Mind Games: Running the rule over Super Rugby referees

2015-02-02 10:00

An impending Super Rugby season that I was already viewing with a jaundiced eye became even more imposing when the first dispatches started to arrive.

Twenty-one consecutive weekends featuring 125 matches already seemed a pretty high mountain to climb, but then Sanzar’s Game Manager (read head honcho of referees), Lyndon Bray, delivered his considered opinion on how he saw the competition playing out.

Now, referees are the appliers of the laws and those of you who have been subjected to my views over many a season will be well aware of my lack of enthusiasm for how they do it.

However, let me hasten to add, a lot of this negativity is not the fault of match officials and, ironically, the whistle-blowers can’t protest about a set of statutes that is hopelessly out of date.

Instead, match officials often have to endure criticism for applying rules that exist only in the minds of their World Rugby controllers.

Referees are tasked to make subjective decisions that often puzzle players and fans alike, and can lead to match-defining errors.

That is why I found Bray’s comments after a three-day camp held for the 16 Super Rugby referees in Sydney so perplexing.

“Our core objectives for 2015 are ‘high intensity, high octane’, and affording players the confidence to play and contest for the ball, which aims to consolidate Super Rugby as the best rugby competition in the world; not only as a product of having the best players, coaches and referees, but also because of the way the game is played.

“After consulting the coaches following the 2014 Super Rugby season, we seek to achieve those goals by way of allowing quick ball at the tackle, faster and more positive scrums, proper set-up and defence of the line-out-to-maul area and ensuring there is space across the field to allow the teams to play as they want to.”

Noble thoughts, indeed, but note that he did not say that any laws had been changed to bring about his desired outcome.

Instead, he appears to have confirmed my contention that, rather than there being a universal mean that all referees adhere to, those who attended the preseason session were given instructions to blow games differently to the way they did last year.

That can be the only interpretation of what is clearly an attempt to artificially engineer a more spectacular game by introducing a laissez faire approach.

The outcome could be exactly the opposite of what Bray wants.

Instead of teams concentrating on playing within the laws, they will try to take advantage of officials “letting things go” and the outcome may well be loose, messy rugby that will satisfy no one.

However, there is an upside. Two new referees appointed to the panel – South Africa’s Jaco van Heerden and New Zealander Ben O’Keeffe – have the perfect credentials to sort through the jumble.

Van Heerden is an advocate of six years’ standing and a member of the Pretoria Society of Advocates, and O’Keeffe is an ophthalmologist (or eye doctor as he was described in a press release). They may be needed!

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