The Lions, who at one stage did not want South Africans to referee non-Test matches during their tour of South Africa in 2009, are now asking for merit-appointed referees which could include referees from South Africa and the Four Home Unions.
Rugby 365 reports that the Lions manager Gerald Davies has confirmed he wants the world’s best available referees in charge of next year’s three-test series in the republic.
Originally speculation was that the Tests would be refereed by Frenchman Joël Jutge and New Zealander Steve Walsh. Jutge has had serious operations to his knees and has not refereed this year, though he has been appointed to a Six Nations match but that is subject to conformation. He is still not refereeing in France’s Top 14.
Walsh also pulled out of two November Tests because of injury sustained in the Air New Zealand Cup semifinal. He too is pencilled in for a Six Nations match, also subject to later conformation. He is also under scrutiny for his personal behaviour.
Davies said: “For the Lions playing any team over a series of 10 matches, I think the best players deserve the best referees and that’s what we’re looking for.”
If one looked at the “best referees” in the world at present, you are probably looking at a top four of Kaplan, Rolland, Nigel Owens and Mark Lawrence – all of whom would be excluded if the principle of neutrality were to continue to be applied.
Jutge and Walsh could compete with that group but may be excluded because of other issues.
SANZAR has made the initial move to break away from the principle of neutrality with the naming of a nine-man panel for the Super 14. This is a change after roughly 140 years of trying to appoint unattached referees.
South Africa’s refereeing manager, André Watson, who has great credentials as a top referee, has for some time been a proponent of merit appointments and would support this for the Lions’ tour.
Watson said: “It’s the perception and the historical mindset that we need to change.
“At the end of the day, we need to have the best people out there. Now when you have problems like injuries or unavailability, you have to make a choice and it’s very simple: stick to neutrality and, with respect, lower the level, or go for the best and trust that the man will do the job on the day.
“With the scrutiny and assessment and all those things that goes around refereeing today, there’s no way you can favour one team or disfavour the other. I think the best people should be doing the best teams.
“I still believe, and I’m talking from a personal point of view, if Joël Jutge and Steve Walsh were unavailable, I think it would be a good idea to run Kaplan and Rolland in test one and test two, and then let the teams have an input for the third one.”Tweet