Stop! Coaches, before you decide this will be of no interest to you, take note of the fact that if you also referee, you will be a better coach, and you will develop a broader understand of the Game.
It is not widely known here that in many of the major Rugby countries, and in all of Britain for example, the home team coach referees most schools and age grade Rugby . Also, in adult Rugby , the home club appoints its own members to referee its lower division games. Referees Societies simply do not have enough referees to go around.
As a coach, especially in Age Grade Rugby, the responsibility for refereeing may occur. For very young players this requires sympathetic handling so that the game flows. Rugby referees are in charge of a contact sport which involves physical contact. Any sport involving physical contact has inherent dangers. It is important to use the referee's authority in order to ensure that the Game is played within the Laws and as safely as possible.
Referees owe a legal duty to players and may potentially be held liable for an injured player if they fail to carry out that duty properly. This section of the module will examine legal duties of the referee, standard of care and risk and safety management strategies including specific technical skills.
2. The Referee and the Law
Legal liability is a possibility against which the referee must take reasonable precautions.
We all owe a duty to take reasonable care to avoid injury to those people whom we should foresee as likely to be injured in the event that we are negligent. If our careless conduct creates a foreseeable risk of harm to others, negligence Law establishes that we owe a duty to take reasonable care to avoid the occurrence of the harm.
If a Rugby referee asks "who is likely to be injured if I fail to exercise reasonable care in the performance of my duties?", the answer is the players.
b. The standard of care
Even though referees owe a duty of care to players, it is important to note that they do not risk legal liability simply because a player is injured in a game under their supervision. In order to establish liability in negligence, it must be shown that the referee's conduct fell below the standard that might reasonably be expected of a person refereeing a game at that level and that it caused the injury that occurred.
A referee cannot be found liable for errors of judgment, oversight or lapses of which any referee might be guilty in a fast moving and vigorous game.
The threshold of legal liability is high, but it was crossed when an experienced hooker broke his neck in an under 19 game. The evidence showed that scrums in that game had repeatedly come together with excessive force, that there had been approximately 25 collapsed scrums in the course of the game and that the player broke his neck in a third attempt to put down a scrum (immediately following two collapses), when there was once again a strong impact between the opposing packs. At no time during the game had the referee insisted that the players employ the crouch-touch-pause-engage sequence.
The court found that the referee had failed to exercise such care and skill as was reasonably to be expected in the circumstances of a hotly contested game at that level and that he was liable for the serious injury suffered by the player.
Though it is small, there is a risk of legal liability on the part of referees. It is essential for this reason, as well as the common sense desire to reduce the risk of injury in an emotional contact sport, to consider some basic techniques of risk and safety management.
(Officials comprise referees and touch judges.)
c. Risk and safety management control strategies
i. Physical facilities
The primary responsibility for ensuring that the playing enclosure is free of safety hazards lies with Rugby clubs.
However, it is prudent for the referee to deal with certain obvious defects. Check the following items:
Minor departures from this list might be allowed where they are pointed out to both captains who then relay the information to their teams, which can then decide whether they wish to play the game in the knowledge of any unusual hazards that exist.
ii. The occurrence of injuries
The function of the referee is to ensure that the Game is played fairly within the Laws. It is up to the clubs to have an emergency action plan in place and the job of the referee, beyond stopping the game in the event of injury, is to allow the clubs to implement their plan.
Unless the referee is also suitably medically trained, he or she should not be involved in the management of a seriously injured player.
iii. Safety checks of players' equipment
Prior to the game, the referee should inspect all players and replacements for the following:
iv. Safety in general play
The referee should apply the Laws relating to safety and in particular:
v. Specific technical skills
In managing risk, it is essential to pay particular attention to the higher risk aspects of the Game. These include scrums, line-outs and the tackle.
Scrums have given rise to the greatest number of catastrophic injuries in Rugby .
At the junior level, the referee is considerably assisted by the under 19 Law variations, which have done a great deal to stabilize scrumming at that level.
Referees, especially those use to refereeing adult rugby, must be aware of the Under 19 Law variations and must adhere to these when refereeing this level of rugby.
Problems may be encountered more often in refereeing the scrum at lower levels of club Rugby , particularly if there is an imbalance in the physical strength, experience and skill among the front row players.
The referee's first priority must be safety for all players participating in the scrum. Although it often difficult to determine the cause of collapsing scrums, the Laws of the Game provide the referee with the greatest support in dealing with this phase of play.
The referee's management of the scrum begins with pre-game and off-season preparation.
It is up to you to ensure that you understand dangerous scrummaging techniques, in particular:
Once the game begins, your priorities are to set the first scrum carefully and then to pay attention to scrumming throughout the game.
At the first scrum
Keep the players apart and let them know your expectations. These should include instructing the front rows that you expect a stable, solid scrum and instructing them:
Following this signal, the front rows can engage when they wish, as long as they do so reasonably promptly after the referee has given the signal.
Ensure that #9 puts the ball in without delay.
The referee should adopt a firm and positive approach right from the first scrum systematically checking for:
It is important to assist the players to get scrumming right from the start and, if necessary, to penalise infractions.
After the first scrum
If scrummaging problems persist or begin to occur, the referee must continue to insist on correct formation, if necessary, slowing down the formation process.
Among the techniques that are available are:
Remember always to apply the basics:
Now that the Laws have been changed so as to allow support of the jumper, it is evident that the jumper can be held up in a potentially vulnerable position some distance from the ground. Because of the dangers of this, the referee should: