Wales is a country of people who know, and cherish, their rugby; always has been, hopefully always will be.
This blog is about rugby, and the laws of rugby, and how the laws of rugby and the law of the land intersect.
You might think that the Welsh, knowing and loving the game, would have less need of this blog than most.
Yet, at twenty past nine yesterday morning, the traffic on this blog went through the roof, almost all from one part of the UK. And that's because everyone in full Millennium Stadium was turning to each other and asking, "What the f*ck was that red card for...?" and hitting the web for answers. The leading Welsh rugby forum, Gwlad, has been tearing itself apart arguing over it since; yet Gwlad knows the laws better than most referees. And this is the problem; the people who know the game better than most are still finding it hard to find out what the laws of the game are.
I dealt yesterday with the background to this, and why Sam Warburton was, to a large extent, unlucky with that tackle at this time. But what I want to deal with now is why it seems so hard for the average rugby supporters to find out what the laws of the game are. And I do so as much as someone who loves this game to distraction as much as I do as a lawyer analysing a system.
Players and coaches have enough on their hands playing, and coaching. They need to know what the Laws are. They need to know how they're going to be applied. This blog, and others, can do our best to go through the citing decisions, and piece together patterns on discipline, and application of the laws, and hope it helps coaches, players, refs and those in citing hearings. But it shouldn't be up to us. It's not our job. It's the IRB's job. And they're failing at it.
Bluntly, it's not good enough that major rulings on the game come out not in the Laws, but as semi-private directives. It's not good enough that the rules on tournament discipline aren't available to the public, and that anyone trying to work out what they say has to piece them together from fragments in citing decisions, like rugby's answer to cracking the Enigma machine. It's not good enough that the citing decisions on many tests, and entire leagues like the RaboDirect Pro 12 aren't available. It's not good enough that, to find out about these, one has to trawl through the internet to see if a kindly referee society somewhere in the world has put these up. There is almost a culture of secrecy, that this information about the game is something to be hoarded, kept from the public, guarded safe from prying eyes.
And it's nonsense. It's as counter-productive as could be imagined. If you throw open the doors and let everyone see and access this information, then the nagging feeling that something is being kept from us (which it is) goes away. People stop yelling, "Why us, ref?" when they realise, "Damn, that's exactly what that other lad got done for the other day, isn't it?" They can accept it, because it's consistent, and clear. They explain why to others. They spread the word. People who are new to the game understand, and can enjoy the game for the thing of beauty it is.
But all of that is made impossible when the average supporter - indeed, international players who are commenting on games - have to go trolling through the bye-ways of the internet of a Saturday morning to find out why a clear red card is a clear red card.
The reason legal cases are reported is so that that people know how the law develops. That, in part, is what I'm trying to do here; to string together precedents in rugby, as one would in the law. That knowledge, that openness is what gives certainty to the law. It's what gives people certainty in their job; people know where the boundaries are, what they can and cannot do. It's what gives consistency.
Yet, when international players are baffled, and trying to work out what's going on; when a player, like the French player Estebanez, gets handed a decision coming into a citing hearing and given time to reconsider how he deals with that case because he has been so clearly taken aback by what he's being told the laws of the game are; then that certainty, that clarity, is missing. It's not just about the enjoyment of the game, by the way; this is about people's jobs, and the rules of those jobs are almost clandestine.
How can they have a fair, consistent disciplinary system when the rules that system enforces are half-hidden from them? The Judicial Officers try their best, but what can they really do in this impossible situation where baffled players appear in front of them, and men who play the game for a living are told, sorrowfully: sorry, no; the rules are different to what everyone thinks they are.
It's not enough for the IRB to now make its 2009 ruling available on the Rugby World Cup website. It should have done it before the RWC started. It should have shouted it to the world when it told managers and others during the RWC. It should have shouted it to the world in 2009; the world would have welcomed it. The clarifications on some laws that year are on the IRB website; some are now laws. But the important bit about how the game is played - drop a guy in a tackle, and you're off - that's not.
A test captain has a lot on his mind before any game. Going into a Rugby World Cup semi-final, he has a lot more. He should be able to know, simply, clearly, and for definite, what he has to do. He should be able to know: bring the tackled player down arse-first, or it's a red card. The people watching should know that, too. It should be all there for them to check, clearly and simply available.
And until it is, you'll get 60,000 people who're so dedicated to the game they'll get up at seven on a Saturday to go to a stadium to watch a game on the other side of the world turning to each other and going, "What the f*ck was that for?" And so long as that happens, the game won't grow as it should.
That's the IRB's job. It's past time it sorted it out.