Mind Games: Jake White still stuck in a refereeing twilight zone

2014-05-12 10:00

Jake White was caught in a recurring nightmare during the Sharks’ match against the Rebels and once again it exposed the haphazard standard of refereeing in Super Rugby.

In 2004, when he was Springbok coach, White watched in horror, and subsequent anger, as Ireland scored a try while his captain John Smit and most of his team had their backs turned.

New Zealand referee Paul Honiss had penalised the Springboks and warned Smit about repeated infringements, but as the Bok skipper turned away and called his players into a huddle to lay down the law, the referee allowed play to carry on and Ronan O’Gara quickly tapped the ball to himself and scurried over for a try.

Afterwards, some of the Springboks admitted they did not even realise a try had been scored. Smit was helplessly furious and Honiss said he had not stopped the clock and, as he had his back turned, was unaware the skipper had called a huddle.

In later years, Honiss and Smit both admitted they had made mistakes – the referee by not clearly indicating he had not stopped the clock and Smit by not making sure the match official knew what he was up to.

The upshot of this incident was the phenomenon of captains eye-balling referees and asking whether they could speak to their players.

Until it happened to the Sharks in Melbourne again recently.

Sharks captain Bismarck du Plessis appeared to have been asked by Australian referee Andrew Lees to have a word with his players, but in an instant, the ball was tapped and reserve hooker Pat Leafa scored a try that gave the Rebels a chance to snatch victory.

In the end, unlike the Springboks at Lansdowne Road, the Sharks won and the incident fizzled out.

White praised his charges for keeping their cool and curbing their understandable anger to close out the match, but in private he would have been seething at yet another instance of variable refereeing.

Coaches, captains and players are unable to speak out for fear of reprisals, either through official sanctioning or by incurring the more subtle prejudice of a slighted referee.

But the incident yet again highlighted the need for the International Rugby Board (IRB) and, in our half of the globe, Sanzar to do something about unintelligible laws and erratic refereeing.

Some years ago, the decision was made to do away with nonaligned referees – supposedly to ensure the best teams are refereed by the best referees. But administrators were fudging the situation.

The real reason for dropping independent referees was to save on the cost of flying so many officials from match to match.

The upshot has been the introduction of a large number of inexperienced new match officials and the unassailable fact that no matter how unbiased a referee is, he will always be accused of favouring the team from his own country.

And if that isn’t bad enough, the poor bloke with the whistle has to apply a set of incomprehensible rules that have strayed a long way from the laws as they appear in

the book. Far from clearing up confusion, the use of technology via the TMO seems to have increased the risk of human error while the scrum and the breakdown edicts have made a lottery of these areas of the game.

By straying into the realm of physics, the IRB has completely baffled everyone about what constitutes a forward pass and

this season we have seen a return of obstruction (almost like running interference in gridiron) popularised by the Brumbies and the Wallabies.

As Jake White has discovered after his four-year sabbatical – it’s a nightmare.

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