Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Blowing the whistle on the refs

Match stats highlight which Super Rugby officials are battling with scrum rulings and penalties

Francisco Pastrana awards an average of seven scrum penalties a match. Photo / Getty Images
Francisco Pastrana awards an average of seven scrum penalties a match. Photo / Getty Images

Criticised by coaches, players and supporters, and in three cases dropped by their boss, Super Rugby's referees are centre stage.

Lyndon Bray, in reportedly warning his men — "there is a lot of pain to go for referees" — finally acted this week in axing South African Lourens van der Merwe, Argentine Francisco Pastrana and Australian James Leckie.

South African Stuart Berry could consider himself lucky to still be among the chosen few after his effort in the Lions v Reds match in Johannesburg last weekend — the Queensland team led 20-3 (and 3-3 on the penalty count) after 34 minutes, before Berry's abrupt change of attitude in awarding 14 penalties to one to the home side in the next 46 minutes. The Lions won 23-20.

So, while they have been accused variously of being incompetent, inept, missing the obvious and ruling on the obscure, who are the most vigorous blowers of the whistle this season?

Opta Stats, in association with the Herald, has listed the referees on their handling of scrums — another bugbear — in terms of penalties at the set piece and how many times it has to be re-set under their watch, and a look at how they award other penalties.

Pastrana, who made his debut at this level two years ago, was dropped after his handling of the Blues' 40-30 victory over the Cheetahs at Eden Park last weekend. Pastrana awards an average of seven scrum penalties a match, the highest alongside Berry. More remarkably, perhaps, Pastrana is the ref most likely to penalise an attacking team. Most officials give a team on attack the benefit of the doubt as the defence attempts to disrupt and spoil.

At Eden Park, the ball was in play for only 13 minutes 32 seconds in the first half, a consequence of Pastrana's almost constant whistling.

The New Zealanders on the panel, Steve Walsh (aligned with Australia), Glen Jackson, Chris Pollock, Mike Fraser, Nick Briant and Garratt Williamson tend to rule in favour of the attacking team, although with Fraser and Williamson, the margins are small.

The statistics highlight the struggles of Jaco Peyper, a South African, at scrum time. He has had to re-set 19 times, far more often than the next official, Rohan Hoffmann (12).

Elsewhere, the scrum has also been in the spotlight, and Blues' forwards coach Mick Byrne this week highlighted the dangerous positions some hookers put themselves in.

"When good scrums hit in, they sometimes hit in with 1.3 tonnes of power on average," Byrne said. "When you get two big packs of forwards hitting with 1.3 tonnes each, that's a collision.

"Some teams are dropping their hooker down early into the channel and throwing the ball into the tunnel after the hooker has dropped down. I wouldn't want to be that hooker, it's a very dangerous position to be in."

- NZ Herald

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