Simon Borchardt

Two refs seem better than one

The engaged referee at a UCT-Pukke scrum on Monday The engaged referee at a UCT-Pukke scrum on Monday

The dual-referees system worked well at the Varsity Cup match between UCT and Pukke on Monday, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.

'Are there two referees on the field?' someone asked behind me in the stands at the Green Mile.

His friend quickly explained the new Varsity Cup trial that sees each referee acting as the engaged ref in their own half of the field, which is divided by an imaginary line from post to post, parallel to the sidelines.

'But what happens if they blow their whistles at the same time and penalise different teams?' was the follow-up question.

Fortunately for the officials, that never happened at UCT. The only minor issue that I spotted during the 80 minutes was when the disengaged referee in general play, who was standing among the backs and monitoring the offside line, got in the way of the ball-carrier.

For the rest of the game, I hardly noticed that there were two referees on the field, which in itself is a victory for the system.

The scrums were interesting, with a referee on either side, but the referees communicated well with each other. On one occasion, the disengaged referee, who was on the opposite side to the put-in in order to watch for errors on that side, communicated a free kick to the engaged referee, and both men then raised their bent arms at around the same time.

At the rucks, the primary referee (who becomes the primary referee when play comes into his half of the field) took charge and was close to the action, while the disengaged referee managed the offside line. One time, the disengaged referee spotted an infringement that the primary referee had missed because he was unsighted (I'm not sure the assistant referee/touch judge would have seen it had there had been just one referee, as it was quite far away from where he was standing).

After the game, both referees chatted with each other about the game and seemed pleased with how it had gone. Long after the crowd had gone, I spotted them having an animated discussion with former Test referee Jonathan Kaplan, who has always advocated two referees.

It's still too soon to judge whether the system is good for the game, and should be used at higher levels, but it got off to a good start in Cape Town.

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