The Growden Report
Rugby referees not wholly to blame for mistakes
Greg Growden
May 18, 2015
Waratahs 33-18 Sharks (video available only in Australia)

Super Rugby officials are reported to be exploring the option of two on-field referees as a way to make the game more attractive. A far better idea is to introduce a neutral referee policy at Super Rugby level, or to do everything they can to improve the quality of those currently policing the game in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. After a perplexing Super Rugby round, when several referees and even television match officials showed once again they are struggling to attain the required standard, it is not the time to be pushing for a two-referee scheme.

Enough blunders are being made by the sole whistler, with the general fear being a lack of depth in the refereeing ranks will only amplify the issue if there are two on the field, each vying for attention. And with it more unnecessary interruptions. If there were an abundance of excellent referees running around, then fine, follow Australia's National Rugby League and have two. But this year's Super Rugby competition has reinforced the point that international refereeing stocks are light-on. There are a handful of good referees, but not enough for every coach and every player at every Super Rugby game to feel supremely confident that they have someone they can rely upon to get it right all the time, or nearly all the time.

Referee Rohan Hoffmann awards a penalty against the Sharks, Waratahs v Sharks, Super Rugby, Allianz Stadium, Sydney, May 16, 2015
Rohan Hoffmann baffled both teams in Sydney on Saturday © Getty Images

And that's with only six or seven good, reliable referees required each round; imagine if that need is pushed out to 12 or 14. And with Super Rugby expansion to 18 teams next year, that number will increase further. At the moment, the back up doesn't appear to be there.

Too often, we are seeing refereeing blunders becoming the most discussed issue in post-match discussions. That was certainly the case after the Waratahs-Sharks match in which Australian referee Rohan Hoffmann baffled both teams with odd decisions; however, most contentious calls went against the Sharks.

The Sharks had every reason to moan after a 'lost in translation' moment with Hoffmann; they assumed half-time would be taken immediately when they kicked the ball out from a penalty on their own line. Hoffmann told them after their shallow kick that had the Sharks still perched close to their own line that they had to take the lineout as there were still a few seconds before half-time. When the Sharks complained vehemently to Hoffmann that they had been misled into believing it was already half-time, he uttered: "Sorry." A Sharks player must have chipped him, as Hoffmann then said: "Oh come on." Luckily the Sharks got out of that dilemma, quickly heading for the touchline after winning the lineout, as the half-time siren sounded.

Hurricanes 22-18 Chiefs (video available only in Australia)

A knock down call against their centre JP Pietersen was contentious, and the Sharks can still argue they should have received greater sympathy from the TMO when it wasn't entirely conclusive that winger S'bura Sithole had not scored in the 72nd minute. (At least that decision wasn't as controversial as the strange TMO decision in Wellington that disallowed a potential match-winning Chiefs try against the Hurricanes. Chiefs coach Dave Rennie, with good reason, described the ruling as "unacceptable".)

Also the Waratahs must have at times wondered what was going on, especially when Hoffmann had to consult the TMO due to a mistake over whether a clearing kick by fullback Israel Folau should have resulted in a lineout further down field. Then there was confusion involving the touch judge over where the lineout should actually take place. The crowd didn't know whether to laugh or jeer. They did both.

The previous week, the Brumbies could have howled at the moon about being whistled off the park by South Africa's master of confusion, Stuart Berry, against the Stormers; they chose to keep their own counsel.

The constant brouhaha about dubious decisions is not entirely the referee's fault. It is a tough gig, as they are handcuffed to the most confusing law book going around. It is actually a great feat to be an excellent referee, because the law book has for the uninitiated so many precarious quicksand pits to negotiate.

Not surprisingly it is hard to attract referees, as the scrutiny is endless and often cruel. You really need to be a special character to be able to handle the constant barbs.

For the game's administrators, ensuring there is a steady flow of referees is as important as providing incentives for players. That can be quite tough but they can at least ease some of the pressure on those in charge, as well as ending any accusations of bias, by opting for neutral referees. SANZAR should forget about the costs, and just do it; if you want to be regarded as a quality competition, you have to treat it as such and not take cheap measures that only attack its integrity.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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