Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Reffing hell: Middle men ruining rugby

Jaco Peyper’s erratic decisions in Sydney just the latest of many.

Another big game, another poor refereeing performance - world rugby is not far from crisis in regard to the state of officialdom.

Jaco Peyper's confusing and erratic decisions in the opening Bledisloe Cup clash have meant confidence isn't high that the Rugby Championship will fulfil its potential as a provider of drama and spectacle.

Rugby's recent history has been dominated by games where the role played by the referee was viewed as the decisive factor. Games where both teams felt the referee's actions altered the nature and outcome of the contest.

Peyper's name is just one more to add to the list. The South African was inconsistent and - as hinted by the All Blacks - just plain wrong at times in the 12-all draw in Sydney.

The players were denied the opportunity to play the game they wanted and instead of rugby, it became Cluedo - crimes being committed with no one sure whether it was Colonel Mustard with the candlestick in the library or Mrs Peacock with some rope in the conservatory.

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The Herald has learned that several international coaches are keen to engage the IRB in meaningful discussion about how to fix the problem: how to help the world's leading officials more regularly produce the consistency required.

There are genuine concerns about the inadequacies of many of the top referees and real fears that if the men in the middle aren't up to it the game won't survive. Even the most ardent followers will rush into the arms of rival codes if rugby continues to be more about the whims and vagaries of the referee than the players.

A cursory trawl through the past few years paints an alarming picture of big tests dominated by bad refereeing.

There was the 2011 World Cup quarter-final between Australia and South Africa. There was also the World Cup final; even Kiwis can't deny they enjoyed a fair degree of leniency in that.

Last year's test against South Africa at Eden Park was ruined by a horrid decision by Romain Poite to yellow-card Bismarck du Plessis for a legal tackle and, while not a test, the Super Rugby final was determined by a decision Craig Joubert's compatriot and former referee Jonathan Kaplan said was all wrong.

All Black coach Steve Hansen revealed after the weekend's test that several times in the past 18 months they had had confirmation from the referees involved that yellow cards handed out were incorrect.

His frustration is palpable. He, like every other international coach, must wonder exactly who these days can be trusted to referee the contest properly. He must wonder if the IRB in its infinite wisdom is prepared to accept there is a serious problem and do something about it.

Watch: All Blacks: Were the yellow cards deserved?


Hansen, unlike other international coaches, has reason to wonder if referees are specifically targeting his team.

The 14-9 penalty count against the All Blacks in Sydney was hard to fathom. The two yellow cards to Beauden Barrett and Wyatt Crockett were not hard to understand, but the fact that Australia went unpunished for similar infringements was.

Still, Hansen would only allude to rather than demonstrate the full extent of his annoyance.

"It was difficult," he said of the task facing his forwards. " I don't know if you can blame the forwards for that ... If you're not getting the continuity and the referee is penalising you, it's difficult to get a dominant platform.

"We've got to go away and take a look at some of that stuff and work out if we were in the wrong and if we were in the right - what we were doing that was causing him [Peyper] to think we were in the wrong.

"There's no point in having a conversation with the ref if he's not here; it's a conversation I'll have in trying to get some understanding. It was a tough night to ref so we'll just cop it and move on."

- NZ Herald

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