card means absolutely nothing to the match in which it is given; it is merely an insurance policy. Providing nothing too barbaric happens, players have one cheap shot. Yellow cards are only effective if a player has already had 9 in a season and knows one more will result in a two match ban, such as Steven Gerrard’s current situation in the Barclays Premier League for Liverpool.
An example of a player being sin-binned for preventing a powerful attack from scoring, was Rory Best against Wales. The Irish hooker entered the ruck at the side to slow down the ball. Anywhere else on the pitch and it would have been a mere penalty, but in this situation, Ireland had to lose a player for ten minutes.
#4 – Referee Microphones
Whilst viewing a football match, it can often be confusing as to what the referee has blown his whistle for. All we have to go on are a few strange hand actions from the referee and feeble attempts at lip-reading from the commentary team. The annoying thing about this is that the referee has a microphone so that he can communicate with his assistants. Why then, can the viewers not listen in on the conversation?
In rugby, the viewers can listen in and it makes the match much more enjoyable. Admittedly, the rules of rugby are much more confusing that football and need explaining more often, but still, surely it wouldn’t hurt to make the referee audible to the viewers. Even when you are at a rugby match, for most high-profile matches, you can purchase ‘RefLink.’ RefLink allows fans in the stadium to hear what is going on. For example, in the 2013 Aviva Premiership Final at Twickenham Stadium, Dylan Hartley was sent off. It was very confusing and no-one knew why. This was until Wayne Barnes, the referee, explained to everyone what had happened.
#5 – National Pride
The thing that irritates me the most in international football is when half of the team don’t sing the national anthem. When they are in front of millions of their compatriots, surely the least they could do would be to sing the national anthem. Yet, every England match, for example, the camera will pan past four or five mute Englishmen. Here, England are preparing to play Portugal in a World Cup Quarter Final, yet even this occasion couldn’t lift the players to sing ‘God Save The Queen’ loudly and proudly.
In contrast, the 2011 Rugby World Cup Quarter-Final between Engalnd and France was met with an emotional, and extremely loud rendition of the anthems from the England rugby team. As the cameras went past, not a single player was mute or even mumbling; every single one of them was singing their national anthem with pride. In rugby, this is just how the players sing the anthem for every international match.