Variable refereeing opens up new north/south divide, says Blair

EDINBURGH and Scotland scrum-half Mike Blair has called into question the refereeing inconsistency of recent weeks and believes the game is being driven in different directions in the northern and southern hemispheres.

Blair captains Edinburgh as they head to Connacht tomorrow seeking a first away win in six months, where Welsh official Leighton Hodges will take charge of his first Magners League match. Asked if the official's inexperience concerned him, at this crucial stage of the season, Blair replied that it was more the wider picture of refereeing styles that was troubling.

"We've had some interesting refereeing decisions playing Connacht away," he said. "I remember one year there were four yellow cards in the same ten minute period, and we had the game where David, my brother, kicked a drop goal and all the Edinburgh guys were jumping up celebrating because it was the last kick of the game and everyone saw it go over apart from the referee, who said he did not see it properly so could not give it.

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"I am sure this one (Hodges] will be very capable of doing the job; that is why he has been chosen. But it will be important to establish how he is going to referee the breakdown because our last two games and the Six Nations were refereed differently.

"I spoke with Peter Fitzgibbon before the last game (Edinburgh v Scarlets] and he said he was going to referee the same way that he had the whole season; not the way it had been done in the Six Nations. It does not make sense to me that you can have one global game being refereed in different ways in different places. You watch the Super 14 stuff at the moment and it's a different game."

The IRB tried to clarify during the Six Nations Championship that there had been no change in the tackle or ruck laws since March 2009, but still there have been different interpretations by officials, some penalising the man holding onto the ball on the ground, others being hard on the tackler and others penalising the next man trying to win it.

The RFU recently instructed its officials to follow the lead of southern hemisphere referees in penalising defenders who fail to allow speedy release of the ball. Already there has been a rise in the number of tries, in keeping with the abundance of tries in this year's Super 14. Such a drive towards a quicker game should suit Scottish teams, provided there is a measure of consistency.