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Bizarre, costly refereeing continues


Having had a crack at the refereeing last week I’d really planned to leave them alone this week in this column, but it’s a bit hard to do that after a weekend of bizarre officiating.

The way I see it we had three matches swinging on debatable decision making, with a loser each from New Zealand, Australia and South Africa, which may be taking the adage of “swings and roundabouts” to a new extreme, but excuses nothing.

Lyndon Bray has been true to his word and three refs have been sent to the changing room, those being Lourens van der Merwe, James Leckie and the hapless Argentine Francisco Pastrama.

Others will be relieved they are not joining them, most notably Stuart Berry, who has featured in two controversial wins for the Lions in recent weeks.

I have some sympathy for Berry, in that he got a bit swept up in the flood of momentum at the end of the game in Johannesburg.

The Reds are the most penalised team in the competition and did frequently transgress in the face of a relentless Lions onslaught but you did get the feeling that Berry became a bit ruffled and was too conscious of the state of the game.

In blowing an extraordinary 17-4 penalty count, complete with two yellow cards, and missing an obvious crooked lineout throw late in the game, he created the impression that he was watching one team more than the other.

Stuart was a very good referee in sevens and I have no doubt he can emulate that in fifteens but he now has a bit to do to silence some doubters.

As for the penalty count, well that is a very lopsided one but the last thing we want is referees evening up the count just to try and prove an objective performance, as I suspect some do.

It’s just a shame the reaction to the refereeing has overshadowed what was another big scalp for the Lions, who add the Reds to the Stormers and Blues in their list of conquests, and continue to play with great passion and resilience.

As for the refs who have been ditched, Van der Merwe has been chastised for not sending Alby Mathewson off after a display of tap dancing that Fred Astaire would have been proud off, but was hardly life threatening.

To me it was more a yellow but to only award a penalty smacked of someone who at best felt it was “too early” in the game for such a sanction, or at worst did not want to get offside with the home fans.

He also allowed the Force way too much leeway at the breakdown, where they were off their feet and in the side at their will, but the Chiefs also have to shoulder a lot of the blame for an error-ridden, off-key performance that will need to be greatly improved if they are to have any chance at Loftus this coming weekend.

The best thing you could say about the performance of Pastrama at Eden Park was that it was “Lost in Translation”.

Having had Willie le Roux errantly sin binned in Wellington, the Cheetahs lost Boom Prinsloo at Eden Park soon after Senor Pastrama had warned the Blues for persistent infringing, although Prinsloo did give away a penalty right by his own line, which is always taking a risk.

There was more than a hint of a shove on a retiring Cheetahs player in the leadup to the Tevita Li try, with the spectacular Le Roux “fail” distracting the attention, and then there was the discussion over the George Moala try, which was right out of the scripts of Fawlty Towers.

It was all a bit bizarre, and costly to the Cheetahs.

As for the dropping of James Leckie, well the Aussies have had a perennial problem in that their refs come up to Super Rugby straight out of club rugby with no tier in between, and they’ve had a few shockers. Hopefully the new provincial championship in Australia will change this but it might take time.

The best game of the weekend was the match at Loftus, which had an almost test match intensity to it.

The Bulls won it because they nullified the Sharks in a tremendous forward contest. The result keeps the South African conference wide open and proves that, for all the players they have lost, the Bulls will always be a threat, especially on their home patch.

Now, for the first time, there’s just a hint of pressure on the Sharks. If that’s sounding just a little knee jerk, consider the fact that they have lost two of their brightest young talents in Pieter Steph du Toit and Pat Lambie, and after this weekend will have just three games left at Kings Park, and only one of their last seven at home.

The good news for the Sharks, if not the neutral fans, is that they will now face a Waratahs side missing their ace, fullback Israel Folau, who has been the single biggest attacking threat in Super Rugby. I will be getting up early for this one.

In fact the whole weekend shapes up as a good one, with a fantastic double header in South Africa, two derby matches in New Zealand and a last chance for the Stormers to get something to show for their tour when they take on the Reds.

Let’s just hope next week we’re all talking about how good the rugby was and not mistakes in the officiating.

We have to accept that the refs have a tough job, and cannot be expected to get it right all the time.

The law book is one big fat tome, with far too many regulations that are open to interpretation. Every time a law changes, it opens up a whole new can of worms.

I wonder at times if the poor guys aren’t over-analysed by their own bosses, never mind by the public, media and coaches, and go out with a head full of “I must do that, I mustn’t do that”.

So much has been done to help their decision-making with the expansion of TMO boundaries and the involvement of their assistants.

We have no right to ask for perfection…rugby by its very nature simply doesn’t allow for that, but we should be getting better than some of the stuff we’ve seen over the past few weeks.


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