Commentary

Why is it OK for coaches to advocate cheating?

By Paul Gardner

When this sort of thing happens -- and it keeps happening in soccer -- you're left to ponder whether there is ever anything really new for the sport to explore.

I’m talking about the decision made by England coach Roy Hodgson that his team must, as The Guardian put it, “drop their ‘nice’ side and implement a tougher streak.”

This was just a week after coach, Neil Warnock, had lamented of his Crystal Palace “I think we're too nice at the moment. We are too honest.”

There was also the celebrated outburst from Jurgen Klinsmann, back in 2012, when he said of his USA team “We need to get an edge, more nastier ... Maybe we're still a little bit too naive.”

And believe me, this appeal for rough play has been going on for as long as I remember -- since the sport started, which is a bit longer than I can remember. The founding fathers of the game made it very clear that they didn’t want players kicking each other. So the sport split into two branches -- one was rugby, where manhandling and kicking (known as hacking) were permitted, the other branch was soccer, where the rules specifically forbade hacking and most other forms of violent contact.

Well, hold on. In the examples above, were Hodgson, Warnock, and Klinsmann asking for more rough play? You might think not, but only because they don’t come out and say so. But hidden in their appeals for less honesty, less naivete and more nastiness, is the theme of a more physical game. Klinsmann, actually, was the most honest -- he did face up to what he was demanding: “Maybe we don't want to hurt people. But that's what we've got to do. So we've got to step on their toes more ...”

More fouls, then. For some coaches, probably most, the foul count is the most reliable yardstick for a team’s commitment. When Felipe Scolari was coaching Palmeiras back in 1999, he rued his team’s low foul count after a loss: “A team which only commits five fouls in the second half deserves to lose.”

Of course it’s significant that all the above coaches were suffering. Hodgson’s England has a pathetic 2014 World Cup performance to live down, Warnock’s Crystal Palace is floundering near the bottom of the EPL, Klinsmann’s USA had been wiped out 4-1 by Brazil, Scolari’s Palmeiras had just lost to Corinthians.

The chances are high -- to almost certainty -- that all four teams were poor. But the reaction of all four coaches was the same -- not that we “must play better,” but that we “must toughen up.”

Another clear euphemism. What these coaches are encouraging their teams to do is to stop respecting the rules of the game. In the pursuit of victory, especially for a team going through a bad spell, the rules, apparently cease to matter.

You would expect, surely, that coaches would accept that playing according to the rules is the rock-bottom essential for participating in any sport. You’d be wrong -- in soccer, you are allowed to ignore certain rules if you don’t like them.

That coaches can openly discuss an intent to ignore the rules -- to play, in effect, on a basis of cheating -- is already pretty remarkable. But no one pays much attention. The people most closely involved are the referees, but they never respond, never comment, on this cheating call-to-arms that is sounded so frequently.

The rule that gets ignored most frequently is the one that reads “commits a foul for the tactical purpose of interfering with or breaking up a promising attack.” The tactical foul. A sure-fire way of destroying the flow of a game, and of riling the opposition.

The rule book is quite clear: Such fouls must be punished with a yellow card. Far too frequently they are not. In fact, they are often praised. They are “good fouls” -- TV commentators are especially fond of making that observation, feeling no doubt that it shows that they understand the realpolitik of the sport.

Hodgson’s new-look England, says The Guardian , will now “if necessary, concede fouls in areas that will not lead to dangerous free-kicks ...” Would they be thinking that way if they knew , with cast-iron certainty, that each of those fouls, those “good” fouls, would be greeted with a yellow card?

Agreed that tactical fouls are usually not violent. They don’t need to be. The players committing them are not responding to an immediate crisis, merely trying to get the referee to stop the game while their team gains time to reassemble.

But tactical fouls introduce an element of lawlessness -- usually unpunished -- that is conducive to more fouls, all of which ups the likelihood of a reckless tackle or two.

What we are asked to accept is that the rules are for cissies. Ignoring them, when it suits you, is part of the man’s game. Not just the fouls themselves, but the whole concept of “playing ugly” is lauded.

The hell with trying to get better, trying to play better soccer. Better soccer is slurred as pretty soccer -- a “romantic illusion” as Chile coach Juvenal Olmos called it in 2005. Eric Wynalda has this to say: “Well, this is professional soccer and I say forget the cute stuff and just win games.” Or you can tune in to Michael Bradley: “Teams that only play pretty, attacking football usually don't end up winning championships ... You need to have the guts and strength to fight out a win that maybe you don't deserve.” Or, to complete the ridiculing of pretty soccer, we have Peter Reid’s reflections after Chelsea had just run rings around his Sunderland team -- “the game may have been entertaining in a popcorn sort of way.”

