The line between calling something as you see it and whining seems to be very fine, so call me a whiner if you like, but I am getting tired of being politically correct when criticising referees.

In a way I do not really care because just reading some comments from our mates down in the land of the long white, it cannot really be whining if they actually feel the same way and they ended up on the winning side!

Also, whining would constitute that I have a problem because the team I support lost and this is not the case at all. There is only one loser here and that is the game of rugby union itself.

I guess I do not have to go into much detail for you to understand where I come from and since the Tri-Nations kicked off with the two tests between the All Blacks and Springboks referee indiscretions dominated most of the conversations and debate on just about every news website or blog.

So let me tell you what I am growing sick of.

I am growing sick of not being able to call something as I see it because of the backlash it will invoke and the perceptions it will create that I am only looking for excuses or an easy escape.

To our Kiwi and Australian friends you might think I am going overboard with that statement but I think it is fair to say that the current political climate in South Africa and given our political past a culture of apologists has been created where you have to be very careful on how you comment on something or be very politically correct for fear of being labelled.

So what are my issues with referees?

Well quite simply I am getting tired of excuses being made for them where their indiscretions or faults are protected by the stigma that you cannot bitch about it without being called a whiner or having sour grapes when it is actually quite clear for everyone to see that it is a massive problem!

The game of union is based on a very simple principle.

It is a contest between two opposing teams governed by laws to make it fair on each team and officiated by individuals to ensure these laws are followed and a winner is crowned after a fair contest.

And quite simply, if anyone can call what we saw in the two recent tests between two of the fiercest and oldest rivals in rugby union a fair contest then you can kiss my beee-hind!

Hell forget the fact that it was between these two teams because it could have been between any two teams, at any level, the point is the game of rugby is robbed of what it is intended to provide, and in the end, forgetting the scoreboard there is only one loser – rugby itself.

Personally having defended referees in the 5 years I have engaged in online debates on various forums (yes I actually choose their side almost every time) the most common excuse you come across in justifying their shortcomings was that they are, simply human…

Now here is what I do not have a problem with.

I have no problem with the fact that referees from time to time will make errors because they are only human, like you and me.

I have no problem with referees being influenced by perceptions in the game of union because every single one of us are influenced in our professional environments every single day and that has an effect on how we perceive things and generally base decisions on.

I have no problem even with referees having a off day, as all of us do from time to time.

But what I do have a problem with is the scope of human error afforded to them and used as a reason for their incompetence!

Let me explain this another way.

With anything in life where decisions are made it is accepted that there will be errors made. In some instances and in some environments the scope or room afforded for these errors are bigger than in other areas. For instance, the room for error for a cashier in giving you the correct change is much larger than the room for error afforded to a doctor or surgeon performing an operation.

If you then choose to become a doctor, or high court judge you accept that the room for error afforded to you is very small and you will then automatically pay a hell of a lot more attention to detail to what you do, and the decisions you make simply because of the consequences that comes with making the wrong decisions.

It is therefore logical for me to assume that by affording more room for error, where the consequences of making errors are not that high actually encourages those specific individuals to approach their environment or job in making decisions, to be slack, or less aware or attentive to what they actually do because they have more room for error.

In its history of well over 100 years rugby union is littered of stories on how some referee screwed some team out of a win and it makes for great conversation around a braai, but it is also about time we have to accept that the game of union is not an amateur sport anymore, the consequences of actions in the game of union today are much more far-reaching than it was in the amateur days and therefore, the room for error also has to be cut down from where it was yesterday, to where it should be today.

In an environment where the pressures of the game in losing a match, in which the decision making of the referee did play a part, necessitates a team to make 8 unforced changes it is then quite easy to see the direct influence and consequence this has on individuals in the game where the livelihood is directly affected.

Take it to another level, in an environment where two losses, influenced in some way by poor refereeing or inconsistent refereeing invoke responses in the media or from individuals to have coaches fired, or players to be dropped and never selected again, it is clear to see just how important it is that we change the room for error currently afforded for referees.

So call me a whiner, I don’t care.

But I will end with this, anyone that denies the influence of the referee and what it had specifically in the last two tests is a fool. Anyone who believes it is the reason the one team lost, is an absolute tool.

What it has done, is make the game of union poorer for the fact.

25 Responses to Tired of being PC about ref’s

  • 1

    Well said Morne.
    Reffing inconsistencies have cost teams games in the past. A good ref should not even be noticed, but refs seem to have big egos and want the lime light.
    All we as fans want is for the ref to be consistent. If he warns a player, his next action must be the yellow card. Simple. As you correctly say, these guys will make mistakes, but I also feels the rules are too open for interpretation. Take the advantage that refs play. Sometimes you have a long run of play, where the attacking team eventually loses the ball, and you go back 5-10 meters or more for the original mistake. Some refs play long advantage and other refs play short advantage. Surely advantage should be when you have gained some ground or your retain possession for say 30 seconds?

