Following the usual pre-Six Nations meeting of interested parties in London on Tuesday, the IRB's referee boss, Paddy O'Brien was able to confirm that there would be no change of emphasis in refereeing in the Six Nations.
As was the case in 2011, match officials have been told to concentrate on specific aspects of the tackle, scrum, maul, offside lines at the breakdown and foul play.
O'Brien further confirmed the ongoing commitment to consultation and communication between the IRB and its Member Unions in all areas of refereeing practice.
The Six Nations will also see the debut of a new match official selection process, designed to further promote consistency of performance management at the top level and ensure that the best referees are appointed to the world’s top matches. Following the IRB Council’s approval of the revised process last October, four highly-experienced selectors in Lyndon Bray (SANZAR), Tappe Henning (SANZAR), Donal Courtney (Six Nations) and Clayton Thomas (Six Nations) will form a streamlined selection panel chaired by IRB Council Member for Wales David Pickering.
O'Brien said: “Performance review and selection are key areas of preparation for all our match officials. The IRB operates a rigorous process and the appointment of four extremely experienced selectors who work with the referees in a Super Rugby and Heineken Cup capacity is a reflection of our commitment to this area of the Game.
“It’s about appointing the top officials to the top matches worldwide. It’s about making sure they are selected on merit and then are constantly and consistently reviewed to ensure they remain the best. Every game is analysed and each performance reviewed. Coaches also give their feedback.
“Having spoken to the coaches this week, they all know exactly what the IRB is trying to achieve with the referees and they have been informed that there are no changes in emphasis. It is encouraging to note that the coaches have all bought into the process and are in agreement with the five key areas of focus,” said O'Brien.
Meanwhile, the referees themselves will be in peak physical condition as they continue to undergo rigorous training schedules. It will be a particularly exciting time for Jérôme Garces of France and New Zealand’s Chris Pollock as they make their Six Nations debuts. Garces will take charge of the match between Italy and England in Rome on 11 February while Pollock will referee Ireland vs Scotland in Dublin on 10 March.
The five areas referees have been told to concentrate on are the same as was the case before the Rugby World Cup 2011, namely:
All areas of the tackle law must be strictly applied. The tackler and assistant tackler must release the tackled player and regain their feet before trying to claim the ball and the tackled player must release immediately he has been tackled. Referees have been reminded to be strict when it comes to how both teams’ players enter the breakdown.
At the scrum engagement there must be four clear calls and four corresponding actions (crouch, touch, pause, engage). The binding of the props must be as per law and the front rows must be square upon engagement. Back rows must remain bound until the scrum is completed.
If the maul is formed and no cause of collapse is recognised then it should be a turnover if the ball is not immediately available to be played. It is important to police any obstruction by the team in possession.
There is to be strict refereeing of offside lines at the breakdown with special attention given to offside close to the breakdown.
There is to be strict refereeing of offside from all kicks, thus allowing teams to receive the space they are entitled to in Law.
5. FOUL PLAY.
Strict application of the Law by referees will continue to ensure that player welfare is the paramount concern.
Meeting attendees: Jacques Brunel and Luigi Troiani (Italy), Paul O' Connell (Ireland), Warren Gatland and Sam Warburton (Wales), Joël Jutge (France), Brian Campsall (England), Andy Robinson and Ross Ford (Scotland), Jacques Laurans, David Pickering and Jon Davis.
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