Refereeing is a shambles

Incompetent referees should be punished for their poor performances, writes MARK KEOHANE in Business Day newspaper.

Is there ever going to be consequence to refereeing incompetence, which refereeing bosses would rather have referred to as refereeing inconsistency?

Rugby’s laws make for a complicated game, which allow for an excuse to any referee cock-up.

Interpretation gives too much influence to the referee and interpretation also allows for a lack of accountability or consequence. The referee, thanks to interpretation, is untouchable.

The complicated laws appear entrenched as rugby gospel, despite how many different personalities (from coaches to players to referees) make up World Rugby-appointed committees, whose aim and motivation is to reflect on laws, law application and the consequence to the game.

Refereeing is a shambles – and it's every season. It’s not easy to get it right for the referee but to get it as wrong as some do is an art of its own.

South Africa’s Stuart Berry, a year ago, appeared to fall in love with the Lions and everything Ellis Park. His performances were an embarrassment, yet there wasn’t much of a sanction for Berry. He got a weekend off and even then the official word was that it had nothing to do with his performances. There was no sanction to Berry.

Similarly this season there has been no sanction to Rohan Hoffman, who has looked out of his depth from the moment he started officiating in Super Rugby.

Hoffman was diabolical when the Stormers lost to the Hurricanes in Wellington and rarely does he look in charge of a game.

He was awful in Sydney as the Sharks lost for a franchise record sixth successive time this season. Hoffman did not cheat the Sharks, as several of his decisions left the home team players equally bemused, frustrated and irritated.

The Sharks did not lose because of Hoffman’s officiating and the Waratahs did not win because of the referee. There was no winner when it came to the officiating.

The Sharks may feel more went against them, but their biggest gripe would be with the TMO’s decision to award a try to the home team and disallow a Sharks try. Remove emotion and slow down the footage, as the TMO did, and both decisions were accurate.

The Sharks lost because of their defensive frailties (they missed 30 tackles to the 13 of the Waratahs), but Hoffman certainly did them no favours.

Too often referee interpretation – or referee incompetence – dominates big-match results.

Only last year, South Africa’s Craig Joubert apologised to Crusaders captain Richie McCaw and coach Todd Blackadder for awarding a last-minute penalty that the Waratahs turned into a championship-winning three points.

A phone call, a week later, is hardly any consolation for a decision that would determine the championship winner in the 81st minute of the final.

There was ridicule for Joubert, on social media platform, but there was no official sanction. In fact, there was nothing official post the game or Blackadder’s comment, reported in the media, that Joubert had called to say sorry for getting it so wrong with the last call of the final.

And so it goes every weekend.

Chiefs coach Dave Rennie, on the weekend, was seething, at a TMO ruling he feels cost his team victory against the Hurricanes.

Rennie says the TMO got it wrong, but such are the complications of rugby’s laws that Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd felt it was interpretive and that if six referees were asked there’d be six different rulings.

That alone tells you the magnitude of the problem in rugby.

I wouldn’t want to be a referee, but that doesn’t excuse the failings of those who chose to be referees.

It's human to err, but in a professional environment, in which the careers of players and coaches depend on results, it isn’t good enough to excuse the referee on the basis of human error.

Coaches get fired and players get dropped for human error. The same must apply to the referee, who simply cannot be viewed as an ‘untouchable,’

I’ve written several columns about referees, their incompetence and being untouchable – and I’ve read many overs the years. It’s not a new topic.

I don’t think there’s a referee who cheats one team over another. I believe – based on what I have seen – that many referees favour home teams in their interpretations and 50/50 calls – but that's not the same as a predetermined plan to cheat.

But I do believe – again based on observation – that too much incompetence is excused on the basis of the referee being human and an untouchable.

Refereeing incompetence is an evil in the professional game that questions the professionalism of the game.

Ditto, the failure of the game’s custodians to front the issue with sanity and sanction.

Referee Rohan Hoffmann and TMO George Ayoub demoted

Photo: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images