Rob Baxter: Football must learn from rugby’s mistakes of opening Pandora’s box of technology

Rob Baxter - Rob Baxter: Football must learn from rugby's mistakes of opening Pandora's box of technology
'We’re meddlers in sport and rugby is the worst of the lot,' Rob Baxter says - Getty Images/David Rogers

Rob Baxter, the Exeter Chiefs director of rugby, believes that football is in danger of opening Pandora’s box, warning that copying rugby’s constant tinkering with the laws is a path to more discontent.

On Tuesday, the International Football Association Board confirmed that it was planning to trial 10-minute sin-bins for dissent and cynical fouls in the professional game.

Baxter has been a strident opponent of the increasing influence of the television match official as well as the proliferation of cards in rugby. Now Baxter fears that football is falling into the same trap of creating a whole set of new problems by attempting to fix another issue as it did when it introduced the video assistant referee.

“I’ll be honest with you, I’m very surprised football are doing it,” Baxter said. “I was a bit surprised when football went to Var and I’m not sure how much they realised they were letting the genie out of the bottle.

“These are all Var things that are being called in now. You can see what starts to happen and I think that’s what rugby has been guilty of – we’ve been guilty of starting processes without thinking about the repercussions. We think they’re quick fixed and, actually, are they? The big debate on the football radio this morning was to get rid of Var completely because they don’t want two-minute stoppages while someone decides if it was a handball or not. We brought that into rugby and realise we’ve pushed it to the nth degree.

“We’re meddlers in sport and rugby is the worst of the lot. We’ve actually realised we want less TMO intervention, the international game is saying we need less TMO intervention. Once you start the process it is very hard to stop tinkering with it. They are tinkering with it all the time.

“It is one of the things that football has always had to its strength is that everyone can explain the rules within five minutes to your average new supporter and they will get it. Rugby has moved away from that for a long time now. If we want to grow the game we need to simplify it and make it easier to watch and enjoy.”

The concept of the sin-bin, where a player spends 10 minutes off the pitch after receiving a yellow card, was first implemented in northern hemisphere rugby during the 2000 Six Nations to deter cynical or repeated offences. However, the use of sin-binning has now spread and it is now rare for a game to pass without a card being shown.

“That would be my advice to football – just be careful, do you think you genuinely need it to improve player behaviour?” Baxter said. “Or with penalties, free-kicks and yellow cards as they stand, which can escalate to reds for a double yellow, have they got the sanctions already within their game to control player behaviour and they just haven’t been using them?

“That’s what I see in football. They’ve got the sanctions available in their game so use them. For player abuse you only need to do it in one or two games and things change very quickly.

“Introducing yellow cards and removing players from the pitch is something I’d be very careful of. I’m not sure they’re happy that they introduced video referees. Now it’s a very tough way back for them. When you start a process, it’s very hard to get out of it.

“You’ve got to be careful with the card thing. When you start to say that taking players off the pitch is your way of controlling player behaviour, you’ve got to be careful about when you want to limit it. We brought it in the right way. It was something that was required in rugby to stop repeat-repeat . Once you get into the habit of sanctioning teams by taking players off the field, it becomes a sanction you use over and over again.”

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