The assertion is always made, or is strongly implicit, that “pretty” soccer is losing soccer. That to win you have to play ugly, to ignore the rules. A convenient assertion, with no proof behind it. There are plenty of examples of teams that play pretty (i.e. skillful) soccer and win championships. Barcelona, and Spain, are powerful recent examples.

The champions of ugly soccer like to give the impression that they have been forced to play the brutal game, to be less honest, or nastier. But when they blithely ignore the obviously successful “pretty” teams, they are letting us know that they actually prefer to play their soccer the ugly way.

The most blood-curdling call to action for those who prefer the brutal game, who don’t care about undermining the integrity of the sport by making a mockery of its rules, came in a Steve Nicol interview from 2002 -- “... we have to get guys who will kick and spit and punch to get results.”

But Nicol was being far too honest. It’s not easy to hide that assembly of offenses under the “good foul” tag.

30 comments about "Why is it OK for coaches to advocate cheating? ".
  1. Jordan Schultz, November 18, 2014 at 1:29 p.m.

    I disagree with this article. Tactical fouls are apart of the game, just as other sports. It is not "cheating" to commit a tactical foul. Playing harder does not usually mean play to hurt. Playing harder means challenging for every 50/50 with the intention of winning it, throwing in the odd tactical foul when required, and not holding back in tackles. There is nothing wrong with any of those things.

  2. Mark Konty, November 18, 2014 at 1:33 p.m.

    The issue with "ugly" soccer is entirely the result of officiating, not coaching. Coaches wouldn't feel the need to encourage physical play, if they thought the referees would prevent the other team from playing physical.

    I coach a U14 team, and when we moved up a division last year (U13) the first thing the players noticed was how much more physical the other players were. What were my options? Complain to the officials or the league? Fat lot of good that would do (or did). Or, tell my players that soccer is a contact sport and that they needed to play as physically as their opponents and until the referee blows the whistle?

    Maybe if referees would blow the whistle more, there would be less need to instruct our players on how to play with "more bite."

  3. Kevin Sims, November 18, 2014 at 1:44 p.m.

    Any action that intentionally steps outside the boundaries of both the spirit and letter of the laws of the game to gain an advantage is explicitly cheating. If sport is to shape character and participate in the socialization of young people and adults into responsible, law-abiding citizens, this standard must be upheld to avoid ethics and morality by convenience. A player who cheats to bypass the consequence of his or his team's inferior play cheats the beautiful game, cheats himself of an opportunity to improve by absorbing the consequences of play and sets the stage for social chaos. Social mores are undeniably tied closely to attitudes and actions found in arts, academics, athletics and any other social conventions. Playing hard within the spirit and letter of the laws of the game and engaging risk which might result in a foul and a subsequent punishment is acceptable; intentionally cheating to gain advantage is unacceptable.

  4. Kent James, November 18, 2014 at 1:44 p.m.

    Although I agree with the bulk of the article, Jordan is right that it is possible to play harder, more aggressively, with more determination and tenacity, without cheating. So playing harder does not have to mean cheating, but Gardner is right, most of the time it does. It basically boils down to how you answer the question, is it better to lose with honor, or cheat and win? But there is another issue, and that is that soccer needs skill (which PG always lauds) and effort and attitude (which PG often denigrates), and sometimes skillful players (or even teams) don't recognize the need for both. We've all seen skillful players who think defense is beneath them (just as we've all seen players who put out great effort but have no skill); and skillful teams (and individuals) sometimes lack the mental toughness to continue to put out full effort, even after going behind (though there are also unskillful players/teams who lose intensity, though it is probably less noticeable because such teams are used to being behind!). So to say a team needs grit or backbone is not necessarily a call for dirty play; sometimes it means the need to do the difficult work that goes unnoticed (defensive marking, getting open but not getting the pass, etc.). Great teams have both skill and determination, and don't need to cheat.

  5. beautiful game, November 18, 2014 at 1:46 p.m.

    Any tactical foul should be cautioned. Tackles from behind should be cautioned. All refs need to re-take the laws of the game exam, especially their inability to count out the full ten yards, blink at encroachment, or permit the wall in the box to be off the goal-line when the ball is within 10 yards of the goal. The referees are the cause of all the pettiness that is on the pitch. What about a dead ball situation, the defender picks up the ball and runs with it a few yards before throwing it up in the air; that's a delay of game penalty and a card.!!!!