    Lets not even get into the scrums and breakdown.

    IRB, take interpretation out of the equation, and we won’t have the issues we have now.

  • 2

    I agree whole heartedly !!!

    Now one wonders why a player like Bakkies loses his cool when he is held back and the ref is jogging right next to him where the incident happened…

    His retaliation has no merit, but he got 9 weeks for it, what did the ref get ?????

    And thats just pointing out one scenario.

    Whom of you have’nt whilst watching a game, stood up and walked away in absolute horror and furious with a referee decision ?

    And to those who actually played the game, you will understabd that the frustrations can get even worse !!!

    There is something wrong with the system, and it needs to be adressed !!!

    How demoralising can one or two decisions be for a team ? I’m not saying we would or should have won anything, but the ref can have an influence on the players performance once they dont know what they are allowed to do anymore.
    If the ref is consistent, sure, adapt and play according to his interprtations…

    But what if, like in the last test, two completely different sets of rules are used for each team ?

  • 3

    Who are ultimatly paying these okes salaries ?

    Why should we be labelled as whiners when the obvious is stated like Morne did above ?

    No way, I’m sorry, sure there are room for error, but some blatant mistakes are no longer excusable !!!

  • 4

    “In an environment where the pressures of the game in losing a match, in which the decision making of the referee did play a part, necessitates a team to make 8 unforced changes it is then quite easy to see the direct influence and consequence this has on individuals in the game where the livelihood is directly affected.

    Take it to another level, in an environment where two losses, influenced in some way by poor refereeing or inconsistent refereeing invoke responses in the media or from individuals to have coaches fired, or players to be dropped and never selected again, it is clear to see just how important it is that we change the room for error currently afforded for referees.”
    very well said morné!!
    very well said indeed

    the newest excuse out of nz is that mccaw wasnt yellowcarded, “because he’s a gentleman”!!
    can you bloody believe it? :shock:

    what will it be next?
    that he wasnt yellowcarded, “because he’s f*kin gay”?

  • 5

    Look, I fully agree that we somtimes sit in front of the Television and get thoroughly pissed off at what we see, point in case last weekend.

    The problem is as you mentioned we want consistency. The problem is that when looking at Bakkies Botha he has made a target of himself. Now far be it from me to question the guys motivation and mental attitude (perhaps aptitude), but we need our players to learn.

    Take Schalk Burger as an eample, I remember when he recieved a yellow card in the RWC challenging for a high kick, he connected the opposition and on replay it was clear that there was no malice in his challenge, but yet he recieved a yellow card.

    Since then he has change his attitude, he has been a hel of a lot more disciplined and rarley give away penalties never mind get sent off.

    We need to understand the world loves to percieve us as “thugs” and referees are only human, and therefor has an eye out for transgressions, human perception is a dangerous thing to have when you are a referee, because those prejudices go onto the pitch with you.

    If we continually have players do “stupid” things, we will continually get the short end of the stick.

    I share your frustrations but sometimes wish I could climb through the TV screen and simply slap the snot out of one of our players.

  • 6

    @ biltongbek:

    With the responsibilities referees have and the consequences of their actions they should be professional enough NOT to take preconceived ideas into a match and base his decisions on the merits of the actions at hand, not whatever history went before that.

    That is their job, if they cannot do it, they should not be there.

  • 7

    Hi Morne,

    I can recall that during the S14 season, you posted an article praising the steps that had been taken by the SANZAR refs association to bring accountability and transparancy to the table.

    Your article here makes the point that refs influence not only the outcome of games but also the carreers of rugby players. I must agree with you.

    However, it does not offer a remedy. What do you suggest gets done e.g. should the current SANZAR formula for referees be applied to the wider IRB and then who must lobby for that?

  • 8

    Morne, mate you know as well as I do, that is unrealistic.

    I have seen far too many games in the early nineties, where the penalty count ina match would be opponent 12, SA 10.

    That never told the whole story, often we would be blown out of the game in the first half, and to “make it look even”, we recieved 4, 5 penalties late in the game.

    Referees influence matches every game, how many games have you seen where the penalty count in the first half has a skewed result.

    On that point, remember last year when John Smit played tighthead, by the time we got to Europe, he was blown at every second scrum.

