International Rugby
Retiring Lawrence points finger at critics
ESPN Staff
October 17, 2012
Kiwi referee Bryce Lawrence, France v England, Six Nations, Stade de France, Paris, France, March 20, 2010
Former Kiwi referee Bryce Lawrence has called time on his career © Getty Images

New Zealand referee Bryce Lawrence has called time on his career and offered a parting show at those critics who he claims hounded him out of the game.

The 41-year-old was the subject of widespread criticism for his handling of Australia's 2011 Rugby World Cup quarter-final victory over South Africa and has previously admitted to errors but now revealed that his performance in that game was influenced by pressure from Australian Rugby Union chief executive John O'Neill.

"I went into the game knowing it was a massive match and I didn't want to overly influence the outcome and that was in the back of my mind," Lawrence told the Bay Of Plenty Times. "The way that transpired was I didn't make decisions and if I had my time again I would just go out there and do what I normally do, which is just referee and back myself.

"I had four really good games at the World Cup and then I had that. There was some pretty nasty political stuff going on about that appointment. I refereed Australia versus Ireland and Ireland had won but behind the scenes guys like John O'Neill were kicking up a massive stink. I knew a bit about that and it was enough to affect me, and it probably made me freeze on the biggest stage."

The Wallabies' controversial 11-9 victory led to Lawrence being stood down from the international referees' panel while his Super Rugby appointments did not include any matches in South Africa.

"It (the reaction) got pretty bad," said Lawrence who having taken charge of a total of 25 Tests will now become the New Zealand Rugby Union's high-performance referee reviewer. "On Facebook they launched a 'get rid of Bryce Lawrence' site and it was pretty nasty. That was absolutely the reason for my career change.

"I got told at the end of the World Cup that I would have a break from Test rugby for the Six Nations and I could totally accept that as there has to be a consequence for poor performance.

"I was told I would be brought back in the middle of this year, as I was ranked in the top three or four referees in the world. But because of the political reaction from rugby unions like Australia and South Africa behind the scenes, they dropped me."

British & Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland highlighted the pressure put on Lawrence as he contemplated the challenges his side will face in Australia next year. "They are masters at it and possibly the best one was John O'Neill, as a master of influence in certain things," said Lions coach Gatland.

"I'm not 100% sure, but I think that after Ireland beat Australia in that pool game, certain complaints were made about the referee (Lawrence), subtly and tactfully, and I think that had an impact on the quarter-final. We've got to be aware about what sort of things are going to be done on and off the field."

O'Neill last week resigned from his post at the ARU to focus on business interests outside rugby but is set to continue to represent Australia with the International Rugby Board.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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