  6. Kent James, November 18, 2014 at 1:52 p.m.

    One aspect of cheating that PG ignores is diving. Diving is essentially a tactical foul, but doing so in the box is even more unethical because not only can it get you a PK, it can also get an opponent who has done nothing wrong ejected. So yes, by all means, automatic yellow cards for tactical fouls. There is also supposed to be a yellow card for delaying the restart, because that too is tactical cheating. "What? I have to be 10 yds away on a free kick? Sorry ref, though I'm a professional, I didn't know that was a rule..." Talk about leading to a disrespect for the rules. But Paul, you lose credibility when you fail to mention that diving is another common form of cheating. I believe there is an adage about noticing a splinter in your brother's eye while ignoring a log in your own that applies here.

  7. Kent James, November 18, 2014 at 1:59 p.m.

    I w is right about the refs being at least partly to blame, especially for the restarts. Players should be warned to leave the ball alone on a restart (unless they've been asked to retrieve it), and any player who stops less the 5 yds from the ball should be carded. You do it once, you probably won't have to do it again. If all the refs did it, there would be no problem. It's not rocket science. If they stop 6 yds away, you give them the benefit of the doubt, and only move them if the team taking the kick asks you to. But 6 yds away will allow most quick restarts to take place (and if they interfere with it at 6 yds, then you can card them), which would solve the problem the rule was created to solve. Since it is currently unenforced, most casual observers (and actually, many players) think that the team that committed the foul has a right to stop the play and make the kicking team do a "ceremonial" restart.

  8. Brian Something, November 18, 2014 at 2:02 p.m.

    Cheating implies breaking the rules with the expectation (hope) of not getting caught. Tactical fouls are breaking the rules WITH the expectation of getting caught. At the end of every close basketball game, the team behind repeatedly fouls the team ahead as part of the strategy. I've NEVER heard anyone in basketball call this cheating. It's committing an action with the expectation of a consequence.

  9. Ernie biera, November 18, 2014 at 2:07 p.m.

    Ultimately the coach is responsible for tactical fouls. Let's give a yellow card to the coach for obvious delay, diving and intentional fouls that take away advantage. Then you will see a different game.

  10. beautiful game, November 18, 2014 at 4:54 p.m.

    Brian, what does basketball have to do with soccer rules.

  11. stewart hayes, November 18, 2014 at 5:50 p.m.

    The refs are largely to blame. They are charged with interpreting 'fouls for the tactical purpose of interfering with or breaking up a promising attack.' Players are often given one free violation of this rule and then are cautioned on their second interference. So a team can break up 10 promising attacks before getting a yellow; not bad. Intimidation and battling for 50/50 balls is part of the game but intentionally breaking up a promising counterattack by tripping a player from behind should be a yellow card from the first infraction.

    Teams know they have multiple opportunities to get away with doing this and so why not? It is ugly and I disagree with Jordan and the fraternity that think it is just another part of the game and therefore completely acceptable. It was one reason why I was happy to see Brazil soundly booted from the WC. They are masters of the tactical foul. I remember USWNT playing a tactical Nigerian team who seemed intent on hammering every surface except the ball. I was so proud of the way our team bounced up from the turf and played on without lowering the game to a tit for tat race to the bottom.
    I love the 50/50 battles when play is hard and clean but a game where the tactical foul dominates I change the channel.

  12. Jack Patton, November 18, 2014 at 6:57 p.m.

    Physical Play or At the youth level it's the old Development vs "winning at all costs" that has infected many youth coaches.
    Yes the officials can play a larger part in enforcement but the greatest factor is the coach. Heard countless coaches in workshops try to pass the buck by saying "I don't tell my players to do that" When I ask them if they ever tell their team NOT to play like that or PULL their "star" for doing such, most look at me like they don't understand (or suddenly get very interested in their shoes). Youth players are looking to YOU and I to be an example. If you as a coach reward questionable play/actions and allow those players to remain on the field then YOU are the problem. Not the Refs, not the other team YOU......If you aren't up to the job, if you find that you can't summon the courage to teach our young players to do the right things on and off the field - please get out.

