British & Irish Lions

Referee Ben O'Keeffe's performance: Consistent ... in a weird, rugby way

play article
Subscribers can listen to this article
Referee Ben O'Keeffe looks on with touch judges. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
Referee Ben O'Keeffe looks on with touch judges. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

The irony about Rassie Erasmus' now infamous, 63-minute "rant" about the refereeing in the first Test against the British & Irish Lions last week was that - in the end - all that teams want is consistency.

Whether the Springboks' director of rugby chose the right platform to air his grievances will arguably remain debatable for eternity, but there can be no doubt that the wily World Cup-winning mentor succeeded in inspiring his troops and sucking the tourists into his vortex of evidence-based bluster.

Ben O'Keeffe, the New Zealander entrusted with the whistle, had a huge task ahead of him.

And, in all fairness, he was stern and composed in dealing with an emotionally charged on-field atmosphere.

However, as Bok prop Steven Kitshoff noted afterwards, this was a match of "big moments" with numerous 50-50 calls and O'Keeffe definitely didn't get all of them right.

Strangely enough, his mixed bag of decisions extended to both sides, unwittingly showing that consistency is regularly found in the strangest manner nowadays.

These incidents prove that fact.


The SA-born winger didn't cover himself in glory with his careless trip on Cheslin Kolbe.

The 25-year-old was never in a position to actually compete for the loose ball, so he simply stuck out his right leg and essentially kicked his opponent hard on the shin.

No-one complained about that slice of justice being served as Van der Merwe was shown a yellow card.

That said, the Scotland star could've been in the sin bin earlier for an aggressive late tackle on Pieter-Steph du Toit after a basketball pass to Kolbe.

Du Toit landed hard on his right arm and trudged off himself a few minutes later.


The Springboks' dazzling attacker has not been himself in this series to date.

No incident illustrated his dented on-field confidence more than his reckless charge into an airborne Connor Murray, which saw the Lions halfback plunge into the ground face first.

Kolbe's body language didn't suggest any malicious intent, instead a lazy unwillingness to divert some of his attention on the ball to his opponent.

As a result, the diminutive winger didn't even attempt to make a catch, flying into Murray's legs.

Bok coach Jacques Nienaber said the yellow card was the right call as the adjudication "process" was "followed to the tee", but there's no doubt players have previously been shown red for less.

Similarly to Van der Merwe, Kolbe could've been off the field earlier for a clumsy high tackle on flanker Tom Curry, the consequence of poor technique.

Had a sanction been handed, it probably would've been a yellow.


Pouncing on a nifty chip over the top from close range from Murray, the Lions midfielder at first glance appeared to have scored just to the right of the posts.

Yet, in a brilliant example of desperate defending, Bok skipper Siya Kolisi managed to wedge an arm between the ball and the pitch, an intervention that planted doubts in the referees' minds that there was a touchdown, especially after the ball popped out too at the end.

It was a call that could've gone either way, but O'Keeffe had stated clearly before consulting TMO, Marius Jonker, that his on-field decision was no try.

When no compelling evidence could be found to overturn that train of thought, the score was denied.

That said, if O'Keeffe had said the opposite, the Lions surely would've celebrated a try.


The classy Springbok centre's finish was a fine one, brilliantly reading Faf de Klerk's smart grubber from a rampant home team maul.

Am definitely managed to gather the ball before the dead-ball line and seemed to have control from the camera angle to his right.

Yet a case could be made for the opposite angle revealing a bit of doubt.

O'Keeffe's on-field decision was a try, which - like the Henshaw incident - explains why Jonker couldn't potentially overturn the call.

Had the Kiwi arbiter even just asked "try or no try", the Lions might've breathed a sigh of relief.

Regardless, these four instances showed that O'Keeffe's adjudicating - whether by accident of design - was, paradoxically, the consistency trumpeted by Erasmus.

But there were incidents that were missed and could possibly be addressed by citings early next week...

KOLBE: The high hit on Curry should, at the very least, warrant a second look.

DE KLERK: 30 seconds before Henshaw's disallowed try, the Bok No 9 flew into Murray with what was clear contact to the head.

STUART HOGG: Did the Lions fullback bite Willie le Roux during the free-for-all in the aftermath of Kolbe's yellow?

Willie le Roux

MARO ITOJE: His Derek Chauvin-type moment on Damian de Allende definitely doesn't look good...

Maro Itoje
We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
The Springboks return to Rugby Championship action to take on the Wallabies this weekend. How will they fare?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Boks to win by plenty
17% - 1589 votes
The Boks will win, but it'll be tight
55% - 5226 votes
I reckon the Wallabies at home will get the win
21% - 1968 votes
It's too close to call!
8% - 794 votes