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19 January 2024
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Those fans at the ground need to have a clear explanation as to why, for example, a red card is given.

Ian ‘Kamo’ Jones would like to see the fan in the stands be at the front and centre of considerations far more than they are now.

It was amazing to be at the Rugby World Cup from the quarter-finals onwards.

It was a great experience and that All Blacks-Ireland clash was a classic. Two teams played with real intent and the match official intervention was minimal. When rugby is played like that, it’s the best game in the world.

But I have some observations on what rugby is doing, or what needs to be done, around fan engagement for those who have taken their seats inside the stadium.

I was at Stade de France in Paris along with 80,000 others for the playoffs. The atmosphere and vibe were brilliant. The likes of Eden Park and the Principality Stadium in Cardiff are something to behold, too, on international rugby days. They are incredible places to gather like-minded people. The whole game-day experience starts hours before kickoff and the French did it particularly well. The restaurants and cafés were full and people were happy, excited and engaging in banter. The access into the grounds was good and then you could engage with the anthems. Inside the stadium, as the anticipation is building, you feel like you are part of something special. You are ready for the match as much as the players.

So I am a rugby person surrounded by other rugby people, but we felt that, in the final, we lost that connection once the game started.

The All Blacks hung in there well in the circumstances, but fair play to South Africa on its play and its victory.

But we started to have all these stoppages and slowdowns. On TV, you might have been able to hear what was going on through the referee’s microphone, but most of the crowd were in the dark. There was no interaction. We didn’t know what was going on. There were few replays on the big screen at the ground.

On the Shannon Frizell yellow card, there was clearly no neck roll, but we didn’t have any inkling as to why that call was made. That was one of the first momentum killers for me. What was happening? We were amped and wanting to be involved.

On the Sam Cane yellow/red card, we saw a big collision and thought ‘Gee, that cannot be good.’ Once again, no information, but it cannot be too bad, despite the yellow, because they are not taking Jesse Kriel off for an HIA. They are not stressed about him, so there cannot be anything in it. That’s our guess. Then we hear over the PA that it is a red card. It must have been with a lot of force then. But we missed that detail.

Then we watched a really good referee (Wayne Barnes), rated the world’s best, not having control of the game. The TMO seemed to be controlling it. Barnes is an experienced whistler. He could have taken control and not always listened to the TMO.

Then we saw the Aaron Smith ‘try’. We thought the All Blacks were right back in it, but we had the anticlimax of the referee walking around in circles before the try was ruled out. Then you wonder why they are looking back at the lineout and a possible knock-on there… but hang on, that was about four phases back. Have they changed the rules? Do we not know the rules? It used to be two phases. Nothing is happening on the big screen. Now’s it’s a penalty… why?

They need to educate me so I, the rugby fan, am engaged in the game. Please tell me so I’m not speculating. Take me along with you. Let the crowd know. Then we can debate it without being ignorant of what has just gone down.

Then we see the Siya Kolisi tackle (on Ardie Savea). It looks the same as the Cane tackle, but maybe it’s not. Again no one has gone off with an HIA. But he’s got a yellow card. It stays yellow, so why is that when Cane copped a red? Explain it to me so I can understand next time.

We are thirsty for information. No one is telling us their rationale for making these decisions.

I love this game. It has given me so much, but at times I can hate it when I don’t know what is happening. I see it in real time and it’s not the same perspective as the referee. Every time I see the ref walking in circles and talking to the TMO, I switch off mentally. So do many in the crowd. They are lost.

Two weeks earlier, same referee, different game. He wasn’t mic’d up for the crowd then, either, but there weren’t the constant TMO interventions. Keep me engaged during the game like I am going to the game.
Australia’s NRL and US sports like American football do that much better. The fans are part of the experience and they are kept informed with any calls during the game. If rugby people don’t know what’s going on, imagine what non-rugby people are thinking?

I cannot let this column go by without paying tribute to two great All Blacks, Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick, who are departing New Zealand rugby.
I congratulate both of them on remarkable careers. I first met Sam when he was in the New Zealand Under 19s. The evolution of his game has been phenomenal. He’s never gone away from that hard-working, hard-driving play as a true rugby professional. His love of the game and respect for the jersey shine through. I remember those black undies he used to wear, which you might have seen at times during games! Sam had a lot of old school values and it’s been a pleasure watching him all the way through.

Brodie was a slightly different player. He had that power and ruthlessness, that relentless drive and attitude. When he and Sam combined, they actually became better as a partnership. They complemented each other. They drove each other. So we thank them for what they have done for the game and their loyalty and passion. We thank their families for allowing them to be All Blacks for so long. They have without question enhanced the jersey.

It’s hard to compare other locking partnerships and where they might rate. Respect. It will be interesting to see who replaces them. Scott Barrett will be there, but who will step up alongside him? The benchmark is set high.

played for the All Blacks at lock from 1989-99, racking up 79 Tests, and is a respected rugby analyst for Sky Sport.

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