  13. Allan Lindh, November 18, 2014 at 8:04 p.m.

    Right on, Mr. G. Caution all tactical fouls, that is intentional violation of the laws. One more law should be added, after three yellows on one team, all future intentional fouls are reds. It is shameless the way some teams pass the cards around, intentionally inflicting maximum pain on the other teams skill players -- can you spell Kansas City? The first month or two would be ugly, until the players accepted that the laws were really going to be enforced. Then the thugs could go back to driving a beer truck, and leave the game to football players.

  14. stewart hayes, November 18, 2014 at 8:14 p.m.

    It demeans the game ethically when coaches gyrate on sideline in an effort to influence the referee or blindly uphold the unsporting behavior of their players on the pitch. The coach is the moral authority on the field. A team's behavior broadcasts the ethics of the coach.

  15. F B, November 18, 2014 at 9:02 p.m.

    Folks, PG is right, and unfortunately, the problem is worse than he describes. I recently cringed at hearing the announcers (British unfortunately) of a game refer to these intentional flagrant fouls meant to disrupt the flow of the game and the obvious potential scoring opportunity of the rival as "professional fouls"! If anything, they are the most unprofessional of all fouls committed, as they, as some above have already pointed out, show a blatant disrespect for the beauty of the game when it is played within the constraints that the Laws of the Game intend. "Professional fouls" or "Tactical fouls" they are not. What a cowardly tactic to decide that you are going to even temporarily disregard the rules of the game just so you can gain an advantage or deprive your opponent of an advantage that he actually worked hard to obtain. As the Brits would say, "Rubbish!" I encourage all of our readers to envision their favorite candidate for goal of the millennium. You know we all have one or two fabulous memories of our favorite midfielder or forward (some enterprising defenders as well) taking the ball deep in his own territory, deftly out-dribbling and "megging" his way around opponents, or simply outrunning them, culminating in a thundering finish into the upper 90, leaving the GK lying outstretched and beaten on the ground. Now envision the same highlight reel entry callously marred by some jackass like Jermaine Jones (you know, Bundesliga "dirtiest player" award winner), tripping your idol from behind (seen him do it many a time), not even coming close to contacting the ball, and shrugging off his offense to the game as either "I had no other choice, the guy might have scored," or "That's how Jurgen likes me to play." Think of what you would have been deprived. Why have any rules at all? And for anyone comparing football to basketball, the intentional fouls thing is what makes me not like basketball. What a concept, "fouls to give"! Rubbish...

  16. Mark Konty, November 18, 2014 at 11:35 p.m.

    Sorry Jack, but I don't teach my players to "cheat" and I don't tell them to play physical in order to "win", nor do I consider it a hindrance to player development.

    The reality is that the higher you go in any sport, the more intense the competition. If referees won't call fouls it becomes even worse because now it becomes an issue of personal protection. What would you tell a player who keeps getting pushed off the ball? "Don't push back, it is unethical"? Seriously? The player will never move beyond that level. Thus, I would argue that teaching players to play passive is simply contributing to a LACK of player development.

  17. Chris Sapien , November 18, 2014 at 11:54 p.m.

    PG makes a huge mistake re. tactical fouls when he says "The players committing them are not responding to an immediate crisis, merely trying to get the referee to stop the game while their team gains time to reassemble."! Paul, that is EXACTLY what they are responding to in most cases. They typically have failed either to dispossess or delay first, then as a result of their failure they compound it with the mindset "this will have to do then", and the tactical foul ensues. In the middle third of the field, most refs will use their discretion and not caution especially if the foul escalated from a fair challenge into a "professional foul". A good ref though, reads the game and adjusts if the behavior progresses to obvious attempts to delay without fairly challenging first. Lastly Stewart, that is absurd to think a team will be allowed to commit one tactical foul for each field player before a caution is first shown. Honest refs desire to facilitate a fair game, and most, including myself will pull color at lightspeed if the tactic to continually delay FIRST, is even suspect.

  18. R2 Dad, November 19, 2014 at 12:17 a.m.

    While tactical fouls might fall under the heading of "quality of life" crimes, I'm more worried about the felony assaults that go unpunished. A yellow that gets waved on, a red that only earns a yellow--these are the big decisions I'd like to see addressed first. FIFA-level referees get it wrong (De Jong karate kick, anyone?), I would settle for gradual improvement in MLS officiating, pls.

