Loose Pass: Referees finally begin the ‘war’ on timewasting after an ironic retirement

Lawrence Nolan
Luke Pearce was hot on timewasting in a recent Premiership game.

Luke Pearce was hot on timewasting in a recent Premiership game.

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with the problems of timewasting/keeping/killing apparently plaguing the sport…

Time is, it seems, becoming rugby’s hottest subject. Whether it is time being afforded to a struggling director of rugby, or being considered as a part of a punishment, or being measured in terms of being ‘alive’ or ‘dead’, all that is current on the lips of all has the use, or abuse, of time at its heart.

Ben O’Keeffe‘s implementation of a countdown at a ruck a fortnight ago – that’s one of those rucks where time is clearly being wasted by the addition of one or more extra links in the caterpillar – was a long, long overdue and welcome initiative. Super Rugby has often been a breeding ground for the introduction of new initiatives, but this one is clearly intended for global use immediately.

Luke Pearce acts

Luke Pearce also went at it on Friday night in the Northampton Saints v Saracens game, once giving Saints scrum-half Tom James a warning and then later giving Saracens the scrum as James dithered at the back of a ruck.

Mr. Pearce was as succinct as ever: “You’ve already had one chance over there where I talked to you and where you took seven or eight seconds. It’s tough, but that’s it.”

It instantly had an effect. James was under tremendous pressure already and had already coughed up a charge-down try, while both scrum-halves visibly sped up their kicking game. The Saints reacted well ultimately, clearing up their rucks far better and with James and counterpart Ivan van Zyl more urgent, but it was good to see the ruck and box-kick become both a fairer contest and less of a dead-time point.

Other players cottoned on quickly. Joe Marler’s countdown of a Bath clearance on Saturday was audible, with referee Matthew Carley also noticeably hurrying players up (although not counting down so much).

Mr. Pearce was also instrumental in saving time later in the match too, giving Fin Smith the hurry-up as the latter faffed around in order to take as many of the 90 seconds as he could for a try conversion later in the game.

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Another popular decision with all bar the Saints fans – not least with Saracens scoring their fourth and bonus-point try in the final seconds which Mr. Pearce had saved – but the initiative now seems clear: we need to stop players and teams wasting time and get back to the action.

All good so far, but while the former is something explicit in law, the latter is not: indeed, Saints players, staff and fans had every right (emotionally, not technically) to feel aggrieved at Mr. Pearce invoking the spirit of the game for one particular kick when it happens elsewhere on a weekly basis.

Loose Pass would like to see kicks hurried up, but as a suggested solution to the problem, would prefer to see time for conversions registered as time off, from the moment the try is scored, and time back on when the game is restarted, with a maximum of 45 seconds for a kicker to take his kick in between. It would certainly give kickers enough time, but not too much, while negating any chance of the spirit of the game coming up against the technical definitions of an in-game event, as happened in Northampton.

While Fin Smith was a little naïve in hanging around with the ball on the tee as the clock ticked down, his Harlequins namesake Marcus was a little more wily on the Saturday. Faced with a kick under the posts after a try, it took him a good 70 seconds to get the tee and the ball, meander back to his spot, faff around placing the ball and picking non-existent muck off his studs etcetera, so that by the time he was set to take the kick the shot clock was already down to under 20 seconds. Time clearly wasted, but in a different and less palpable way and certainly not in a way where a referee could intervene.

Sin-bin controversy

Either way, it seems referees are governing on-pitch time better. The same cannot be said about their counterparts on the sidelines. While it is correct that an entire game ought not to be replayed just because a player returned from the sin-bin three minutes early, we probably need far more clarity on just how a player can only spend seven minutes in a sin-bin rather than the prescribed 10. An apology is one thing, an explanation would be really good – simply for us to understand.

And given all this kerfuffle about time-keeping and timewasting, it seems highly ironic that we bid farewell to Mathieu Raynal this July after 50-plus Tests and over 350 first-class matches. He has been one of the game’s finest and one of the referees most vocal in ensuring the game was played in the right spirit.

He will be remembered for many moments, but one in particular – this is the irony of him deciding to hang up his whistle this week of all weeks – that moment in Melbourne when he pinged Bernard Foley for taking too much time over a free-kick in the final minute of a match against New Zealand, giving the All Blacks a game-winning opportunity.

As reviewed by Loose Pass at the time, he was perfectly within his rights. If only it had heralded a war on timewasting then; it’s incredible to think this is almost two years ago, to consider how many interminable caterpillar rucks there have been in between. Hopefully in his new role, he can give it some fresh momentum. We wish him well.

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