The men running Super Rugby seem determined to metaphorically throw the competition in the microwave, set the thing on high and watch it explode in a hopeless, devastated mess.

Sanzaar really had just the one job to take care of ahead of the Super Rugby final at Ellis Park - appoint neutral officials.

That was it, just one job - get Angus Gardner of Australia on the plane, as he's quite obviously the best referee, and stick countryman George Ayoub on the plane with him, as he may have been a hopeless ref back in the day, but he's not such a bad TMO now.

Another couple of Aussies could easily have been found to do the business as assistants and the final could have kicked off without everyone, probably even South Africans, thinking they had witnessed a massive stitch-up that reeked of something foul.


But no, that one job proved too hard and, instead, Jaco Peyper has been appointed as referee, with fellow South African Marius Jonker as TMO and Marius van der Westhuizen as assistant referee.

The fact that New Zealander Glen Jackson is the other assistant just makes things worse - that almost looks like a deliberate attempt to try to restore some kind of balance.

Sanzaar has justified this by claiming these four are merit appointments, fulfilling the agreed policy of choosing the best, rather than neutral officials for the biggest games.

Leaving aside the issue of whether best should trump neutral, the more immediate question is who exactly determines the officials' pecking order?

Where is the transparency on that? How would anyone know whether these four are the best, other than Sanzaar insisting they are?

And what makes that assessment even harder to swallow is that Peyper, Jonker and van der Westhuizen didn't cover themselves in glory during the semifinal, where Beauden Barrett was shown a yellow card that was almost impossible to justify and one Lions try, where the grounding was suspect, wasn't even sent for TMO review.

That's not why the Hurricanes lost, but when home officials don't appear to perform well and are then given another crack the following week, the whole merit argument becomes a bad joke, the sort where no-one actually laughs at the punchline.

Even World Rugby, another monolithic institution so often accused of being mired in the Dark Ages, works out by the end of the quarter-finals who they think the best referee is and then keeps them out of the semis.


That's the smart thing to do, because if someone has a shocker in the semi, that makes it hard indeed to appoint them for the final.

But not in Sanzaar's world, where they appear oblivious to perception or sentiment. The Lions are already battling for appropriate recognition of their worth - which is harsh - because they reached the last four without playing a team from New Zealand.

They are a good side, would be worthy champions should that fate be theirs, but the taint of unfairness will stick as a result of their soft path and home-town officials.

To many of an older generation, it will feel like the clock is being wound back to the bad old days of the 1970s, with a New Zealand side heading to South Africa, facing not just a high quality team at Ellis Park, but match officials from the Republic as well.

If the Crusaders feel it will be 18 versus 15, who could blame them? If the rugby-following public thinks it is utterly stupid and needlessly controversial, who could blame them?

In the early hours of Sunday morning, that microwave may well go "ping" and create an unholy mess that may never be cleaned up.