Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul: Suspicious minds rule out a bit of test banter

The Intercontinental at Double Bay, where a bug was found in the All Blacks team meeting room. Photo / Brett Phibbs
The Intercontinental at Double Bay, where a bug was found in the All Blacks team meeting room. Photo / Brett Phibbs

There's no doubt this is being wise after the event but the practice of accommodating rugby match officials in the same hotel as one of the international sides they are refereeing is one that has to be stopped.

These are no longer innocent times. Rugby can't pretend that the old ways are suitable any more, given the extraordinary events of the last two weeks. If match officials are staying in the same hotel as one of the teams, it creates needlessly compromised situations.

Players, coaches and officials can be put in positions that open them to integrity risk, as happened ahead of the second Bledisloe fixture in Wellington. Referee Romain Poite and his assistants Jaco Peyper and Frederico Anselmi were staying at the same Wellington hotel as the All Blacks. At some point during the week, Peyper asked if he could speak with All Blacks coach Steve Hansen and his assistant, Mike Cron.

Peyper, who had been the referee in the first Bledisloe Cup test in Sydney, wanted to ask a few questions to better understand some of the techniques being used by the All Blacks. It's understood the meeting was impromptu - a case of Peyper seeing the All Blacks' management by chance and asking to chat.

It was a genuine request for improved, practical knowledge in the hope it would help be helpful in driving improved performance.

Hansen obliged, in the genuine belief that sharing information is a legitimate and important means of helping referees get a better handle on how the game is being played. This is how rugby is, how it works. It is collegial and driven by a dual code of international sides striving to win, yet being conscious that there is a secondary need to support the wider development of the game.

This is why it is relatively common for referees to stay in the same place as teams. World Rugby appoints referees for Rugby Championship games and then it is up to the host national union to accommodate them. Commercially, it usually makes sense to place the officials in with one of the teams as there is often a sharper deal to be had.

This has been acceptable and normal practice in the past, but is presumably now going to have to be reconsidered. The game can't have it both ways.

The police in Australia continue to investigate a major integrity breach following the discovery of a listening device in the All Blacks' team room. However well intentioned Hansen's meeting was with Peyper, it still opened them to accusations of breaking rules and, when it comes to integrity, perception is always a bigger danger than reality.

Best solution? Accommodate the referees somewhere the teams aren't. That way there can be no impromptu meetings. There won't be any friendly chit-chat between players and officials in the lift and the opportunity for random situations to be misinterpreted.

If an official wants to chat with a coach about a previous performance, then it would be best if it was made through a formal request and all the relevant governing body managers notified. Keep everything transparent and with clearly defined process.

Yes, it will make rugby feel colder, more clinical and bureaucratic - almost a bit sad that adults with a passion for their work can't easily sit down and share it.

But separation is the only way to protect everyone from damaging accusations that have the power to destroy reputations and credibility.

- NZ Herald

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Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer. He has written several books on rugby including the Reign of King Henry, Black Obsession and For the Love of the Game.

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