Scotland’s Six Nations loss to Wales is available to view on the BBC iPlayer at the moment. You might want to watch the whole thing again – I just did and without the tartan blinkers on, it still stood up as a pulsating game of test rugby.
The episode which has lodged in my brain though, is only four or five seconds long and didn’t even happen during the match. It’s the moment after the final whistle when the cameraman zooms in on Glen Jackson’s face.
Jackson, who played top flight rugby in both hemispheres before rising through the refereeing ranks, hangs his head disconsolately as he trudges off the pitch. Sunday was his first Six Nations match. There was some speculation in Monday’s press that it may be his last. I wonder if the man himself thinks it might be, too. He’d had a ‘mare, and the body language said he knew he’d blown it.
The New Zealander’s performance has been universally panned. Vern Cotter felt he should have been stricter on Welsh indiscipline during the game’s frenetic closing stages. The massed ranks of Scottish rugby followers – pundits, ex-players and supporters – used social media to highlight a catalogue of errors which supposedly cost us the game, although how Jackson made Scotland bodge three clear overlaps is a mystery. Then Warren Gatland helpfully chimed in to suggest Finn Russell should have got red instead of yellow for his rash challenge on Dan Biggar.
Everyone had a word for Glen Jackson and none of them good. Looking at that post-whistle footage, however, I felt enormous pity for the guy. So before Scotland runs out of high horses for us to jump on, perhaps we should take a look at things from a different perspective?
Refereeing an international rugby match is nigh-on impossible. Both sides cheat constantly. A test referee has to decide which penalties influence the outcome of a phase of play and which ones don’t. Attacking players can usually go off their feet at a ruck with impunity; the offside line is notoriously elastic; on Sunday Jonathan Davies running ahead of the ball carrier in the build-up to Wales’ first try was deemed (probably rightly) to be irrelevant. Turning a blind eye to some offences is necessary if the game is going to have any kind of flow. The best referees are the ones who can bring some semblance of fairness and consistency to their decision-making amid the blood, sweat and chaos.
For the last 20 minutes of Sunday’s game, in particular, Glen Jackson was a man under the most intense pressure. He had players from both sides jabbering constantly in his ear about infringements, real or imagined. A capacity crowd (evenly matched) in full cry. A touch judge whose name is George Clancy. His self-confidence would surely have been tested by a sequence of big calls, including two yellow cards, a disallowed try and, on the stroke of half-time, a margin call on whether to award a score. He made mistakes. Who, in all honestly, wouldn’t?
Mr Jackson did not have a good game on Sunday. I’m willing to bet, however, that he learned more about test match refereeing in those 80 minutes than the rest of us ever will. To quote CS Lewis: “Experience can be the most brutal teacher but by God you learn.”
I hope Glen Jackson gets a chance to progress. I hope, if he gets another game where Scotland are on the field, we’re big enough to treat him with respect; accept that anyone can have an off day and recognise that the Murrayfield experience could be a tough but necessary stage in the making of a top-class referee.
Heaven knows we need them.
Follow Alan Greenwood on twitter @agreenwoodesq