Under the spotlight – Referees and Judicial processes

Written by Morné Nortier (Morné)

Posted in :Original Content, Springboks, Tri Nations on 19 Jul 2010 at 15:08
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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.


  • I think the NRL in Aussie deal with it as well as anyone….. with incidents put on report, makes it very difficult to get away with anything !

    Let’s face it the referee is a huge variable in every game.

    ….a good start is for players not to go around attempting to foul opposing players …because it has the possibility of affecting your teams performance outcomes.

  • Comment 1, posted at 19.07.10 15:44:42 by Hertford Highlander Reply
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  • PS Nice article Morne…..keep up the informed work ! 😉

  • Comment 2, posted at 19.07.10 15:45:56 by Hertford Highlander Reply
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  • @Hertford Highlander (Comment 1) : Agreed, and as I mentioned earlier, we started this game on the back foot due to Bakkies, the ref had been influenced by NZRU to be overtly strict due to that… But yes, something needs to be enforced for refs to follow the rules as they are stipulated, no grey areas, no “use your discretion”… Another thing that MUST be regulated is the timing of the scrum Touch… Pause… Engage = 3 seconds with the ref making audibles to do the count… A punch is red, this is yellow, two warnings this… Finished!!!

  • Comment 3, posted at 19.07.10 15:49:10 by DarkDestroyer Reply

  • @Hertford Highlander (Comment 2) : Yep, good article, very well planned and executed…

  • Comment 4, posted at 19.07.10 15:50:34 by DarkDestroyer Reply

  • Nice article.

    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.

    The reports from the official assesor obviously carry a lot more weight than those from a losing union. (rightly so)

    The BIG issue that i have with this is that it will take a few “bad” reports to get a referee dropped and sometimes that comes tooo late after it has cost a team dearly.

  • Comment 5, posted at 19.07.10 15:52:43 by KSA Shark © Reply

    KSA Shark ©
  • With what appears to have been more transparency in the last while with the IRB and SANZAR making the removal of referees from certain panels public I look forward to some sort of action from them.

  • Comment 6, posted at 19.07.10 15:59:39 by KSA Shark © Reply

    KSA Shark ©
  • Just IN: Andries Bekker is out of the Tri-Nations!

  • Comment 7, posted at 19.07.10 16:00:51 by DarkDestroyer Reply

  • @KSA Shark © (Comment 6) : Are we not talking about the system not the ref’s !

    Some will say the ref was rubbish (those wearing green) others will say he was brilliant (those wearing black).

    It maybe the other way around next time….it’s the system that needs clarification….doesn’t it !

  • Comment 8, posted at 19.07.10 16:03:35 by Hertford Highlander Reply
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  • @DarkDestroyer (Comment 7) : Really why ?

  • Comment 9, posted at 19.07.10 16:06:45 by Hertford Highlander Reply
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  • @KSA Shark © (Comment 5) : Yep, having the ability to “punish” a ref after a poor showing does not quite change the fact that with his influence we lost the game, but it must be said, I don’t think the Bok class of 2010 is good enough at the moment, and even with a more objective ref we would have lost the game… The strategy is poor and the execution of it more so…

  • Comment 10, posted at 19.07.10 16:07:42 by DarkDestroyer Reply

  • @Hertford Highlander (Comment 8) :

    The refs performance WILL be influenced by the colour of the glasses you wear of course.

    I have only read the SA take on this last performance, but if it WAS that bad then at least we will have some action from the IRB as we had against Joubert, Brown and others.

  • Comment 11, posted at 19.07.10 16:07:57 by KSA Shark © Reply

    KSA Shark ©
  • @Hertford Highlander (Comment 9) : Just heard it over the radio, can’t seem to find it online, can only be an injury, doubt it has anything to do with his after hours activities…

  • Comment 12, posted at 19.07.10 16:11:00 by DarkDestroyer Reply

  • @KSA Shark © (Comment 11) : Take my word for it…it was as bad as every game he is in control of and he is the IRB’s number 1 or close to it anyway !

    PS I know they are not ranked

  • Comment 13, posted at 19.07.10 16:11:14 by Hertford Highlander Reply
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  • @DarkDestroyer (Comment 12) :

    …. didn’t want to go there !

  • Comment 14, posted at 19.07.10 16:11:53 by Hertford Highlander Reply
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  • @DarkDestroyer (Comment 7) :

    @Hertford Highlander (Comment 9) :

    Only out of the next test.

