Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Patrick McKendry: Referee can't help but face suspicion

Referee Glen Jackson. Photo / NZME
Referee Glen Jackson. Photo / NZME

Referee Glen Jackson's Super Rugby performances make him a good fit to officiate in the final between the Hurricanes and Lions. Except, he's a New Zealander, and that's a problem.

Organisers Sanzaar will say that the nationality of the officials doesn't factor in their decision making. The best person gets the job, will be their rationale. But supporters don't see it that way. Kiwis and Aussies will always suspect that South African referees are swayed by the crowd and their loyalties when they have the whistle at the likes of Ellis Park and Newlands, while South Africans feel their teams consistently get the worst of the home referees' calls in New Zealand and Australia.

The Lions' playoff victories over the Crusaders and Highlanders were so clear-cut the officials couldn't be considered factors but, still, several of Craig Joubert's decisions appeared harsh on the Crusaders and the same went for a few of Jaco Peyper's against the Highlanders last weekend.

Now it will be the Lions' fans who will be preparing to have their worst fears confirmed, and it didn't need to be that way. Australian Angus Gardner has had an excellent tournament and would have been an equally deserving candidate for the final.

With the Hurricanes and Highlanders contesting last year's showpiece, there was no question of divided loyalties from the referee. Peyper got the job, presumably on the strength of his performances during the year.

In 2014, Joubert officiated in the final between the Waratahs and Crusaders in Sydney, a match racked by controversy over his decision to award a last-minute penalty against Richie McCaw, which Bernard Foley kicked to hand his side their maiden championship. Joubert later rang Todd Blackadder to apologise for a decision he admitted he got wrong. That was bad enough, but imagine if Joubert was Australian.

At the heart of it all, of course, is cost, and it's the continuation of a theme. The financial aspect of the competition has always been important to Sanzaar; the Sunwolves were added on the basis of a tender, and this season the Crusaders saw their chances in the quarter-final drop significantly when they weren't able to board a flight from Christchurch to Johannesburg until the Tuesday before the match. The cost of holding and potentially cancelling flights was seen as a cost Sanzaar weren't prepared to bear.

But the integrity of the tournament must be upheld at all costs. Test matches have neutral officials for that very reason. That wasn't always the case, but the international game is far better for it.

- NZ Herald

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Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby writer Patrick McKendry began his journalism career 20 years ago and has worked in newspapers in New Zealand and the United Kingdom. He worked in a communications role on his return here before joining APN before the 2011 World Cup.

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