Well, here we go again.
Firstly, I want to say that Cardiff Blues were not winning that game against Connacht last night, and nor did we deserve to, which is shame given the generally low level of the opposition despite being at full strength and the team we put out despite injuries, international call-ups and covid testing issues.
Dai Young’s men gave away a few too many poor penalties in the first half, made two major defensive errors before the break and then made far too many handling errors in the second half to put any pressure on the opposition. It was encouraging we were trying to play more rugby, but as the DoR said after the game, “if we want to improve as a team there are core skills that we really have to work hard on”.
However, once again in a Guinness Pro14 game, and weirdly once again when it comes to a Connacht v Cardiff Blues clash, the main talking point is frankly dreadful refereeing, this time from Andrew Brace and his team.
From a Cardiff Blues perspective the seriously suspect decisions started on the 65th minute. Up until that point there were questionable decisions for and against both sides, but with the scores at 20-17 going into the final 15 minutes of the game the refereeing had a direct impact in the final two Connacht tries.
It starts here with the away side pinged for collapsing this maul but, as is shown right under the referees nose, the green player at the front of the maul goes to ground once Shane Lewis-Hughes binds from a legal position considering the maul is driving diagonally across the field. That is unacceptable from a supposedly international quality referee.
The subsequent penalty is kicked to the corner and the lineout that follows is a disgrace. One of two things happens here; either the lineout isn’t straight, as the Connacht player catches the ball on his outside shoulder, or the Connacht player jumps across the mark of touch.
For Brace to explain away the not straight throw in by saying that he was in the channel is astounding. ‘He wasn’t illegal in this way because was illegal in another way, but I’m not going to penalise that’. You have to question his intelligence at this point.
Then the build up to the final try and this one is a more marginal one, but for me Max Llewellyn going to back to recover this Connacht kick through touches that ball down on the try line which should have resulted in a 22 dropout.
When his arms go down the ball is still in the field of play, but the downward pressure comes from his chest and at that point, to my eyes, the ball in on the try line. The TMO, Frank Murphy, saw it differently, more on him later.
From the subsequent scrum Connacht set up camp on the Cardiff Blues try line, and after a few phases this is the carry from Abraham Papali’i that gets over for the bonus point try.
The pictures speak for themselves, referee Andrew Brace prevents Max Llewellyn from making a tackle.
Now, the laws of the game may only specify that the referee cannot come into contact with the ball carrier, but everyone on that field and everyone watching would expect Brace to admit he obstructed the tackler and award Connacht a scrum as the team in possession. There would have been no complaints from anyone if that was the decision.
The added aspect to that final clip is that Brace asked TMO Murphy to look at it, and he too thought the try was acceptable. That, of course, being Frank Murphy who played over 100 times for Connacht. How can that be acceptable in a full-time professional sports league? It beggars belief.
I’ve never been one to really buy into the conspiracy that Irish referees purposely favour Irish teams for the benefit of the IRFU, who of course employ all the elite referees and every player who plays in Ireland directly or indirectly, and instead have always stuck to pointing out what a bad look it is for the Pro14 to be in this position.
However, the refereeing is now getting to the point where corruption is probably a more favourable explanation, because if it is sheer and continuing incompetence then that’s even more embarrassing.
For Tournament Director David Jordan and Referees Manager Greg Garner in particular, they are presiding over a group of referees who are incapable of performing effectively at this level. Andrew Brace and Frank Murphy are meant to be two of the leading officials in the league, so it’s difficult to comprehend how poor the rest of the refereeing panel must be.
Garner, who was a relatively poor referee in his own right, has been in charge for three-and-a-half years now and at no point have we seen any improvement in the quality of refereeing, which is continuing to be a major contributing factor in the low level product that the league produces as a professional rugby entity.
Being stuck watching from home is bad enough, and despite being in with a shout of finishing in the top three in Conference B I found myself struggling to get properly into Saturday night’s game even at the point where we were in the ascendancy.
If the Professional Rugby Board, which deals with professional rugby in Wales, wants to see crowds return when stadiums are open again then they need to keep supporters interested now. At this point, with the refereeing as it is, I’m seriously considering whether I can be bothered to watch anymore.
Maybe a boycott/blackout is the only way to make ourselves heard?