Justin Marshall was a great All Black across his 81 Tests and hundreds of other first-class games. When he uses all that knowledge and experience in analysing play and what teams are trying to achieve on the field in his current role as Sky’s lead analyst he’s actually very good; even if his OTT screaming into the mic at times (“BOOMFAH!!!”) is polarising love-it-or-loathe stuff at best.
Where Marshall does the game an enormous disservice is when he espouses on the Laws of The Game. He’s wrong far more frequently than he’s right, and like most former players bases his analysis and explanations to the viewing audience on the basis of what he thinks it is (or should be) based on his experience, rather what they actually are. Cases in point have been a basic lack of understanding about what constitutes a maul, and the differences when a tackle takes place and when a maul goes to ground.
His other crutch is to say decisions are the result of “the new laws”. Three times he came up with this during the weekend’s Highlanders and Chiefs games; three times he was referring to laws unchanged in several years. And don’t get me started on his understanding of what we in the refereeing trade call ‘material impact’.
Marshall’s predecessor as Sky’s principal analyst, the late John Drake, gave the impression that he consulted the rulebook regularly. Even if it usually led to three minutes of moaning between him and Grant Nisbett about them.
Marshall isn’t alone in this regard. Fellow ex-players turned analysts Jeff Wilson, Matthew Cooper, and Ian Jones (especially Kamo) have all exhibited poor knowledge on rugby’s law book, while to date it’s something Christian Cullen has steered well clear off (draw your own conclusions why). At times it seems the only person in the Sky Rugby talent office that’s even looked at the rulebook lately is Sumo Stevenson.
However Marshall gets this particular brickbat because he’s the most visible and frequent offender.
What’s the effect of all this? Well up and down the country every weekend referees have to deal with players and spectators that have benefitted from this ‘wisdom’ and believe Marshall is the Oracle and we’re incompetent. It might seem strange he’s this influential, but every few weeks I have to cut someone off who starts a sentence with “But Justin Marshall said….”
What’s a solution? One would be to simply gag Marshall but that isn’t going to happen. Another would be to make him read the Laws of the Game and get some coaching and explanations from one of our leading referees. A third could be to borrow from US NFL coverage and bring in a referee to give an explanation during the coverage; someone such as the recently-retired Chris Pollock or media-savvy up-and-comer Angus Mabey.
So Sky and NZ Rugby, lets end this great disservice to the game. Please.
Follow Scott on Twitter