Just when I thought I was beginning to master the rules of rugby, there were significant changes again at the beginning of this season.
A well-played game of rugby is like a game of chess, there is a need to move the right pieces to the right places, however, it seems to come with many more rules than chess.
The World Rugby website outlines the twenty-one laws of the game. More complicated than the written laws are the forty-odd referee signals. Even the World Rugby video of each signal seems sometimes inadequate to interpreting particular decisions.
However, being a rugby referee is not an easy task and criticism of the referee of any match from a seat in the stands a hundred metres from the play is usually ill-advised. Without a thorough understanding of what is happening, no referee would be allowed by the relevant association to take charge of a game.
Striving to understand the nuances of the game and still not having grasped each of the subtle differences in signals, watching a match tends to be a reflective process, an effort to understand what is being planned in each phase of play and to discern why the whistle has been blown at unexpected moments.
Realizing the complexity of the rules and the marginal nature of some infringements, there is a sense of impatience with those who do not bother to think about why the whistle has been blown, yet roar abuse at an unfortunate referee.
Sitting at the RDS in Dublin one afternoon, it became clear that the man behind thought himself as having an instant grasp of the game.
One of the Leinster players missed a catch, knocking the ball forwards and the referee blew the whistle for a scrum to the opposition, as the rules stipulate and as any schoolboy player would know.
The man rose to his feet and roared that the referee had no idea what he was doing. It was a cringeworthy moment; those around the man had clearly become increasingly embarrassed at the man’s voluble commentary on the game and his intemperate outbursts at the officials.
Perhaps the man is a measure of the times, one of the countless self-appointed experts on all matters one encounters, particularly on the social media platforms. Were there a set of rules for acceptable online conduct, he would undoubtedly ignore it, claiming that it arose from fake news and had been drafted by a small elite.
It is odd that a game as physical as rugby has become a retreat where order and logic can be found.