Who stays and who goes?
Rowly Williams
October 3, 2011
Referee Nigel Owens reads the riot act, Samoa v South Africa, Rugby World Cup, North Harbour Stadium, Auckland, New Zealand, September 30, 2011
Referee Nigel Owens will be hoping that his services are retained for the knockout stages of the Rugby World Cup © Getty Images

Like any selection process there will be those happy to have been selected in the team and those disappointed at being left out. The team in question on this occasion is the team of 10 officials who will remain into the knock-out stages of Rugby World Cup 2011 from the original 21 starters.

Like all team managers selecting his starting line-up, much will be made of 'current form', but when dealing with the man in the middle, how best to measure the performance of a referee? The simple thing to the lay observer will be how accurate a referee has been on his decisions - has he got most, if not all the calls 100% right, (never going to happen!) - and has the match flowed well with the referee more to the back and not the foreground. Some might even gauge a referee's performance as being effective if lots of tries have been scored.

For elite referee manager Paddy O'Brien and his advisors, however, there are more things to consider. Ahead of the tournament 5 areas were highlighted as needing particular attention. The Scrum; The Breakdown; Foul Play; The Maul; Offside (with particular emphasis on allowing teams space at the tackle area once ball is won). The clear message to referees was, if not exactly zero tolerance, then showing a much stricter handling of those areas. So those selected to move on will have been considered as having been just that, and whilst penalties are an easy to see indicator there will be more, much more to take into consideration.

Some referees have shown a greater willingness to 'coach' teams at the breakdown - "Push back, stay onside, roll away, release now…." - therefore, providing the players have listened, the penalty count will have been lower than a referee who will see the offence and penalise pretty much on the spot. So which is the better option? Both achieve an aim but which has managed the players better? Again, it depends. Is it the sort of match where players are complying with the referee instructions, or is it one where penalties are the order of the day because players just simply won't play ball, as it were?

At this stage a referee's nationality does not come into it, but of course it must as the teams are whittled down to final four, and ultimately the finalists. It may well be the case that come the 23rd of October there will be a referee whose stats and game management has been top of the pile, but will not get the gig because his countrymen have been incredibly insensitive and made the final themselves.

Anyone who has seen the excellent Les Arbitres (The Referees), fly-on-the-wall documentary about the referees during Euro 2008 football tournament, will have seen the selection meeting where the referees are all brought into a room and the announcement made there and then, seemingly without any prior warning. The straight backs and rigid grins as they walk forward to take their memento and leave the group is not easy viewing, especially if you have ever been part of a selection process and recognise the highs and lows of progress to the ultimate accolade of refereeing a major sporting final... Or not!

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