Ref standards hit new low

The poor standard of officiating needs to be addressed sooner rather than later,, writes JON CARDINELLI.

Another weekend, another game, another contest decided by an absurd refereeing decision. Sadly, it's become an all too common affliction.

2014 has been even worse than 2013 in terms of the standard of officiating. And it's not a South African or even a southern hemisphere problem. It's a plague that's ruining the game at all levels of competition around the globe.

In May, Northampton were awarded a controversial try in the English Premiership final that ultimately handed them the title. The recent Super Rugby competition witnessed refereeing howlers on a weekly basis, from forward passes that often led to game-shaping tries, to a dubious penalty that resulted in the Waratahs edging the Crusaders in the final.

You'd think that the best referees in the world would get it right more often than not. And yet, even those charged with officiating at Test match level seem to be in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Jaco Peyper admitted that he got it wrong during the dying stages of the recent Test between the Wallabies and All Blacks in Sydney. That game ended in a 12-12 draw, although had Peyper punished the infringing Wallabies scrum accordingly, the All Blacks may have won the match.

Unfortunately, Peyper's performance would set the standard for the next five games of the Rugby Championship. Steve Walsh wasn't at his best when he blew the match between the Pumas and Boks in Salta, and the most recent round of games have served up a series of clangers that deserve to be included in the referee's hall of shame.

Many will say that the result was never in doubt when New Zealand hosted Argentina in Napier this past Saturday. However, in a tournament where bonus points and even points difference can mean the difference between winning and losing a title, referees need to ensure that they get the big decisions right.

In the second half of that fixture, Argentina scored a try that brought them back to within seven points of the All Blacks. Had that try stood, it would have forced the All Blacks to change tactics. I'm not saying that Argentina would have won, but perhaps New Zealand may not have secured the four-try bonus point.

Inexplicably, referee Pascal Gauzère ruled a knock on in the buildup to the Pumas' try. It was a crucial moment in the game, and the official didn't even bother to double check his decision with the TMO.

Over in Perth, George Clancy made a shocking, game-altering call during the last quarter of the Test between the Wallabies and Springboks. Bryan Habana had hit Adam Ashley-Cooper high in the tackle, and Clancy decided the offence warranted a yellow card. The replays on the stadium's big screen confirmed that Clancy had got it wrong.

Bok captain Jean de Villiers pointed out the inconsistency in Clancy's performance almost immediately. Indeed, De Villiers had worn a similar tackle only moments before. No Wallabies player had gone to the bin for that tackle, so why, asked De Villiers, was Habana receiving his marching orders?

Clancy may yet apologise to De Villiers and the Boks, but it won't change the result of the game in Perth, or indeed the standings of the Rugby Championship log. Sadly, there's no place in the history books for asterisks and footnotes to list the result-shaping errors of fallible referees.

Too many big contests are being influenced by the man with the whistle, and too often the man in charge is making the wrong call.

The situation has gotten out of hand, and will only get worse unless the IRB and the respective unions take action. The players, coaches, and even the fans, deserve better.

Photo: Scott Barbour/Gallo Images

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