Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Will Somebody Please Shoot Jonathan Kaplan?

I resisted the urge to post a rabid rant here on Sunday, at the height of my anger, but the more I think about it the more angry I am at the laughable excuse of a referee that was given the responsibility of the England-Ireland match at the weekend. I'll start with a confession - I remember Jonathan Kaplan from the England-Samoa match in the World Cup, and it was the first time that I thought a referee was biased rather than merely incompetent. What I saw on Sunday gave me no reason to doubt that opinion of him.

Just about every single marginal decision that was made on Sunday went the way of Ireland. "Knock-0ns" which went backwards were universally against England; if the opposite happened, it was in Ireland's favour. But by far the worst decisions related to two 'tries' scored by England but disallowed for other infringements. The first was a clear-cut try. Mark Cueto was NOT offside, and for the referee, who was in a bad position, to make such an instant call was nothing short of a disgrace.

Simon Barnes wrote in the Times that playing the referee was an integral part of rugby. To a certain extent, this is true - Ian McGeechan used to say that the most vital part of game preparation involved compiling a dossier on the referee of the match and working out what he was strict on. But for the Cueto try at the very least, Kaplan made a bald-faced blunder at best. And a blunder unbecoming of a supposedly top-drawer international referee.

The second 'try' was less certain. It was definitely hard to tell whether the ball had been grounded or not. What was undoubtedly wrong about the decision was that England had not been driven back over the line by the time the referee blew his whistle. So even if the video ref (who should have been consulted) could not see the ball had been touched down, England should have maintained possession.

It infuriates me that incompetent cheats of the likes of Jonathan Kaplan are allowed to referee international matches. The head of the RFU referee panel today admitted that if a referee of his had refereed so badly there would have been an immediate investigation. Now the press are full of talk of an England crisis - when in fact the game was probably theirs (especially given the time at which the Cueto try was scored). Rugby is a professional game and to have close games like the match on Sunday ruined by referees does nothing for it. I now have no faith in Kaplan as an international ref and the sooner he is condemned to the local South African circuit the better.