Venter demands consistency from referees
September 27, 2010
Venter was the main attraction at this season's Heineken Cup launch at the Millennium Stadium © Getty Images
Saracens boss Brendan Venter believes officials risk jeopardising the future of the game if they fail to ensure a consistent approach from referees in this season's Heineken Cup.
Speaking at the launch of the latest battle for the European club crown, the outspoken South African praised the new international directives on refereeing that have allowed the game flourish. But Venter issued a warning that the presence of officials from all over the continent threatened to undo much of the good work done in recent months with referees from different countries applying the laws in their own way.
European Rugby Cup Ltd, the organisers of the Heineken Cup and its sister competition the Amlin Challenge Cup, say they have listened to the clubs over recent years and appointed a former international official, Ireland's Donal Courtney, to oversee the consistency of referees and their performances.
"The biggest challenge to me is the practical challenge. The Premiership, Top 14 and Magners League - all are refereed differently," said Venter. "The IRB came out and said 'here are the directives' which they sent to New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and everywhere else. The crucial thing is how are you going to get this right. Remember we have planned the whole pre-season around these directives.
"Ed [Morrison, RFU Head of Elite Referees] has got all these people working for him and we still struggle with consistency in a brilliant environment in England. Give credit to Ed and how hard they are working on it. The referees put in hours analysing their own performances - that is brilliant. You cannot criticise them. Now I'm asking do we have this kind of process, which without a doubt we can't have, within ERC? All this money spent and everyone is so excited but we have this one variable.
"You can ask anyone - ask Jim Mallinder [Northampton director of rugby] how big a variable the referee is today. He is going to say 'an unbelievable variable'. You ask me what I think, and I say 'unbelievable'.
"It is less than perfect, it could be a disaster. These directives were brought in to make rugby a better game to watch - full stop. This is a potential problem because the game is played so differently in the different places.
"When you are asking what do we want, it is to produce a better product for the people to watch. This is not my opinion, this is not Ed's opinion, it's the IRB's opinion. They (IRB) want to do this to make it better for the World Cup next year. They say 'We have stumbled on this gem to make the game better - or are we going to have another 2007, where the teams that kick the best and tackle the best will be the ones who will win the competition'?
"Or can we actually get a competition where we can have scores of 35-22 with a lot of tries, and people say 'Well, rugby is something I would like to support because it's good to watch'? There is no more time for ELVs and all of this. That time is finished now. If they can put this in stone, we will have a great product for a long time or, if not, we will lose this whole thing."
ERC chief executive Derek McGrath said they were well aware of the concerns teams have raised about the issue. "What we have been doing is responding to a demand which is a growth in expectation of the teams, the way that the games are played and the way the game is refereed. One of the particularities in Europe is that you are encountering different referees to those that you are encountering on a weekly basis. Therefore, the issue of consistency and application of the regulations is something that we recognise there have been differences in.
"That is why, for the last few years, we have been working very hard to address this which has culminated with the appointment of Donal Courtney, a former international referee, to act as our Referee Manager. The objective there is to show progress, to lift the standard and get an understanding of how referees are coached, measured and selected. They have an increasingly tough task and we see it as important that they understand that the organisation is behind them."