    I was looking at the clip when Brad Thorne Spear tackled John Smit in 2008. John Smit asked Stuart Dickinson whether that was a spear, Dickinson reported back to him by saying ” it wasn’t clear”

    It happened right in front of him, tell me biased perceptions didn’t play a role there.

  • 9

    @ fender:

    My solution is the limit the room for error currently afforded to referees, and that can only be done by bodies like the IRB and SANZAR through processes and structures they have in place.

    There is a culture amongst ref’s in my view that they are allowed a certain space or room for errors and that is acceptable, meaning not enough emphasis is placed on them to be more attentive to the job at hand as consequences of actions is way too lenient.

    I dont want humanoids and I expect the odd error here and there, but there should be a clear and transparent drive from those bodies to encourage and send out a warning to referees the stakes just got higher for them, and their attention to details and their preparation mentally and physically for the demands of the modern pro ref has just stepped up a notch, if you want to be part of it, up your game.

  • 10

    @ biltongbek:

    It is only unrealistic because we allow it to be such and simply accept the fact that this will always happen.

    Bullshit I say.

    We need to be as hard on referees as we are on players and coaches without fear of being labelled whining bitches.

    All the examples you mentioned is exactly why this needs to change.

  • 11

    Morne, the more things change the more they stay the same.

    Don’t know who said it, but it is true about so many things in life.

  • 12

    @ biltongbek:

    And the status quo will remain for as long as we allow it to…

  • 13

    Generally agree with the views in the article. However it has been quite interesting to see how the various voices on the different blogs have changed from wanting northern hemisphere refs for the Tri-nations because of the so called “kissing cousins” bias that we suffer from Aus and NZ refs to now many saying there should’nt be northern hemisphere refs because they are not up to standard.
    What does make it difficult is the constant chopping and changing of the rules and even a different set of rules being played in different parts of the world, if anything the IRB has to take the flack for this and make sure that any ref blowing the new rules in a test must have blown lots of games using these rules at a lower level first. Have the rules now been standardized across the world does anybody know?
    I also struggle because to be honest don’t know all the rules anymore and so cannot really argue with a lot of the more technical decisions mad by the ref, so what I look for is consistency and if the ref blows one team up for something then they should blow the other team for the same thing, and this is a very frustrating area because it does not happen.

  • 14

    @ Bullscot:

    Two things…

    The law interpretations as used in the Super 14 will be the ones used in the RWC next year, so it is a worldwide apaptation that has to take place not just SH rugby.

    Secondly, yes the IRB does need to take the flack for this as it is their responsibility that their referee’s, from either hemisphere is up to speed and task to implement this.

  • 15

    @ Morné:
    Thanks for clearing that up, that was the point I was making that the laws are the same worldwide as far as possible at the same time I guess one can understand that the European competitions were well underway when the Super 14 started so probably wasn’t practical to introduce the changes after a league has started for the season BUT that must make it harder to adapt for the refs. It smacks to me of the ones in charge not knowing what they want why should there have been new rules for last Super 14 and then new ones this year. Hopefully with this now in place through RWC we will see an improvement from that point of view.
    I am assuming that we are not only criticizing the whistle blower (ref) but also the touch judges because they should be assisting the ref and to be frank in the first test that Bakkies incident went our way, if the ref missed it surely the touch judges should have seen it, and in my opinion should have been a straight red.

  • 16

    @ Bullscot:

    Absolutely, don’t forget, the ones with the flags are now officially called referee assistants and they are, at this level, all international referees themselves.

  • 17

    @ Morné:
    Another opinion I have, although maybe not a popular one is that more power be given to the TV ref/4th official. I would recommend encouraging all the most experienced refs who would be retiring because they are not physically up to being on the field be appointed TV refs, this way the younger ones would be able to benefit from them in a realtime mentoring situation. They should not just be there to press buttons and decide about tryline decisions. I would like to see them being able to step in, once play had stopped, and correct and blatant bad decision by onfield refs.
    An example where this would have been good was this last test where Mc Caw got loads of warnings and never yellowed, the TV ref should then say hang on you have already given ample warning send off, this may help relieve some of the player pressure on the ref, how do you influence someone away up the stands during a game, and more especially if that ref has decades of onfield reffing experience behind him. Another time when I was left annoyed was last 6 nations test at Murrayfield, I had the ref ears on (was a South African ref) and could hear him warning the England players loads of time for infringing, in fact he made at least 2 ‘last warnings next is yellow card’ and may even had been 3, the last one his excuse for not giving the yellow was that a substitute had commited the offence. I’m sorry if it is ‘team’ warning then it is up to the captain to get the message to all his players, substitute or not, in that case a tv ref should be able to step in and get the player carded. Now there is a lot of discussion about whether the results would have been different the last 2 games seeing how much we were dominated by the All Blacks, but that Murrayfield game ended in a draw so I think the ref cost Scotland a win and who knows what a big boost that would have been for the players.

