Hinton: Henry's thoughts should be heeded

TED TROUBLE: Sir Graham Henry's remarks about the referees came under fire.
TED TROUBLE: Sir Graham Henry's remarks about the referees came under fire.

Don't shoot the messenger. Especially when he's a nice old bloke like Sir Graham Henry.

Predictably, Henry's judiciously well-timed rant on officiating in Super Rugby this week has received blanket media coverage, and has also got a few people's hackles up over the choice of language, the tone and selective nature of his criticisms.

There have even been suggestions he should be "censured" by Sanzar for daring to express his thoughts in such a manner in the public arena.

Censured? I reckon he should be applauded.

Granted, Henry's sentiments are coloured a fairly deep shade of blue - but what do you expect? He is defence coach of the Blues and all his attentions are focused on his franchise and doing his bit to help them win games.

When he's asked about frustrations or areas where things in the game aren't right, it's only natural he's looking at them from a Blues perspective.

But Henry's words should be heeded, not derided. He's more than earned that right.

This is a guy who's been a rugby coach since, well, not long after dinosaurs roamed the earth. He's had the reins of Auckland, the Blues, Wales, the Lions, and of course the All Blacks, and these days lends a hand with the Blues and Argentina between fishing assignments and sampling the finest Pinot Waiheke Island has to offer.

In other words he's got some cred to back up his criticisms. Even got a knighthood to prove it.

If Henry can't unload a few thoughts on the game, then who can?

And if you take away the emotive and profane nature of some of his comments - the former headmaster certainly chose some fairly street-level syntax - then you are left with a guy making a fairly valid point.

Some of the TMO decisions this year have been bizarre, to say the least. It seems like at times they're searching and searching and then searching some more for reasons NOT to award a try, rather than giving any benefit of doubt to the team that's done all the hard work to get the ball over the line.

What happens in these things is that if you look at something enough times from enough different angles you can convince yourself that something hasn't actually occurred, when every bit of common-sense should tell you the opposite.

The guide that needs to be used here is this: if something walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, smells like a duck and has feathers like a duck, it's almost certainly a duck.

On the other hand, we've had TMOs refusing to acknowledge clear forward passes when the transfer has clearly drifted several metres forward, convincing themselves that the hands had moved backwards, and that's all that counts

Again, the duck.

Referees, and TMOs, also seem to have a preoccupation with knock-ons being deliberate when a player flaps his arm at the ball as it's coming whizzing past him.

Again, Henry makes a fair point when he highlights his frustration over a crucial sin-binning occurring because Cullum Retallick reached out at a Crusaders pass and knocked it forward.

The presumption now is that it's a cynical play and deserves, at the very least, a yellow card. The reality is it's probably just a player reaching for the ball and not being good enough to snare it.

It's a serious leap of faith for a referee to interpret malicious intent into a pretty reflexive action. But that seems to be the widespread approach now taken by referees and TMOs.

Let's make no mistake. Rugby is an exceedingly difficult game to referee with all its grey areas and subjective decision-making. The ruck, the scrum and now the maul are tough parts to rule on, especially when huge, cunning professionals are intent on currying decisions in their favour.

But Henry's call for common sense and for referees to take care of the basics of the game is exceedingly sensible.

As he observes, referees and their so-called assistants are now so wrapped up in the discretionary areas of the game they've almost forgotten to enforce the one rudimentary - and black and white - aspect of it: the offside line.

If you keep the two sides apart the appropriate distance, there's a much better chance you'll have a more flowing game with more clear-cut phases and a lot less of the murky exchanges that are so open to interpretation.

Maybe I'm naive. But I reckon Henry has the game's best interests at heart, as much as he'd love a few calls to go the Blues' way. First and foremost he's a passionate rugby man, and understands it's important to get these things right.

Sure, he could have made his point in a more polite way. But if he had, would we have listened as intently?

Sometimes being a bit rude is the only way to get anything done in this world we live in.