There is a line in rugby that no one is allowed to cross. The referee remains sacrosanct - protected from relentless verbal inquiries from the players while on the field and held back from media inquisition while off it.

Disgruntled coaches, however valid their gripes, are contractually prevented from airing their grievances about officials. It's not allowed - the big fear is that it would pull at the threads of the very fabric of the game.

Look at football and the problems they have as a result of not enforcing a zero tolerance policy towards referees. The World Cup final in 1990 was a disgrace: the defining images being angry Argentinean players bustling the referee, pushing him, jostling him, intimidating him.

Rugby doesn't want that but nor, surely, does it want to continue with the current state of affairs where the referee is entirely off-limits: his performance not able to be fairly and reasonably analysed without allegations of his character and integrity being besmirched. Nor should it always be the case that any complaint about the officials should be seen as sour grapes: classic excuse-making to hide the fact a team didn't play well.


Here's the thing about the test last Saturday - the All Blacks were poor. They admitted they were poor in all the key areas and recognised they had come up short in their preparation and made too many unforced and forced errors to control the game. But it's just as valid to point out that referee Craig Joubert, still consistently the best official in the world, had an equally poor game. His work had a direct and debilitating effect on the All Blacks and also had a major influence on the outcome.

He refused to go to the television match official to check whether Mike Harris had grounded the ball in his in-goal area early in the first half. The big screen replay looked clean cut - the Wallaby fullback had missed the ball and Conrad Smith had scored a perfectly good try. Joubert waved away the All Black remonstrators who wanted him to check.

How did Joubert and the rest of his team miss the knee to Richie McCaw's head? They were right there and yet the outcome was three points to Australia and a delayed two-week suspension for Scott Higginbotham. Check the video of Tony Woodcock's yellow card - he's on his feet, wasn't the tackler and was supporting his own weight - the Wallabies looked to be holding on but earned three points. Joubert saw the All Blacks crossing in the first half, but didn't see the more blatant obstruction from the Wallabies later in the game.

All this can be dismissed as a bitter rant but to do so is a disservice to an objective analysis of a performance that was not up to Joubert's usual high standards. It had an impact on the outcome of the game. That doesn't make him a bad referee or call into question his objectivity. It just means, like most of the All Black players, he had a sub-standard evening.