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Austin Healey: World Cup has been the best ever but off the field an absurd mess

| 22.10.2015

The talking point of the quarter-finals was undoubtedly Craig Joubert’s decision to award Australia a penalty in the dying seconds of their clash with Scotland.

I’ll talk about that more below but I have to say that the fallout from that decision means that while this has been the best ever Rugby World Cup on the field – off the pitch it has been nothing short of a farce.

In terms of excitement, cliff-hangers, major upsets and big sides getting knocked out we have had it all but the unfair and unbalanced bans being handed out and World Rugby’s handling of the Joubert incident have been a shambles. It’s ridiculous and you have to ask yourself what is going on?

I’ve had time to reflect on the Australia v Scotland game and I think it’s about the bigger picture and it’s not just about Joubert. Referees make mistakes every week but that is part and parcel of the game.

This incident and the argument – albeit incorrect – that he should have consulted the TMO just highlights the removal of autonomy. Unless you get rid of TMO completely this will keep happening.

All the supporters in Scotland, and across all the Home Nations really, were up in arms saying it was outrageous but had he made that decision two minutes into the game would anyone be talking about it? No.

If TMO didn’t exist would anyone be talking about it? No. We’d all just be saying that the referee got a big call wrong and we’d move on.

It’s happened throughout the history of the sport and it’s just part of being a referee. Sometimes you’ll get it right and others you’ll get it wrong.

I think it’s a prime example of why we should get rid of the TMO. Just completely get rid of it.

I know people will say ‘what about injustice?’, but that’s what we were all brought up on. Five years ago nobody had a TMO in any sport and that’s what creates talking points. If you remove that margin for error it becomes too sterile, too robotic and you need to have that difference of opinion as a conversation point.

I think TMO also makes referees worse rather than better. They constantly question their own decision making whereas before they had to be forthright and be sure. If they weren’t sure they would allow play to go on but now they stop the game, question their own decision and think ‘let’s have a look’. All the TMO does is create doubt in the mind of the ref and that needs to be eliminated.

What we’ve done is effectively take the autonomy from the referees and given it to a man in a truck drinking tea and eating chocolate biscuits.

The TMOs are not in the game, they are not feeling the flow of the game, they are essentially experienced spectators with better camera angles.


World Rugby have acted inappropriately and Joubert should sue

Having said all that nothing excuses Joubert’s actions when he ran from the pitch after the game. No one knows why he ran off the pitch at the end but that is wholly unacceptable. Even if he was desperate for the toilet it’s no excuse… you still shake hands, commiserate Scotland, congratulate Australia and then leave the field with your head held high.

Rugby is all about respect for referees and if he’s running off he’s clearly fearful of that respect being lost. We are questioning refs more and more and that‘s another downside to TMO.

There has been a lot of talk about World Rugby throwing Joubert under the bus by coming out and saying he got it wrong but I think in doing so they have thrown themselves under the bus.

They have shown a complete lack of respect for all referees by coming out. I’m a fine one to talk as I used to get stuck into referees but they are used to criticism from players and the media. What they are not used to is their own world governing body criticising them – in public. It’s not acceptable and if I was Joubert I would be suing them.


Scotland are better than I thought and will be a Six Nations force

With the penalty decision hitting the headlines it seems little has been said about Scotland’s gutsy performance. They were fantastic in patches and while they did make too many mistakes in others that’s what made it exciting.

Scotland were unlucky, they had the game in the bag, but overthrew the line out and paid the price with an unjust penalty.

They can use this to fuel their progression in the coming years though. There are a lot of players that I have completely changed my opinion of having seen them play in this tournament.

Their captain Greig Laidlaw is a prime example of this. Before the tournament I viewed him as a passing and kicking machine but having seen him in this competition and the control he plays with, his ability to attack the fringes and up the tempo he looked like a more rounded number nine.

There are others too, David Denton has bounced back, Mark Bennett looks fantastic, the back three look exciting and Blair Cowan has come back after initially being left out so there are real pluses for Scotland and they will undoubtedly be a force in the Six Nations.


Ireland game shows Argentina are well ahead of Six Nations sides now

While Scotland can count themselves as unlucky not to get through Ireland were nowhere near.

They underperformed and Argentina played to their potential and when that happened the result was inevitable.

When the Irish got to within three points they should have taken control of the game but ultimately they had lost their four big game players in Jonathan Sexton, Sean O’Brien, Peter O’Mahony and Paul O’Connell and with the younger guys in there it was too tough to come back.

It shows without doubt now that Argentina have overtaken the Six Nations teams. I don’t think that is even up for debate. I can see them going on to win this tournament now.

They have to be the bet as you get longer odds, their style of play will be very difficult for Australia to deal with and if they get to the final, passion alone and the drop of the ball could see them through.

Having said that, New Zealand look pretty damn impressive and the current team, in my opinion, is up there with the 1995 All Blacks as the best ever.


We need to ring fence the Aviva Premiership if England are to catch up

I’ve read a lot of comments in the papers recently claiming that the Northern Hemisphere sides are not that far behind the southern teams but the reality is we are a huge distance away.

If you look at the record of northern sides against the big four in the Southern Hemisphere it is appalling.

Unfortunately I don’t think that will change until there’s a shakeup of the domestic scene. The Top 14 is a mess and has too many foreigners to the detriment of the France side, the quality of the Celtic League is not that good and while the Aviva Premiership is probably the best of them there is work to be done there too.

Ultimately though, it comes down to the amount of times that we play against the southern sides in high pressure situations and deliver wins. In autumn internationals at home our win ratios aren’t too bad but that’s when the Southern Hemisphere sides are exhausted from a full season Down Under.

We have to find ways to up the intensity, improve our style of play and our mental approach to the game.

It might sound odd but a good indicator is the recent Beats by Dre headphones advert where you see Chris Robshaw in the gym lifting weights and you then see Richie McCaw outside running up hills. That tells an interesting story. We seem to be more focused on size rather than grasping the core skills and athleticism required for success.

We need to take a long look at how we develop youngsters, in particular their handling ability. We have front rowers who are so bulky they can barely turn their upper bodies. Compare that to some of the Southern Hemisphere guys who are smaller but still beating us in the scrum and it shows that the need for skills and technique is not being met.

We have to ask why that is happening and also readdress our coaching too.

There are creative coaches out there in the Northern Hemisphere but the more inventive people are leaving the game as they can achieve more elsewhere.

If we want to improve we need to make the jobs more lucrative and rewarding to keep these people in the sport rather than just going with the normal, safe pair of hands of an ex-forward or ex-front rower.

We have to look at how we develop our coaches too. The Aviva Premiership is very much a closed shop, where no one shares ideas or offers advice for the better of the game as they are all so competitive.

If you ring fenced the Premiership in two years’ time, or maybe adopt a franchise-based model, that would go a long way to improving things.

If you take away the worry of relegation coaches might be more inclined to work together to expand our game.


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Austin Healey

As a former England and British Lions star with experience playing in both the World Cup and Six Nations tournaments few people are better placed to pass comment on international rugby union. Read Austin's thoughts on the 2015 World Cup exclusively at Ladbrokes News.