  • 18

    @ Bullscot:

    There are certainly instances where the TV ref can play a bigger part, specifically for foul play where the referee’s have missed it, or where they want more detail as to the severity of the incident and what sanction it warrants.

    A yellow card currently is in many ways a guessing game by the referee’s as they get one shot at seeing something and making a judgment call on something, and from where I sit, a yellow card has as big of an influence on the game as a try being awarded (for what TV refs are currently being used for).

    How many times have we heard officials on the field asking if they got a number and if they did not, nothing happens to the player.

    Sanctions like suspensions dished out after the fact (game) has no influence of the result of the game it occured in and THAT should be the focus. If the incident was severe enough punish him more through suspension afterwards.

    Let’s be honest, the ref WAS influenced by what was repeatedly shown on the big screen in Auckland (Bakkies head-butt) so why not just make it official and let him use the technology officially?

  • 19

    I also believe that TV refs should be used more… but a fine line has to be played between expediancy and correctness.

    We certainly don’t want a system where play is stopped too much due to too much interference, rugby is not a 5-day game like cricket, neither a stop-start affair like Gridiron Football.

    My feeling on the issue is that referee analysis and the process used to adjudicate them should be more transparent and open.

    Mistakes by refs on-field will always happen during a game but blatent stupidity or ineptness must be there for all to criticize.

    Like Morné says…. the barometer should be a game where the whistle is blown fairly, with no pre-conceeved notions or bias, favouring no team or player and not discriminating against one team or a player or 2.

    And for goodness sakes, one uniform set of reffing rules and standards worldwide should be enforced and measured. It is bullshit that Northern Hemisphere referees blows one way and Southern Hemisphere referees another.

    Does anybody know whether the Northern Hemisphere bitches and moans about the way Southern Hemisphere referees handle some of their matches? I’m not too clued up about that aspect of World rugby, my focus I suppose being too narrowly focussed on what happens down here in my neck of the woods.

  • 20

    @ grootblousmile:
    Yeah see what you’re getting at about it being stop start, but thats why I said TV ref step when played is stopped, ie a natural break in the game, after all how much time is wasted by players strolling to line outs, resetting scrums etc. I don’t know if there is as much a problem with Southern Hemisphere refs as such although the example of Murrayfield is one where a northern hemisphere game was blown by a SA ref.

  • 21

    20@ Bullscot:
    Maybe once on-field communications becomes much clearer, your idea is the way to go, I however get the impression that Referees, Assistant Referees and TMO’s often struggle to communicate properly in a game, due to the noise and the way technology still has to improve.

  • 22

    @ grootblousmile:
    during my years in the UK I was particularly sensitive about anything said in the negative about SA, thus can honestly say SA refs mostly got good reports after rugby matches. I think the biggest reason for this was that the S14 evolved rules were and still am introduced up north after they are introduced south, therefore the refs find it easier to blow the older rules.
    I have seen a few instances in the last 6N or Guinness premiership or Heineken Cup, can’t remember, where southern refs actually blew more in accordance to S14 rules than the older rules. Hell, maybe the rules already applied, but it was in certain instances grudgingly accepted, rather than just understood and carry on.

  • 23

    a point made during the SWC by FIFA was that too much TV screen interference could change decisions on-field, and they wanted less shown. Now tell me the repeated incident where Bakkies head-klapped the scrummie, and the not-repeated incident where Zane got shoulder charged, is that not a serious biased issue to be dealt with by SANZAR?

    I think next game played in SA and the TV crews pick up some negative play, or dirty incident from the opponents, show it again, and again, and again. Until the ref gets fed up and just yellow-card the opponent for whatever….like they did with Bakkies

  • 24

    Ps in CT, that is a very valid point you make there, the Kiwi’s respect I rugby supposedly so much, but the broadcasters use the big screen at the stadiums to the advantage of their teams.

    Remember the first try NZ scored on saturday, the broadcaster never showed the grounding of the ball, ever.

    Supersport must, absolutely must show infringements and foul play continuously on the big screens.

  • 25

    @ biltongbek:
    biltong, it’s about time the media and arena managers start playing ball big time. Else we can really kiss that 3N trophy good bye, and also fair play seen from our view :-)
    btw, just finished reading Invictus and in the last few chapters it described a few times where the mind games played by Madiba caused some serious doubt in one of the greatest rugby teams on world rugby history whether they can win the RWC. And they lost before they went onto the field.
    I reckon it is about time we start getting more street smart, before we get onto the field.


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