Wary of Lawrence’s whistle

2011-07-08 00:00

THE Sharks camp, with good reason, believe New Zealand referee Bryce Lawrence could be the decisive factor in tomorrow’s Super Rugby final between the Reds and the Crusaders in Brisbane.

Lawrence — appointed to handle the final nearly three weeks ago and before the play-off rounds — played a controversial role in the Sharks’ 36-8 quarter-final defeat by the Crusaders in Nelson.

While the Sharks were outplayed after the break, and eventually lost heavily, Lawrence made a series of bewildering calls in the first half when John Plumtree’s team were well in contention and led 5-3 for a long period.

Brian van Zyl, the Sharks CEO, told The Witness yesterday that an official complaint had been lodged with Sanzar following the game.

“We pointed out 20 issues in the first half alone,” he said.

“Sanzar did respond and conceded that Lawrence had erred on six occasions.”

What is curious is that two South African referees, Mark Lawrence and Marius Jonker, were both “dropped” for one match during the Super Rugby competition after Sanzar refereeing boss, New Zealander Lyndon Bray, and his assessors ruled that they had made mistakes.

Bryce Lawrence, in contrast, has been allowed to blow on, rewarded with a final involving a New Zealand team when highly competent “neutral” Test referees, Jonathan Kaplan, Craig Joubert and Mark Lawrence, are twiddling their thumbs in South Africa.

Another concern is Lawrence’s lack of match fitness, which was obvious in the Sharks-Bulls game in Durban late in May when he huffed and puffed his way around King’s Park and battled to stay with the pace.

Plumtree believes that the Crusaders will win a close final, but said the contest in the set pieces and at the breakdown would be decisive.

He also said that Lawrence’s refereeing could play a role.

“If you are going to beat the Crusaders, you have to pressure them at the breakdown and get at Andy Ellis [scrumhalf] and Dan Carter [flyhalf].

“I thought we were doing just that [in Nelson] until Lawrence started pinging us and then that intercept try killed us off.”

The Sharks coach said the contest would be contested between a clinical, disciplined side (the Crusaders) and the more inventive Reds.

“If the Reds can stand up in the set pieces and pressure the Crusaders at the breakdown, it will be close,” he added.

The final kicks off at 11.40 am (South African time) tomorrow.

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