Brenden Nel, SuperSport
Cape Town - Top retired referee Jonathan Kaplan has called on referees to stamp out the illegal tactic of holding players back in rugby games.
The supersport.com website reports that much of the attention these past few days has been focused on the red card given to Sharks flanker Jean Deysel and his three week ban for making contact with the face of a Crusaders player out of frustration as his leg was being held.
But there has been little attention to the fact that the tactic of illegally tackling players way from the ruck, or holding onto them is the problem that often causes the frustration for players and causes them to lash out.
While not trying to justify Deysel’s actions, there is an increasing tendency for teams in Super Rugby – particularly those from New Zealand – to use the tactic of holding players back, or use up the space in front of the ball, allowing the ball carrier to slip in behind.
It does seem to be an Australasian tendency that is slowly increasing in Super Rugby this year.
Deysel’s act was both reckless and wrong, and he was rightly red-carded by referee Rohan Hoffmann.
He can also be very lucky his three week sentence was as light as it was, with SANZAR’s sanction being seen as very lenient for what was a serious offence
Kaplan has called for referees to take "immediate action" including the immediate issuing of cards for this specific infringement and calls the tactic "the biggest issue in Southern Hemisphere rugby at the moment."
Kaplan said that it may have been difficult for referees to pick it up in the beginning, but it has slowly become worse over the past few years.
"Certainly a few years ago when it reared its ugly head, it was very difficult for referees to pick up because it hadn’t been such a predominant issue in the game as it has become.
"I’m not sure that a lot of coaching is being put into it, and I’m not sure that the correct sanction is being applied to the transgressor. If the punishment does not fit the crime, then obviously teams will carry on doing it," he said.
“If they are getting away with it and continuing to do it, it sends out a clear message that it is worthwhile to persist with this type of behaviour, because referees are not dealing with this issue effectively.”
Kaplan, who still holds the record for the most Test matches by a referee, gave two quick examples of how the tactic was being employed, saying it has a profound influence on the game.
"In an earlier game this season, Nizaam Carr was pinned against the posts for a couple of seconds by a Reds player, and when he finally let him go, the post he was supposed to be defending was pretty much a vacuum and the Reds scored a try under the posts, with nothing done about it.
"Similarly in the game between the Stormers and Crusaders, and no surprise that it is the same team, Jean de Villiers – who I rate as an exceptional captain – was heard talking to the referee, incidentally the same referee Rohan Hoffman, about what the referee wants him to do because his players are being continually held back.
"There is no question that Hoffman dealt with one instance expertly where Schalk Burger was held back but there were numerous others in the game that were missed.
"That is the real issue.
"It is not the one or two that are effectively dealt with, it is those missed that are encouraging teams to persist with the behaviour.
"He is a markedly improved referee, but in this particular game he has missed them and missed them repeatedly.
"Sometimes these type of tactics have a profound influence on the results of matches.”
Kaplan says therefore referees need to get tough and a yellow card is the only way to go for this “cynical” tactic.
"What I advocate is a yellow card. It is a cynical infringement which doesn’t need a warning, it actually needs a card – it needs a yellow card, and an immediate yellow card.
"If teams see that you are doing it and they are going to be carded, I can almost guarantee they will stop doing it.
"It is very important to note that, it is a cynical infringement which falls under foul play which does not need a warning.
"Referees are too placating, they are too understanding in respect of this aspect of the game, and they need to ratchet up their sanction a whole lot better than it is at the moment.
"Whether that requires better coaching or a better understanding of what is at play, that is a moot point.
"But, for sure the sanction needs to be upgraded."
"These comments are pointing out something that is becoming a big issue in the modern game, particularly in the Southern Hemisphere, particularly in Super Rugby and it needs to be eradicated immediately.
"We cannot wait for next season, it needs to be done now, and the reality is that it has been going on for a few years now and it is becoming progressively worse.
"Either the refs need to be taken to task or they need to be given ammunition to sanction the behaviour in a different way so that it doesn’t persist.
"I say the same thing every week.
"It is the biggest issue in Southern Hemisphere rugby at the moment.
"I am hopeful that it will be sorted soon."