MEXTED: Some referees care about rugby, some don’t

Murray Mexted Roar Rookie

By Murray Mexted,

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    Referee Bryce Lawrence gestures for a scrum. AP Photo/Ross Land

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    Over the years, I’ve observed and listened to many referees, firstly as a player, and for the last 20 years as a commentator. Referees are wired, and commentators hear everything they say, including their justification for decisions made in real time.

    This is the thing, of course.

    The referee has to make a call instantly on what he thinks he has seen, and to a degree it is the same for opinionated commentators.

    Often we’re proven to be incorrect on replays where all and sundry have the opportunity to see exactly what happened from several angles, often in slow motion.

    So it’s a hard job being a referee and getting it all right.

    The thing that concerns me most about referees is that they hold the power so firmly. A referee can decide the outcome of a game, and that affects players, coaches, sponsors and spectators.

    It is indeed a powerful position.

    When I first started commentating, I had long thought that the referees should be accountable if they had this sort of influence. At that stage, of course, to criticise a referee was just not on. It wasn’t the norm.

    The game has since moved on and become very professional, and now and again, referees are held accountable by the powers that be. In my opinion, however, nowhere near as much as they should be.

    There are highly qualified referees on the world stage who continually influence the result of matches that are close. These referees seem to remain in their post because, generally speaking, they are good referees and they do everything they should do politically off the field.

    What also concerns me is what they do on the field.

    Often, their personality influences their actions.

    Bryce Lawrence is an example. Bryce doesn’t really care about rugby. Bryce cares about himself.

    I see that time and again when he referees a game. On some occasions, he is very good. Perhaps it’s his mood. But on other occasions, he dominates to the detriment of the game and the spectacle for crowds and sponsors alike.

    Steve Walsh? Well, he’s on a power trip and he enjoys that power position.

    This is not all bad, if it doesn’t influence the game.

    In my opinion, he rides with the team with possession, therefore the team in defence are scrutinised more precisely than the team with the ball. This makes it extremely difficult for the defensive team to turn over possession or to stop the attack.

    What inevitably happens is that a try is scored or a penalty is given.

    On the other hand, we have referees like Craig Joubert, Mark Lawrence and Jonathan Kaplan.

    These three referees are all South African, which is irrelevant in my mind. But it is interesting to see the development of South African referees over the years.

    I can clearly remember the days when South African referees were exceptionally parochial. At one point I played a match for Natal against one of the smaller unions in the north.

    Approaching the referee at the cocktail party afterwards, I introduced myself and I said, “I’ve got no axe to grind here because I am just a visitor for the season for Natal, but I have never played in a match where the referee favoured the home team as much as I have today.”

    His answer, in a heavy Afrikaans accent, was, “Murray, I have to live in this town.”

    Well, we have clearly come a long way since those days, and I am delighted to see the quality of today’s South African referees. Somebody is doing a great job back there.

    I’d like to add the name Vinny Munro to the three South African referees.

    The four of them clearly like the game of rugby and want the game of rugby to be the victor. This type of attitude, provided they are vigilant where necessary, is fantastic for our game and the future of the game.

    I bow to these referees.

    On the other hand, I have no respect for referees that are pedantic about the point of the law to the detriment of what is a great team game. Power to the referees who love the game, I say.

    Roar columnist and former All Black great, Murray Mexted, is the Managing Director of The International Rugby Academy (IRANZ), the leading global Rugby Academy. IRANZ offer an independent high performance pathway for coaches, players and teams worldwide. More details here.

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    The Crowd Says (58)

    • March 15th 2012 @ 5:17am
      mania said | March 15th 2012 @ 5:17am | ! Report

      markLawrence of the 3 SA refs i would consider the best. he controls the game has respect for the players and vice versa but a lot of his decisions come down to how the game flows and allowing it to flow.

      south africa have the best refs, nz have the worst. irony?

      • March 15th 2012 @ 5:04pm
        jeznez said | March 15th 2012 @ 5:04pm | ! Report

        Us Aussie’s only escape that list because we haven’t got any refs!

    • Roar Pro

      March 15th 2012 @ 7:46am
      Grimmace said | March 15th 2012 @ 7:46am | ! Report

      I agree totally Mex. Of the character floors pointed out in Lawrence and Walsh, perhaps they are sometimes needed to an extent to be able to get to the level they have as a ref?

      Playing an away game one day, I distinctly remember one of the home teams players talling the ref (from the same town) “If we loose this game, we’ll burn your shop down.”

      • March 15th 2012 @ 7:57pm
        Drop kick said | March 15th 2012 @ 7:57pm | ! Report

        “character FLOORS” that is base accusation

    • March 15th 2012 @ 8:59am
      Will Sinclair said | March 15th 2012 @ 8:59am | ! Report

      Bryce Lawrence and Jaco Peyper, in particular, prove week after week that they are not up to it.

      And Jonathan Kaplan’s record with Aussie teams – and the Waratahs in particular – draws into serious question his ability to stay independent.

      The rest of the SANZAR referees are, in my opinion, generally pretty good, with Craig Joubert the best of the lot.

