Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Wynne Gray: Experience like gold calling complex game of Super 15


New faces litter the Super 15 this season. Stacks of new players have been promoted across every franchise and John Kirwan, Michael Cheika and Matt Sexton are making their way as first-time head coaches.

Among the 18-man refereeing panel, there are five officials new to this level of rugby.

At the other end of the scale, Jonathan Kaplan has been in charge of more than 100 matches, Craig Joubert has whistled 59 and Chris Pollock 47.

Steve Walsh has refereed 44 tests, which is well ahead of his Super tally, and Jaco Peyper is forging a strong reputation in both levels of the game.

After that group there's a huge gap in experience to the rest of the field, including Francisco Pastrana who rocked up last night as the man in the middle for the Rebels match with the Reds.

Who? Pastrana is an Argentine who has refereed around the globe including in New Zealand, South Africa and Australia, at junior world championships and as an assistant in Super 15.

With James Leckie, Jason Jaftha, Rohan Hoffman, and Nick Briant from New Zealand, Pastrana is stepping out into the eye of the public and players.

Sanzar's intentions are decent and progressive. They need to encourage and introduce as many officials as they can to a game which is becoming increasingly awkward to judge.

The physical demands are severe enough with referees running about 7km in matches while being expected to keep an exact eye on 30 players trying to take advantage of a myriad complicated laws.

They have to pass levels on their speed, shuttle runs, yo-yo tests and repeat sprinting ability while also achieving certain levels of body fat.

That's just a start. Like players, referees have to be able to go to work, perhaps in front of 50,000 crowds, and then endure whatever observations about their performance come through public forums.

Checks for body fat should have an asterisk about a thick skin being mandatory.

Some Super 15 coaching staffs are perplexed already by the difference in rulings they have seen applied across the tournament.

They watch players get away with acts which are then penalised in another country. If coaches are scratching their heads, how do Sanzar men like referees boss Lyndon Bray expect the public to understand the game?

Officials are allowed to go back a few phases to assess and review their ideas.

The sooner they are hooked up to the public address system at grounds to connect with the spectators and explain their decisions, the better.

Sky subscribers get the benefit; so should those who brave the elements and the vagaries of rugby's rulings.

- NZ Herald

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Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

The latest commentary and analysis from senior rugby writer Wynne Gray. Wynne has been covering the All Blacks for more than 27 years and has attended more than 230 All Blacks tests live for the Herald.

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