I spent eight great years in the City of Limerick in the 1990’s. I moved there in January 1990 and moved back to the real Capitol of Cork in September 1998 and I have to say that they were among the happiest years of my life. The social life and the craic were not to be matched anywhere, we were interested in the real passion that runs deep and proud thru the City and County, Rugby. This passion for Rugby in woven into the very fabric of the City. Every where you turn there is a reminder of the sport, the various clubs and of course now Munster. The Munster brand only started to grow in the late 90’s and is now the only show in town. The clubs have taken a back seat to the Munster bandwagon which has grown beyond anything anybody would have predicted.
During my time living in Limerick it always amused me at Rugby matches the abuse handed out to the humble match referee. Now I have traveled to many cities and countries watching matches but the bias against ref’s in Limerick is of biblical proportions. One ref recounting a story in good humour, being told to take down his flag when trying to bring an indiscretion to the attention of the ref of the day, he was running the side lines. When he did not comply he was told by the voice in the crowd behind him they knew where his mobile home was in Kilkee, a popular summer destination for Limerick people, and they would burn him out. He did not take the threat seriously and could laugh about it some time later.
It really did not matter if the ref was having a good game or bad it was the default position of all Limerick supporters to think he was useless. Rugby in Limerick was played very hard and the harder you were the bigger your popularity in the City. The watering down of the rules over the last number of years does not sit well in Limerick. The rallying cry from Young Munsters supporters of, kick ahead, any head, comes to mind. The abolition of rucking from the game is often mourned in the pubs and clubs around the city. I would regularly enter into discussion with the locals in defense of the man in black and be roundly abused for doing so, all part of the craic.
I have noticed in the last year or two that my own position has being sliding over the edge to the popular Limerick position. This I have resisted and it came as a complete shock to me how I reacted to the All Blacks match last year, then I found myself slipping again at the pool match against Northampton. No coincidence it was the same ref for those two games. Again on Friday night in the Magners Leagues match against Glasgow I lost the plot altogether. On leaving the Northampton match I speculated that it would be some time before I would see such ineptitude again. How wrong could I be!I have never in twenty years going to Thomond for matches and all other grounds in Ireland and England, heard a ref get a Slow Hand Clap.
This guy was so out of his depth that really the decision to allow him step up from under twelves straight into the Magners League was a step to far for the people that made that decision. I realise that you have to give guys experience but could we ask that these guys are up to a good standard before there are allowed to destroy a match as this guy did. His lack of knowledge of what was going on in the scrum was breath-taking. The Munster front row were being destroyed by the Glasgow front row and the referee awarded the penalty count almost evenly to both sides. In every scrum the Munster Hooker was standing up due to the force being channeled thru him. Every one of the Munster front row could have been sin-binned during the match, but this “tool” kept Munster in the game by his incompetence.
I thought this was my bias and said nothing when I met up with my two friends after the match as we had been in different areas of the stadium. One of my friends is from France and knows his rugby being from the Bayonne area. He could not believe how bad the ref was and my other friend was sitting near some Scottish lads and they were going ballistic at his rank incompetence. During the match I was moved to ask why this guy had not being brought to his sponsors for a full test as it would have solved lots, the sponsors name, Specsavers!!!
Do not get me wrong I was happy the result went Munsters way, but the game is in need of good quality ref’s or it will drop from the very high quality product we are used to watching. The rules are proving to be a major difficulty or should I say how they are interpreted by individual ref’s. This ref stood between the front rows all night and spoke to them ad-nauseam and never produced a card. During one scrum Munster got a shove on before the ball was put in and drove Glasgow clean off the ball, the whole stadium saw this, except the ref, by the way getting a shove on early is ILLEGAL. Another beauty happened during the second half in which the Glasgow back-line moved a ball across the pitch after a game of ariel ping-pong, only problem, they passed the ball forward twice, again the whole stadium saw this and when it was replayed on the big screen everybody laughed, except the ref, who missed it. AGAIN
The IRB will have to address this issue and I will have to review if I am going to fall into the trap of ref bashing. I hope the quality of the ref’s does not drop to the level this guy stooped to attain on Friday night. Another great story from our retired ref goes along these lines. He was involved in the training of young ref’s and one match was at Yellow Road the home of Young Munsters and a young ref was standing at the bar having a coffee before the game he was about to officiate. An older Munster supporter approached and ask if a certain older ref was still active. No reply the young ref, he has retired. To which the older Muster support said that’s okay, so you are the worst ref in Ireland! At which point he about turned and strode off leaving the young ref totally bemused. This is the level of dislike for referee’s in Limerick, maybe they are right, maybe not.