Kiwi ref who favours Oz

2008-07-25 00:00

Watching the Perth Test on Saturday left me feeling much like a person who has just been mugged and robbed outside a bank shortly before depositing the monthly takings.

This is exactly how the Springboks must have felt after what George Smith and his fellow Wallabies did to them in the Tri-Nations Test.

The Australians were given carte blanche by referee Bryce Lawrence (New Zealand), and that would have come as no surprise to assistant Bok coach Dick Muir. He had seen it all happen before — when he was in charge of the Sharks and they were blown away by Lawrence against the Brumbies and the Waratahs in the Super 14 semi-finals.

Lawrence, as Muir said on his return to Durban, allowed the Australians to flop over the ball at the tackle and play on the fringes of the law, which saw them turn over possession more frequently than in any of the Test matches that we have seen this season. And we cannot blame the new experimental law variations (ELVs) for that. It was just blatantly poor refereeing by Lawrence.

The Springboks wanted to meet the referee before the Test — as they had done the week before in New Zealand — but the Wallabies refused. Now we know why.

New Zealand shocked the refereeing world when revealing that their top officials were not available for any internationals this year. Apparently, Steve Walsh is not fit enough for duty, Paul Honiss has retired after a distinguished career and Kelvin Deaker has been dropped from the elite panel by the IRB. This leaves only Lawrence and Lyndon Bray to referee in the Tri-Nations. And Lawrence is not finished with the Springboks yet. He will handle one of their games against the Wallabies in South Africa. I feel an objection coming on.

Lawrence is naturally slow and struggles to keep up with the game, and Australia exploited his limitations on Saturday. It started in the fifth minute when a ruck formed and George Smith was off-side and pressured January into passing the ball. The problem here is that allowing Smith to go unpunished at the first breakdown — where Lawrence was late to arrive — encouraged the trend, which continued throughout the match.

Indeed, it played a role in the first try late in the first half when Australia went wide after Smith managed to pick up a ball that emerged on the side of a ruck after Schalk Burger went to ground.

Smith was in an off-side position when the ball emerged, but because Lawrence had allowed him the freedom of movement in this area, Australia were able to release Lote Tuqiri for a try.

At some stages, Lawrence would worry about trivial laws of the game — as if to satisfy the lawmakers about the ELVs — but then blatant transgressions were ignored. He made a fuss after Berrick Barnes of Australia grubbered the ball into touch for South Africa to throw in at the lineout. When the lineout had formed, the referee said to Australia: “We need a hooker”.

Australia responded by placing scrumhalf Luke Burgess in the position. The experimental law variations require it.

Law 19.7 FORMING A LINE-OUT

(f) Player between touch and five metres. The team not throwing in must have a player standing between the touch-line and the five-metre line on that team’s side of the line of touch when the lineout is formed. That player must stand at least two metres from the five metres line.

Meanwhile, the critical infringements of the laws at the tackle continued unpunished.

Lawrence is just not made for these type of matches and his inconsistency angered the Springbok management.

Bok captain Victor Matfield was also frustrated with the referee’s managment of the lineout and the set phases.

New Zealand refereeing must be in a state of turmoil if Lawrence is at the top of their pile. They have very little left in experienced refereeing, and if Steve Walsh does not return soon we might see them left with no referees on the IRB panel.

•On a different note, Saru referees have decided to pledge their support to the Chris Burger/Petro Jackson Fund to raise money for players injured while playing rugby.

The referees’ project, called Project Hair Aware, will see the country’s top whistle-blowers grow beards for two weeks, and then shave their heads and beards to raise money for the charity.

“All referees will grow beards from August 1 to 15, and thereafter shave their beards and heads from August 15 to 29,” said SA Referees head of the project, Gareth Lloyd-Jones.

It is all for a good cause and your support for the Burger/Jackson Fund would be highly appreciated.

We saw a hairy Mark Lawrence handling the Sharks game last Saturday and now look forward to seeing what the others look like. Certainly Bryce Lawrence should be hiding behind long hair and a beard.

•Your views to refscorner@mweb.co.za

•Michael Katzenellenbogen is a former Test referee living in Pietermaritzburg.

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