A stunning piece of research has emerged revealing that South African referees in Super Rugby may have favoured the home team significantly more than referees from other nations.
A contributor to Australian website Green and Gold Rugby crunched penalty count numbers since the start of the 2017 Super Rugby season, which revealed that South African rugby teams have had it a lot easier under home referees from their own country.
The sample included matches that had a hometown referee in charge against foreign opposition.
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According to the numbers from the website, penalty counts from those matches showed: Australia with 15 wins (penalty counts in their favour), 8 losses, 3 draws; New Zealand with 16 wins, 21 losses, 2 draws; South Africa with 36 wins, 7 losses, 3 draws; Argentina with 3 wins, 0 losses, 0 draws.
The penalty plus/minus stat painted an even more staggering picture, showing that South African teams with a hometown ref gained a massive +159 penalty differential since 2017 – compared to Australia's +19, New Zealand's -15 and Argentina's +19.
Debate around the topic of hometown refs were sparked once again last week after the Reds fell on the wrong side of a 13-2 penalty count to the Jaguares, with the Queensland side falling to a 27-43 to remain winless this season.
Despite the poor performance from the Reds in the second half which saw them drop a 24-12 advantage, fans turned their ire towards Argentinian referee Federico Anselmi who penalised the visiting team 13 times while only penalising the home team twice.
These accusations of perceived biases have popped up every now and then in Super Rugby, especially since the organisation abandoned neutral referees for a "merit-based" system a few years ago.
The stats from Green and Gold Rugby, however, don't necessarily paint a complete picture but it does offer a worrying perception, something that may need further examination from Super Rugby's governing body Sanzaar.
The penalty counts, for example, don't show the accuracy of the decisions itself. It's certainly possible, although unlikely, that these high penalty differentials were all correct calls.
Regardless, such a staggering stat should merit a further review into Super Rugby's current refereeing system and perhaps a return to neutral referees – something many fans and coaches have been calling for a while.