Bath’s Van Graan call on authorities to ‘simplify’ rugby after sin-bin error

Bath’s director of rugby, Johann van Graan, has called for the game’s authorities to simplify and protect the sport following the controversial officiating error which saw Harlequins’ prop Irné Herbst return from the sin-bin three minutes early at a crucial stage of last weekend’s Premiership game at the Twickenham Stoop.

Despite clear evidence of a significant mistake having been made at a key moment in his side’s 40-36 defeat, Van Graan says Bath now wish to draw a line under the “unique” episode, following an apology from the RFU’s Professional Game Match Officials team and formal confirmation the result will stand.

“I’ve been involved in professional rugby for 23 years and it’s the first time I’ve come across it,” he said. “There was human error involved and the RFU made a statement. There is an outcome to it and we have got to move on.”

The former Springbok forwards coach, however, wants rugby to stop overcomplicating and undermining its core product and to refocus on its strengths for the sake of players, coaches and fans alike. “I do believe we’ve got to simplify the game,” said Van Graan. “I believe we should not keep chopping and changing it, we should look after this game of ours. This game is incredibly unique. It’s one of the last gladiator sports remaining. That’s why people love it and why there’s so much emotion involved.”

Van Graan was not referring specifically to the Herbst episode but, following Exeter’s Rob Baxter’s recent remarks about constant law changes, leading coaches are clearly after greater clarity across the board at a time when games are being settled by increasingly tiny margins. “I didn’t see Rob’s article so I can’t comment on that,” said Van Graan, whose side visit the Chiefs in the last 16 of the Champions Cup this Saturday.

“What I would say is that we have to keep speaking to each other. Scrum, maul, lineout, counterattack, kicking … there is beauty in all of it. We are guided by World Rugby who is the ultimate decision-maker. [But] let’s respect what’s in the law book. I’ll give a simple example. If the offside line is behind the hindmost foot, let’s just stick to that.

“If there’s a definition of a maul, a ruck or a scrum, let’s stick to the law. That’s sometimes what we miss, the [existing] law. Yes, we’ve got to be adaptable. That’s why I respect match officials because it’s an incredibly difficult sport to referee. I don’t doubt anybody’s intentions at this stage because we all want to look after the game.”

The All Blacks captain, Ardie Savea, meanwhile, believes New Zealand may soon have to review its policy of not selecting players based overseas. Savea, the World Rugby player of the year, is currently playing in Japan’s League One for the Kobe Steelers and will return home to play England this summer but believes more flexibility is required.

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“There’s a country that has proven that it works and helps them and that’s South Africa,” said Savea. “The majority of their team plays in Japan and they come together and win the World Cup. I know it won’t change overnight but it needs to change.”

The Guardian