Cape Town - SANZAAR’s decision to name South Africa’s Jaco Peyper as referee for Saturday’s Super Rugby final has copped flak in New Zealand.
The southern hemisphere governing body announced on Tuesday that Peyper will be in charge of the final between the Lions and Crusaders at Ellis Park.
This decision was made despite calls for a neutral whistle-blower following a yellow-card controversy in the semi-finals.
Peyper was at the centre of controversy last week when he sin-binned Hurricanes flyhalf Beauden Barrett at a key stage of their semi-final loss to the Lions in Johannesburg.
Replays suggested the punishment was harsh but the Lions took full advantage, scoring 17 points to seize the lead while Barrett was off the field in the second half.
Peyper will also have compatriot Marius van der Westhuizen and New Zealander Glen Jackson as his assistants, while South Africa's Marius Jonker is the television match official (TMO).
Gregor Paul, a columnist for the New Zealand Herald, has slammed SANZAAR for not appointing a neutral referee.
“The men running Super Rugby seem determined to metaphorically throw the competition in the microwave, set the thing on high and watch it explode in a hopeless, devastated mess,” Paul wrote.
“SANZAAR really had just the one job to take care of ahead of the Super Rugby final at Ellis Park - appoint neutral officials.
“That was it, just one job - get Angus Gardner of Australia on the plane, as he's quite obviously the best referee, and stick countryman George Ayoub on the plane with him, as he may have been a hopeless ref back in the day, but he's not such a bad TMO now.
“Another couple of Aussies could easily have been found to do the business as assistants and the final could have kicked off without everyone, probably even South Africans, thinking they had witnessed a massive stitch-up that reeked of something foul.”
SANZAAR responded by saying Peyper's appointment was purely "merit-based".
"The selection criteria for all match official appointments for the last two years follows a clear tournament policy... that such appointments be merit-based," SANZAAR CEO Andy Marinos said via a press statement released on Tuesday.
Marinos added that New Zealand's Jackson refereed last year's final between the Lions and the Hurricanes in Wellington, when the home team lifted the trophy.
According to Paul, the decision to yellow-card Barrett should have prompted SANZAAR to not appoint Peyper for Saturday's final.
“What makes that assessment even harder to swallow is that Peyper, Jonker and Van der Westhuizen didn't cover themselves in glory during the semi-final, where Beauden Barrett was shown a yellow card that was almost impossible to justify and one Lions try, where the grounding was suspect, wasn't even sent for TMO review. That's not why the Hurricanes lost, but when home officials don't appear to perform well and are then given another crack the following week, the whole merit argument becomes a bad joke, the sort where no-one actually laughs at the punchline.”
He added that the best referee in the tournament should sit out the semi-finals in order to be ready for the final.
“That's the smart thing to do, because if someone has a shocker in the semi, that makes it hard indeed to appoint them for the final.”
Some experts have questioned the wisdom of using referees from the same country as one of the teams involved, with Crusaders coach Scott Robertson among those calling for the "best neutral ref".
"I'd love a neutral referee," he told New Zealand's Radio Sport. "Look it's not my decision, but in my opinion it's more around what's best for the game.
"Let's get the best neutral ref, I just think it's fair."