Pressure got to Lawrence

2012-10-17 00:00

CONTROVERSIAL New Zealand referee Bryce Lawrence, who has pulled the plug on his career, has admitted that pressure from senior officials affected the way he handled last year’s Rugby World Cup quarter-final clash between the Wallabies and the Springboks.

Lawrence has been in charge of 25 Tests, two Rugby World Cup tournaments and handled 60 Super Rugby matches, including last year’s final.

But he will be remembered by South Africans for the passive role he played in the Springboks’ quarter-final defeat to the Wallabies in Wellington. The defeat prevented the title-holding South Africans advancing to a semi-final clash against the eventual winners New Zealand.

Lawrence told the Bay of Plenty Times yesterday that retirement had been forced on him following the vitriol he suffered from the fall-out after the Springboks’ loss. But he admits he handled the game badly because of the outside influences.

“There was some pretty nasty political stuff going on about that appointment [to referee the Boks against the Wallabies].

“I refereed Australia versus Ireland and Ireland had won, but behind the scenes guys like [Australian chief executive] John O’Neill were kicking up a massive stink.

“I knew a bit about that and it was enough to affect me, and it probably made me freeze on the biggest stage.”

Lawrence is honest in his appraisal of his performance on that fateful night in Wellington last year.

“I went into the game knowing it was a massive match and I didn’t want to overly influence the outcome and that was in the back of my mind.

“The way that transpired was I didn’t make decisions and, if I had my time again, I would just go out there and do what I normally do, which is just referee and back myself.

“I had four really good games at the World Cup and then I had that. I had outside pressure from pretty senior people from rugby countries behind the scenes that really created my mindset of lacking confidence to deliver what I normally do.”

Lawrence admits that was not the first time he had been affected by external (Australian) pressure getting to him. “At last year’s Super Rugby final between Crusaders and Reds there was massive media pressure around me being a non-neutral referee and I let that affect me going into that game. Again, I didn’t make decisions and let the outside pressure change what I do.”

He said the fall-out from his RWC failure was behind his retirement.

“It got pretty bad,” Lawrence said. “Not really threats on my family as such, but it was mainly aimed at me through social media. On Facebook they launched a ‘get rid of Bryce Lawrence’ site and it was pretty nasty.

“That was absolutely the reason for my career change. I got told at the end of the World Cup that I would have a break from Test rugby for the Six Nations and I could totally accept that as there has to be a consequence for poor performance.

“I was told I would be brought back in the middle of this year, as I was ranked in the top three or four referees in the world. But because of the political reaction from rugby unions like Australia and South Africa behind the scenes, they dropped me.

“Sanzar used me, but not in South Africa, so eventually they said it was getting tough having you in the draw, because we have to keep making changes to keep you in the system when you are not going to South Africa, so see you later. So I knew I was not able to referee at the level I needed to be re-contracted, really — all because of that one game.”

Lawrence starts his new role as the New Zealand Rugby Union high-performance referee reviewer in January. The undoubted career highlight for him was the first Test between the Springboks and the British and Irish Lions in Durban in 2009.

“This clash between two heavyweights was my biggest appointment and probably my best ever performance at this level. I felt great going into the game and certainly was well prepared. The match had a huge atmosphere, but throughout the 80 minutes I felt at peace and in the zone.

“My performance got huge feedback from players and rugby people. I felt proud that my peers recognised it as a top international performance. My bosses at the IRB and NZRU all agreed I’d had a good day at the office, which was very satisfying.”

Meanwhile, Lawrence’s retirement and the reasons for his decision to quit will confirm the suspicions of many Springboks who suffered and lost in Wellington.

Certainly the International Rugby Board should now make it their business to find out which “pretty senior” people pressured Lawrence on that fateful day and why.

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