  19. James e Chandler, November 19, 2014 at 8:42 a.m.

    Kevin Simms post was succinctly correct.
    The tongue in cheek adages, "If you don't cheat, you're not trying", and "It ain't cheatin' if you don't get caught." is the type of ruthlessness that make the game ugly.
    Stop blaming the referees. We all know deep down that there's no way a referee can facilitate a match without mucking it up. The only way to be in an optimal position always would be to have the ability to run about 80 mph.
    It's the deliberate, and excessive unfair/unsafe play that caused the game to evolve such that referees were required. The first standardization of the rules by the first FA in the mid 19th century occurred in an attempt to reduce the number of deaths. Referees surely need to sanction the deliberate fouls to let players know they either respect the game they profess to love, or lose the privilege to continue playing.
    In turn the game changed even more by making "fooling the ref" a new game tactic, i.e. the "El mano de Dio" goal.
    Perhaps we need more coaches that teach their players concepts like, "Cheaters never win, and winners never cheat", "It's not whether you win, or lose, but how you play the game.", and "A man is only as good as his word."
    Perhaps Klinsman, et al, should also remember that the appeal to force is a basic fallacy of traditional logic.
    :-) On the other hand, where's the logic in adults running around trying to kick a ball into a net thingy?

  20. Kent James, November 19, 2014 at 9:24 a.m.

    Mark, you can teach your competitive players to deal with cheating without cheating themselves. For example, when an opponent grabs one of your player's shirts, do you tell them to grab their opponents shirt, or do you tell them to knock their opponent's hand off of theirs? Grabbing back makes the job of the ref hard (if he sees them both grabbing, he's likely to let it go). Knocking their hand off (coming down hard on the wrist) lets the opponent know that shirt grabbing is not acceptable, but is not cheating itself. Likewise, players can "be strong" when pushed by opponents, without pushing back (holding your ground instead of pushing). While difficult (especially mentally), it is possible to play aggressively and cleanly against opponents who cheat, without resorting to their tactics.

  21. Bill Jones, November 20, 2014 at 2:36 p.m.

    Just look at how Brazil came out playing at home. Nasty?? Probably the dirtiest team of the 32. They knew refs would be in their favor since they were at home. Then lost Neymar to a dirtier foul from a Colombian. They cried about it even though they bullied Colombia throughout that game. Is this what we want to see?? Tactical fouls?? Unneccessary roughness?? I dont know about you guys but I dont want to wait around 4 years to watch that BS from a team that used to promote Joga Bonito!!

  22. neil christal, November 20, 2014 at 11:17 p.m.

    The average ref is a sadistic creature who cares nothing for the rules of the game or the safety of the players.
    sadist(Noun)
    One who derives pleasure through cruelty or pain to others.
    Origin: Named after the Marquis de Sade, famed for his libertine writings depicting the pleasure of inflicting pain to others.
    Someday we will read about how refs enjoy seeing players get hurt!!! Until Soccer purges itself of these types of people we will see more injuries like Neymar ,Pele and many others. Heck, how many young players never got passed U13 because the refs refused to get the game under control. Coaches need a BLACK card to purge these criminal refs from the game.

  23. Kent James, November 21, 2014 at 12:53 p.m.

    Neil, while refs can be frustrating, they're not sadists (not sure if you're really serious about that charge). In any event, refs reflect the culture in which they operate. Have you ever been a referee? I would suggest you walk (or more accurately, run) a mile in their shoes before you make such accusations. Of course refs could be better, but the primary reason refs don't call fouls is not because they're hoping players will get injured, but rather because of the complaints that emanate from the team that was penalized, and the vitriol they hear from the stands and the sidelines. This is why most people who try it, decide it's not worth it and quickly quit. If you want refs to call better games, work to get the dissent under control and encourage good people with good soccer minds to become refs. The game will be better off if we respect referees and their decisions (even if they're wrong), than disrespecting everything they do, which often devolves into chaos (and that is when players get hurt). As a player first, coach second, and referee third, when I started refereeing I was determined to focus on the physical fouls, to protect the integrity of the game, and let any dissent roll off my back (I always hated refs that let hard fouls go, while carding people for complaining about the lack of a call). While I could do this, I found that when dissent is ignored, it encourages more reckless play, so it needs to be dealt with. On the other hand, it would be even better if we had a culture that respected referees so that they didn't have to deal with it, and could focus on calling fouls.

  24. neil christal, November 21, 2014 at 5:57 p.m.

