Token admissions of referee mistakes solve nothing
Referee Bryce Lawrence gestures for a scrum. AP Photo/Ross Land
Last week, SANZAR game manager, Lyndon Bray, made the admission that South African referee Marius Jonker had erred in not stopping play for ‘that knock-on’ during the Week nine Bulls-Brumbies match in Pretoria.
It was all about the timing. About this time last week, buried in among all the Week 10 previews and speculation over Will Genia’s future, was the confirmation of something the Super Rugby public already knew.
In fact, Jonker had more than erred, Bray said, he’d made “a stone-cold mistake”.
Now, don’t be worried if you had missed hearing or reading this news. The few outlets running the report – and The Roar wasn’t one of them – used the same wire story, and as far as I can tell, there was no formal SANZAR Media Release. Similarly, there’s still no mention of it on SANZAR’s Super Rugby site.
With the safety of the news week just about done, and with Jonker already slated to officiate the Cheetahs-Highlanders game played last Sunday morning Australian time, Bray was surprisingly frank.
“That particular error is just a stone-cold mistake,” Bray said in the reports.
“He’s just got to put his hand up and say ‘we got it completely wrong’.
“That was between the assistant referee and the referee and that cost seven points.”
In the context of the Brumbies 36-34 loss, those seven points would’ve been mighty handy. The extra three points they’d have gained from winning that game would have further entrenched them in the top six – maybe even easing debate on whether conference leaders are worthy of a home final regardless of their actual points tally.
Even further than that, those extra three points would’ve opened up a nice little gap over the chasing Waratahs and Reds in the Australian conference.
Of course, this is nothing new for Australian teams. The Waratahs themselves were the victims in the first game of the year against the Reds. On that occasion, a runaway Tatafu Polota-Nau try was disallowed after Jaco Peyper and his assistant ruled that the pass to the Waratahs hooker from Tom Kingston was forward.
The following week, Lyndon Bray was on the case, suggesting that due to the closeness of the call, the Waratahs possibly should’ve received the benefit of the doubt.
“I’ve looked at it and it was very tight as to whether it was forward or not,” Bray said in reports at the time.
“It was a tricky one. You’ve got to ignore the body position of the player which was ahead of the ball before he caught it.
“It looked to me that if it was forward, it was only marginally so.”
“It was an example of something not being clear and obvious enough to call it forward.”
We may yet hear more about the Western Force being ‘robbed’, with Brian Habana fairly obviously losing control of the ball in scoring the Stormers first try on Saturday night in Perth. Habana’s try wasn’t sent upstairs for the TMO; Jaco Peyper – yes, him again – awarded the try on the spot.
And it’s very nice of Lyndon Bray to come out and say all this. Very touchy-feely and fuzzy-warm.
But it achieves nothing.
Token admissions like these don’t right the wrong. The Bulls try still stands, as do the four points they gained for the win. The Waratahs don’t suddenly have one added to their ‘Tries scored’ column, and Polota-Nau is no closer to topping the ‘Tahs leading try-scorer list.
So what is the point of coming out with these admissions? We know that referees are human beings, and therefore, are prone to making human mistakes.
But are they really mistakes? Since we aren’t allowed to hear the thoughts of refs after a match, we’ll never know if these guys believe they erred or not.
In fact, given the referee is the sole officiator of the laws of the game, and the only man with the responsibility of having to make a decision in an instant on something that happened right there and then, we should be giving them some benefit of the doubt, too.
For all we know, Peyper may still believe the pass to Polota-Nau was forward, and likewise, Jonker may still think Morne Steyn didn’t knock the ball on. They’d be well entitled to believe they made the right call.
And frankly, I’d prefer they did.
I think rugby has it right in not allowing the TMO to rule on things happening outside the in-goal area. It means there never has to be any hesitation by the man with the whistle in-play, and likewise, no reliance on a television director to provide the right angle to see if a ball was knocked, or was passed forward.
The Roar’s own Andrew Logan nailed it last night on ABC Grandstand: “Sport wasn’t meant to be perfect. There should always be some level of imperfection,” Loges told Peter Wilkins, on the topic of video adjudication.
It keeps a reliance on the human element that referees bring to the game of rugby, and thus retains that possibility of mistakes being made. But I would much rather the refs make the odd mistake than have the game overrun by the use of video adjudication.
Furthermore, the focus should be that these professional referees get the very vast majority of decisions right.
Lyndon Bray’s comments don’t solve anything, and nor will they stop mistakes being made. Better he make no comment at all and just let the decision and the mystery of its accuracy stand as is.
As a former top-level referee himself, Bray of all people should know that accepting the refs decision doesn’t only apply to the players.
Brett McKay is a former non-tackling scrumhalf and not-quite-first-grade middle order stalwart. A rugby and cricket expert for The Roar since July 2009, Brett has written for Inside Rugby and Cricket Australia, and is also PLAY Canberra's rugby correspondent. He tweets from @BMcSport