Opinionista Styli Charalambous 2 December 2011

Up yours! New Zealand style

In a move that can only be seen as an unequivocal raising of the middle finger to the entire rugby playing population of South Africa, the NZRU named Bryce Lawrence as the country’s top referee. STYLI CHARALAMBOUS suffers full meltdown after another blood-boiling insult from the Kiwis.

I really do want to move on. Accept the World Cup fate of my beloved Springbok team and look to an exciting new chapter in South African rugby. One where the team and management are selected on merit and the opposition are smashed into the loser column time and time again. I really want to forget.

But New Zealand just doesn’t seem to want to play ball, instead mocking me, the other 49 million South Africans, and in fact, every sober-minded rugby lover on Earth. For the fourth time in his career, Bryce Lawrence was awarded the best referee in the New Zealand.

Watch Lawrence’s interpretation of “dangerous play”:

Now, we know the Kiwi’s aren’t exactly blessed with talent in the refereeing department, and yet amazingly still manage to head up the IRB panel of whistle-blowers. But surely, in a year when their top referee covered himself in the excrement of several equine animals on the biggest stage of world rugby, the very least they could have done was retire the category for the next four years in the presence of the stupendous performance of incompetence.

As I’ve recounted several times before, the IRB is to blame for the debacles caused by continuously poor refereeing decisions at the World Cup.  Referees are not held accountable for shoddy interpretations and missed forward passes, with the most severe penalty being non-selection for the finals of the tournament. In probably the sternest “sentence” handed down to inept referees, Lawrence himself was “rested” by the IRB until June 2012, when they announced the officiating line-up of the upcoming Six Nations.

If rugby officials were subject to the same scrutiny of performance that players are, Lawrence should have been demoted to refereeing the U-7 junior leagues. In Outer Mongolia. With that performance, Lawrence ended the careers of several players and coaching staff, when it was his that should have been ended. Lawrence has a history of poor refereeing and the IRB missed an opportunity to raise the standards of rugby officiating by not making an example of him. Instead we now find rugby in the ludicrous position of celebrating a blatantly incompetent official.

Watch this analysis of Lawrence’s howler performance: Boks vs Wallabies at RWC11. Please excuse the length of the video:

In writing this column, my editor warned me to refrain from the use of expletives that seem to creep in every time a column involving everyone’s favourite New Zealander is mentioned. But instead of making this purely a whinge about Lawrence, I’d like to offer a positive spin by way of suggesting some feasible ways to improve officiating in Test rugby.

The game has evolved, from laws to coaching methods and, of course, the era of professionalism that brought with it almost superhuman rugby players, built like brick ablution facilities. And the one area that has struggled to keep pace with the rate of progress in rugby has been its officiating. With these highly complex laws, the very same breakdown situation could be subject to several varying interpretations. Laws, unfortunately, are likely to continue the trend of becoming more and more intricate meaning the job of the whistle-carrying men directing on field traffic will only become more challenging.

So how do we go about preventing another colossal travesty of rugby that we witnessed on 9 October? Well firstly, why not take a page out of the book of Aussie Rules Football where more than one man is entrusted with the officiating of the game. In this way the chances of a referee missing out on a forward pass or breakdown transgression, are greatly diminished. Sure, the interpretation angle may cause issues, but nothing that couldn’t be resolved by practice and some field ears communication. 

Another option is to offer each captain the opportunity to substitute the ref at halftime for one of the assistant referees. Players get subbed for poor performances, why shouldn’t referees? That would certainly keep the men in the middle on their toes.

The television match official has been the most significant advance in officiating in rugby, and a most needed one at that. I shudder to think back at how many tries have been incorrectly awarded or disallowed prior to the TMO’s presence. And yet Lawrence has proved that further innovation in the field of refereeing is required. The outcome of a match, and potentially a tournament, was altered because of that unbelievable display. Something no true rugby fan can, or should, accept.

Whether more use of the television replays or officials should be used, in the way cricket has used the review system, is debatable. I’m sure each captain would love the opportunity to go upstairs and refer a penalty decision to another official, and in that case would work splendidly well. But the referral system would fall short when the penalty isn’t awarded and the game continues. It would be rather off-putting to players, as well as spectators, for a captain to stop the game, as they do in tennis, to query the decision mid-game.

I’ve heard some commentators say we should put on our big girl panties and stop whinging about THAT game. The Kiwi’s seem to have the loudest chants of that particular mantra, given their own refereeing injustice in the 2007 World Cup. To which I respond that a single overlooked forward pass simply cannot compare to an 80-minute display of ineptitude. And if we don’t make a big deal of this, how will refereeing ever get any better? DM


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