    Kent, I was a player, coach and a ref and know that having thick skin comes with each of those positions. I remember sitting with an older friend, who grew up playing soccer in Argentina, in a friendly Argentina-USA game just prior to the 1990 World Cup at Stanford University. Argentina 's players were goons destroying the USA players from behind before they could receive the ball. My friend said "If the refs do not get this game under control there will be blood in the second half".This lasted for the first half. Sure enough the second half looked more like mixed martial arts than anything resembling a soccer game. Most spectators can accept one flagrant foul but a whole game of fouls becomes a "blood bath"! Refs need to do their job or get off the field (period)

  25. R2 Dad, November 22, 2014 at 12:11 a.m.

    Stevie Nichol circa 2002 was par for the course. Thankfully MLS has moved on, but still needs to improve in that department. Much whinging about referees here, but having to sit through 90 minutes isn't half as agonizing as being an AR to the center referee who says in his pregame he "likes to let them play". These specific words indicate a willful ignorance of the laws of the game, and referees quickly learn to avoid these guys. They might not exist at the professional level, but these zombies are running around in your local rec and competitive leagues, endangering kids and ruining the game for countless youths. How many wanton and unpunished studs-up tackles to your 12 year old will it take for him/her to move on to something else?

  26. neil christal, November 23, 2014 at 8:08 p.m.

    Well stated R2. Sportscasters complain that there is not enough scoring in soccer for the American people. (I disagree and if I were ever to get on their shows I'd give them an earful about the beautiful game) BUT … If refs would call the game the way the rules are written, not just inside the box, then there would be more opportunities for goals!

  27. Kent James, November 24, 2014 at 12:19 p.m.

    Neil, my point is that refs can't do it alone. As a ref, I would think you'll agree that there is much more vocal pressure not to call fouls or give cards (certainly by the players/coaches receiving them) that there is pressure to call a game tightly. And even with referee circles, issuing too many yellow cards can be seen as "you must have let the game get out of control", or the absence of any cards indicated it was a good game (I'd argue that very rarely is there a competitive game for players over 12 that would not warrant a card). So don't mistake my plea for more civility towards referees as a belief that refs are all doing a fine job. But few refs improve their ability to call a game because of the abuse heaped on them, and many kids who might develop into good refs give up quickly because they don't need the abuse. So I don't think the problem is sadistic refs who enjoy seeing players clobber each other, I think it is that many refs don't have the confidence and thick skin that is necessary to prevent players from doing so. If coaches (particularly) pushed their players (and their parents at the youth level) to respect the refs, refs who aren't perfect could do a better job and we'd all be better off. Instead, too often, coaches scapegoat the refs for their teams bad fortunes, and a culture of blaming the ref for everything does not improve the game.

  28. Jogo Bonito, November 27, 2014 at 3:08 p.m.

    The first comment from Jordan Schultz is the popular reaction on this subject. That's unfortunate for the future of our game. I have felt for a long time that youth coaches/administrators have failed our sport. For the most part, they have chose to place winning games over player development. When that's allowed to happen, coaches start selecting bigger, stronger, rougher players over skillful players. So it's now in the hands of the referees. If referees gave cards EVERY time they feel that the foul was "tactical" (basically the "good foul" that coaches seem to love so much) it would happen a lot less. If referees call fouls and gave cards whenever players fly into tackles and get ANYTHING but the ball, then maybe the game can go back to the days where skillful players are welcome back in greater numbers. Defenders will have to learn how to move their feet and defend skillfully rather than slide into challenges all the time. Coaches will favor skill over things like "work-rate" and "commitment."

  29. neil christal, November 29, 2014 at 7:29 p.m.

    Kent, calling the game tightly is a dream because refs can only see what is going on in front of him/her. However, civility towards refs that have "no spine" to call the game based on the rules encourages coaches to tell players to play dirty until they get a warning. By then the game has turned to a potential blood bath and the rules mean nothing. JOGO is correct in that selecting the bigger,stronger, rougher (goon) players, who usually play like they do because they lack skill, are the players picked for the National/ODP teams. If a team of skilled players played a team of goon coached players, and refs did their job of calling the game by the rules, you would see the skilled players winning all the time. Until then we will continue to see players being mauled and a National team that is anemic.

  30. Kent James, November 30, 2014 at 11:16 a.m.

    Neil, do you really think a lack of civility towards "spineless" refs will improve referee performance? The way to get rid of bad refs is to make sure assigners know who the bad refs are, and encourage people who know the game (and have the temperament to be a good ref) become refs. It is better to be civil to refs who may not deserve it, than to participate in a culture that denigrates referee performance, especially when most refs are trying to go a good job and the assessment of a ref's performance is often determined by which team's bench does the assessing.

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