Netball: Umpire change 'half baked'

By Michael Burgess

Adine Wilson. Photo / Supplied
Adine Wilson. Photo / Supplied

Former Silver Ferns captain Adine Wilson is puzzled by the umpiring experiment to be unveiled in the 2011 ANZ Championship.

For the first time, Australian officials will umpire selected all-New Zealand matches and their Kiwi counterparts will do the same across the Tasman.

Wilson says while the initiative is not a negative one, it is definitely half-baked.

"The logical way to introduce change would have been to have one Australian and one Kiwi umpire appointed to transtasman clashes," says Wilson. "This is possibly a step in the right direction but that would have been the ultimate."

In the fourth season of the league, Wilson says there remains a marked difference in interpretation.

"There is still a distinct gap," says Wilson. "As a player under Australian umpires, you know there is going to be pushing and shoving - they let a lot more go. When the Australian teams come here, they probably think there is too much whistle."

The problems generally arise at the defensive end. Australian umpires are more used to the man-to-man marking style, while their Kiwi counterparts are accustomed to a mix of close marking and zonal defending.

The first occurrence of the umpiring transfer will be tomorrow night in the clash between the Steel and the Mystics in Auckland.

Steel coach Robyn Broughton, one of the most respected thinkers in the game, sees the idea as a positive step.

"It's a good move. We know there are differences in interpretation but it has got to help the overall mutual understanding. In the long run, it might make us play better against the Australians."

She also disputes the view that differing interpretations have been a major factor in New Zealand teams struggling in Australia (with Australian umpires).

"When we travel over there, it is not really about the umpires," says Broughton. "It is simply because [the Australians] play with so much flair at home. Umpires can be a big factor in your head but players have to get over that."

Surely though, one umpire from each country would see more of a chance to align the styles. The experiment puts the onus on players to change, rather than umpires.

There may be financial considerations but the cost of a flight from Auckland to Invercargill is often comparable to a transtasman ticket, so why can't one umpire cross the Tasman with each team? Perhaps it is because the elite panel is relatively small (six and three reserves in New Zealand; eight and three in Australia) and they all hold down full-time jobs.

It is also unequally weighted; while all teams play once under the new scenario, the Mystics and the Vixens will face the music twice.

Interpretation issues have all come in transtasman clashes, not local derbies.

ANZ Championship general manager Anthony Everard says the transtasman approach was considered but experts decided it was more beneficial for umpires to be exposed to the purest form of their opposing country's netball, rather than the transtasman hybrid.

- Herald on Sunday

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