Referee’s and the judicial process have been the main talking abouts following the first two weeks of Tri-Nations rugby, but what exactly can be done, or is done to address these problems behind the scenes and from the team or team management themselves?
I got in touch with Springbok management to find out
The two opening Tri-Nations tests between New Zealand and the Springboks raised a number of question regarding the officiating and also judicial system in rugby.
The first test saw a dubious yellow card dished out against Bakkies Botha which if viewed in isolation, raises serious questions about the merits of the decision.
It was a first ruck infringement for the Boks and Botha in the so-called ‘red-zone’ and some might even argue that Botha actually did nothing wrong. In context however anyone with half a brain will know this was not done in isolation, and a previous, much more serious transgression by Botha when head-butting Jimmy Cowan which went unnoticed by the officials but repeatedly shown on the stadium big screen subsequent to the event played a major role in referee Alan Lewis’ call in the sin-binning.
The second test again saw a dubious yellow card dished out. This time against Botha’s replacement (he was suspended for the rest of the Tri-Nations after being cited following the Eden Park test) Danie Rossouw for apparently kicking out, or trying to strike an opponent with a knee but never even making contact.
This time referee Alain Rolland from Ireland had no hesitation in immediately showing Rossouw a yellow card (without consultation with his assistants).
Both incidents cost the Springbok team 10 points which were scored in both player’s absence.
A judicial officer was also involved in both test matches, firstly correctly citing Botha following the head-butt and in the second test, citing Jean de Villiers for a tip or spear tackle for which he subsequently received 2 weeks suspension.
Comments from readers all over the web are abound where there is concern about the consistency, or lack thereof from these individuals in charge (referee’s and citing commissioners) so I decided to get an official response from Springbok management.
Before I get to the official response it is important to note that comments made subsequent to the second test by coach Peter de Villiers and captain John Smit mainly bemoans the consistency of these calls which has some merit.
It is relevant to note the following:
- There can be no doubt that Bakkies Botha deserved his punishment following his indiscretion and his head-butt on Jimmy Cowan. However, as Peter de Villiers quite rightly pointed out the continued screening of the incident on the stadium big screen quite obviously had an influence in referee Lewis’ decision to card Bakkies for another, completely unrelated incident which viewed in isolation, was a pathetic call.
- It then becomes important to ask the question that if the referee is directly influenced in his on-field decision making by video evidence what is the point of the citing commissioner sitting down afterwards also citing and punishing a player (an on-field card for the specific incident he has been cited for has a bearing on the length of suspension and since Bakkies received a card for a totally unrelated incident it had no bearing in the process) or simply why not implement a system where a referee can be notified by the television match official of incidents of foul play he and his assistants missed in the first place?
- The Danie Rossouw incident clearly showed on television replays (strangely not repeatedly shown on stadium big screens) as being a nothing incident and again one can ask why in these instances where one day video evidence clearly influences decision making by referee’s is not used in assessing the seriousness of the incident by a fourth official.
- Consistency is seriously questioned if in one instance a player (Bakkies Botha) is sent off for a professional foul for a first time ruck infringement but in the second instance (second test) a player gets multiple warning with two ‘official’ warnings for exactly the same offense?
The reason these incidents are important is quite simply because a yellow card issued in rugby no doubt has a massive influence on a game, and could quite easily, as was perhaps the case in both tests with teams so close as these two are, end the game as a contest where one team gets a 10 point cushion directly because of those calls.
Now to deal with referee inconsistencies a process has been setup to address these issues.
Unfortunately, it seems about as useful as the South African judicial system.
According to the Springbok management official response to me referee’s are assessed after each game by an independent match commissioner on a scorecard based system which is forwarded to the IRB. In addition to this the management of the Springboks also have a right to submit a report to the IRB to which we can confirm that a report was prepared for the IRB by Springbok management.
The problem however remains exactly what, if any influence these reports have or how much weight they carry when reviewed by the IRB and unfortunately nobody but the IRB can answer that for us.
As far as the citing of players go post match the appointed commissioner makes those calls both directly, and on submissions from the management of each team.
However, it is up to the citing commissioners sole discretion to review incidents brought to his attention by team management and teams cannot force reviews of decisions onto the citing commissioner.
Also very important to note a citing commissioner has to deem an incident that took place in a match, to be a ‘Red Card’ offence for him to cite a player.
This of course leaves me with the question of whether the Jean de Villiers incident would have resulted in a possible red card if picked up by the officials on the field as well as the Rene Ranger incident where he tackled Zane Kirchner.
The answer from my side to both those questions will be an emphatic NO, which then begs the question, why was Jean cited and subsequently suspended for two weeks?
It is unknown to me at this stage whether the Springbok management highlighted the Ranger incident to the citing commissioner but given the Springbok coach’s comments last year where they (the Bok team) are more than happy to let the judicial system run its own course, I doubt it.
One year out from the Rugby World Cup the game of union is in our view at a breaking point. Thanks to video technology the public are made aware of these indiscretions much more often than in the past and as these last two tests have shown a game can easily be decided on one wrong, or missed call.
The professional game is heavily dependent on its viewership audience and if the game of union is willing to let its image be tarnished through its inability to deal with the processes or individuals involved in ensuring the right calls that are obvious to all viewers are made, the game will suffer.
For the time being from where I sit, the current processes to address this is fundamentally flawed and whether you agree with the ranting of De Villiers or Smit post match on these issues, expect more of it from not only them, but the next team it will affect which is hopefully not the difference between making a Rugby World Cup semi-final, or final in 2011.Tweet