    • March 15th 2012 @ 8:59am
      Will Sinclair said | March 15th 2012 @ 8:59am | ! Report

      By the way – where are the good Aussie referees?

      It seems that our refereeing stocks are more or less non-existant… Anyone know why?

      • March 15th 2012 @ 9:45am
        WQ said | March 15th 2012 @ 9:45am | ! Report

        WS, I think I can answer this quite easily:
        1- There is very little focus placed on Referee pathways in Australian Rugby
        2- Rugby Clubs do not place enough emphasis on teaching their players the rules. As a result of this there is often abuse directed at Referees inaccurately. This abuse eventually wears thin and volunteer Ref’s decide they don’t need it and stop volunteering.

      • Roar Rookie

        March 15th 2012 @ 9:48am
        Happy Hooker said | March 15th 2012 @ 9:48am | ! Report

        Where do I start? These things are cyclical, but you have to go back 10 years to find any Aussies of quality. Major problem the Aussies face is not having the quality tier of rugby below super rugby. Its a big jump from Sydney first grade to Super 15, and the only way to get better is to continually referee games at that level. This means persisting with referees who don’t set the world on fire in their first few games eg Gus Gardner who refereed Reds v Rebels last week.

        Not only does the lack of a strong 3rd tier comp affect the development of our refs, it also affects the perception that NZ and SA power brokers have of our referees – they frequently combine (conspire?) to keep the Aussies out of the games. Whilst there might be an argument that Aussie referee selectors need to “network” a bit more to get the Aussies up there, as rugby supporters we should want the best referees available, and sadly at the moment, that ain’t the Aussies.

        • Columnist

          March 15th 2012 @ 9:54am
          Brett McKay said | March 15th 2012 @ 9:54am | ! Report

          Happy, it’s yet another reason why the next level is a must for Australian rugby. I wonder if avenues exist for leading club refs to have a stint in the NPC or Currie Cup??

          • March 18th 2012 @ 3:55pm
            Mex said | March 18th 2012 @ 3:55pm | ! Report

            What a great idea

        • March 15th 2012 @ 11:02am
          Nathan of Perth said | March 15th 2012 @ 11:02am | ! Report

          That’s going to be a significant problem for Australian SR referees; Football Federation Australia has a similar sort of problem with the distance between the top and second tiers being quite large.

    • March 15th 2012 @ 9:02am
      Ash said | March 15th 2012 @ 9:02am | ! Report

      Of course Murray likes Joubert he gifted the world cup final to the ABs for refusing to adequately penalise McCaw and co.

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      • March 15th 2012 @ 9:45am
        WQ said | March 15th 2012 @ 9:45am | ! Report

        Ash, get a grip mate it’s gone!

        • March 15th 2012 @ 2:58pm
          Ash said | March 15th 2012 @ 2:58pm | ! Report

          Just stating the facts as to why Murray likes Joubert.

          • March 15th 2012 @ 3:41pm
            WQ said | March 15th 2012 @ 3:41pm | ! Report

            No Ash, your stating your opinion, not facts!

            • March 15th 2012 @ 9:13pm
              Sircoolalot said | March 15th 2012 @ 9:13pm | ! Report

              But it is a fact that Joubert missed a bucket load of infringements by NZ

              • March 15th 2012 @ 11:57pm
                stillmatic1 said | March 15th 2012 @ 11:57pm | ! Report

                and a bucketload of infringements by the french also!! so kind of evens out doesnt it, ying and yang and all that stuff.

                Ash just seems to have a natural bias against the Abs and so his opinions are clouded as such. show me an infringement by the Abs that joubert didnt penalise and I’ll show you one by the french that he also didnt penalise.

      • March 16th 2012 @ 1:38pm
        Snobby Deans said | March 16th 2012 @ 1:38pm | ! Report

        Ash – is it difficult walking with that chip on your shoulder?

        Should you mention other games where blatant referring has cost a team a game – like the NZ/FRA QF in ’07? Or does it not suit your biased view to balance out that one particular game?

        As WQ saudm get a grip! Move on, the game’s gone

    • Columnist

      March 15th 2012 @ 9:05am
      Brett McKay said | March 15th 2012 @ 9:05am | ! Report

      Murray, I agree with your thoughts on Steve Walsh to a degree, but I’ve been pretty happy with him this year, he seems to be back in the groove of letting games flow wherever possible. He did a Six Nations game a few weeks back, too, (Wales-England?) which was an absolute cracker. I know he’s not local, but he’s clearly the best performed of the Australian refs..

      • March 16th 2012 @ 3:03pm
        stuff happens said | March 16th 2012 @ 3:03pm | ! Report

        Steve Walsh!? Brett,in last weeks Bulls /Blues match there were 31 penalties! As we both know there are 80 mins in a game so basically for those who pay to turn up the game is ruined.Who wants to watch any game dominated by penalties?( except Spiro apparently, for whom penalties are part of the’ DNA of the game.’)
        In the Brumbies /Cheetahs game there were 24 penalties.
        Rugby will struggle to develop unless the absurdly complex laws are not overhauled.This is why referees have the power to influence the game.

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