SA referee was a disgrace

There has to be referee accountability in Vodacom Super Rugby, writes MARK KEOHANE in his Business Day newspaper column.

The custodians of Super Rugby’s officials have to front the issue of referee incompetence and bias.

It is not good enough to every week release a statement admitting to referee and television match official mistakes. It is not good enough to publicly admit that a try should not have been awarded or that a yellow card should not have been issued.

The result doesn’t get changed. Teams aren’t awarded two points each because wrong decisions influenced the outcome of a match. The result stands and so apparently does the referee. It is not good enough to declare (after the fact) that the referee has not been up to the task and then that same referee is back in the spotlight, further embarrassing himself and Super Rugby as a tournament.

South African Stuart Berry’s performance at Ellis Park was shameful, disgraceful and simply embarrassing.

Berry, a week before, showed a similar bias in the Lions' match against the Blues and made big calls that favoured the home team. Berry soured the Lions' back-to-back home wins. The hosts, in both wins, were brave, busy and ballsy, but they also had the luxury of home-town decisions.

The Lions players didn’t ask to play with a 16th man and no doubt they will be on the receiving end when they go on tour. Then it will become an issue because they will be the ones feeling as if they are playing into an unrelenting wind that only gets stronger.

Rugby is supposedly a contest between two teams. It is not a game played by one team. Berry, in the second half against the Reds, officiated as if there was only one team playing – and that was the visiting Reds. He singled out only their mistakes and when there weren’t obvious mistakes he found some in the name of referee interpretation. The only thing he didn’t do was score the Lions' match-winning try, although he did ask the captain if ‘we’ were scrumming again 5m from the Reds tryline.

Berry has to be axed from the referee panel. He did the game a disservice and he harmed the tournament prospects of one team.

Berry is unlikely to be given the boot. Referees are the untouchables of the game. Players and coaches have to front for their performance, but not referees.

If excellence is the measurement then Berry should be out of a job. This was not human error or referee interpretation. This was an example of shameful officiating that again questions the integrity of the competition structure not to invest in neutral referees.

Teams from different countries deserve a referee from a different country. That way no team can accuse the referee of bias or of cheating. Any dissatisfaction would then be consistent with incompetence.

Berry favoured the Lions like a fat kid favours an afternoon at Sweets for Heaven. It took the shine off the Lions' comeback from 20-3 to win 23-20 because it is questionable whether there would have been a fightback had Berry applied the laws to both teams.

There were other instances over the weekend of referee incompetence and bias – and it has been the situation every weekend.

Those employed to be professional referees are determining the futures of those employed to play and coach the game. The referee, in a professional game, has to be as accountable as the player and coach. There has to be a consequence. Players get dropped and coaches get fired. What about referees?

The men with the whistles can no longer be a protected species.

Those who referee professional rugby chose the profession. These aren’t good-natured loveable blokes volunteering their services on a Sunday so that 30 blokes can have a game of rugger. These are professionals and too many in Super Rugby aren’t equipped to be called professionals.

Watching Super Rugby at the moment is infuriating because the referees and TMOs are getting so much wrong. Some referees ask for TMO assistance and then disregard the recommendation of the TMO. Others ask for a review, see what all of us can see and then still agree with a TMO's recommended wrong decision.

The breakdown is a shambles. The attacking team is not favoured and the ball-carrier seems to have no rights in placing the ball. The majority of crooked scrum feeds go unpunished, there is no measurement of what constitutes a straight lineout throw, and there is confusion of when a dropped ball is deemed to go forwards or backwards and there is no consistency in the awarding of yellow cards for professional fouls.

The officiating is a mess, which makes for a messy tournament and messy viewing.

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