    Article is up

  • Comment 15, posted at 19.07.10 16:16:18 by KSA Shark © Reply

    KSA Shark ©
  • @Hertford Highlander (Comment 14) : indeed… I am not interested in any mans private life… Back to the rugby… It is the system that needs addressing yes, but as long as the ref is in charge of the “match system” and the administrators everything else, the human factor needs to be addressed and that comes by making absolutely no loop holes… The rules black and white, hence my rather caveman first response… These are the rules, this is how they are followed, this is how it is implemented by an official… Oh, the idealism…

  • Comment 16, posted at 19.07.10 16:17:35 by DarkDestroyer Reply

  • @KSA Shark © (Comment 15) : Good to hear… Class player, so that means Flip and Vic are in for the Aus test…

  • Comment 17, posted at 19.07.10 16:18:24 by DarkDestroyer Reply

  • @KSA Shark © (Comment 15) : Will check it out 😎

    How good is Flip ❓

  • Comment 18, posted at 19.07.10 16:18:26 by Hertford Highlander Reply
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  • @DarkDestroyer (Comment 16) : 😆

  • Comment 19, posted at 19.07.10 16:19:22 by Hertford Highlander Reply
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  • @Hertford Highlander (Comment 18) : Flip is a good player, but having him start in a 3N match without recognised back up does pose a problem, we could see Hargreaves called up as back up…

  • Comment 20, posted at 19.07.10 16:23:56 by DarkDestroyer Reply

  • @DarkDestroyer (Comment 20) :

    It will be Matfield and Roussow starting won’t it ❓

    Flip off the bench….big step up Test Rugby !

  • Comment 21, posted at 19.07.10 16:31:55 by Hertford Highlander Reply
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  • @Hertford Highlander (Comment 21) : That is true, geeze for some silly reason I thought he was also banned… LOL 😳 indeed Flip off the bench and Rossouw starting…

  • Comment 22, posted at 19.07.10 16:34:59 by DarkDestroyer Reply

  • Ag who cares – Bakkies is an idiot and Danie showed he isn’t far behind. Regardless of Danie being on the field for the full 80 – we still would have got smashed and quite frankly the citing of Jean is a blesssing becasue Div wouldn’t have changed the team for this week.

    Besides – it typical South African arrogance to assume we going to waltz into NZ and beat the All Blacks twice.

    This team and its coaches need a wake up – Div is an idiot – his selections indicate as much. Players need a break and other need to be sent home permanantly. Hopefully a run of bad results will wake the Boks and it managers up and flush out the we are the all omnipotent team who no-one can defeat.

    These losses will hopefully open our eyes to the fact that the team is slipping from its highs and can be rectified before the cup defence – besides – be glad it wasn’t a WC semi.

    Blaming the refs isn’t going to help. Ask the All Blacks.

  • Comment 23, posted at 19.07.10 16:37:56 by Worcestershire Sauce Reply
    Worcestershire Sauce
  • @Worcestershire Sauce (Comment 23) : Yep…

    We had a debate earlier today… Mentioned that the war heroes are starting to look like old lions, blah blah, dogs o’ war etc… But yes, younger TALENT needs to be blooded prior to RWC and The war veterans need rest and management… They need to go spend some time with their wives, their kids, their mates and their holiday houses, stay fresh, eat healthy and make a return 2011… From here on in it should be the “bubbling unders” to take the step up… Einstein said doing the same thing an expecting different results is a definition of madness… So be radical and it will pay off, we have nothing to lose other than the trophy and these guys need rest…

  • Comment 24, posted at 19.07.10 16:42:54 by DarkDestroyer Reply

  • @DarkDestroyer (Comment 24) : Indeed. If i was Div and we lose again this weekend. I would let Smit, Vic, Spies, Schalla, Morne and Fourie have a break for the rest of the year. We still have a dam Grand Slam tour + the Super 15 to contend with next year.

    Leaving the Boks out of the CC is a start but i am not sure enough.

  • Comment 25, posted at 19.07.10 16:49:18 by Worcestershire Sauce Reply
    Worcestershire Sauce
  • Yep, sad thing is… You are not Div… and clearly only the fans can see the truth, inside the Bok camp its very unsettled and very proud… The old boys will never admit that they are off the mark… Henry is a better strategist, The S14 is like Checkers and a test… Its Chess, and sadly we have been hurt deeply in the psychological departments… Now stop gambling, stop infuriating and become a Bok mentor PLEASE DIVVY!!!!

  • Comment 26, posted at 19.07.10 16:55:56 by DarkDestroyer Reply

  • @Worcestershire Sauce (Comment 23) :

    Wise words….they are few and far between ! 😉

  • Comment 27, posted at 19.07.10 17:00:12 by Hertford Highlander Reply
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  • Whether the ref was biased or not, the Springboks need to step up and take responsibility. I’ve seen in many other games that opposing team dont score any points or the team with the 14 players actually do all the scoring during the 10min period.

    I do agree though. Consistency is a major concern.

  • Comment 28, posted at 19.07.10 17:13:09 by Jarson Reply
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  • You will always get rubbish refs! That didnt seems to stop us last year! Every year P Divvy has a problem with a rule its getting old play the game adapt you idiot! Why did the ABs bounce back? Because they adapted and learned from what they did wrong before! It took the ABs 3 tests against us to realise where they went wrong, I promise you it doesnt take that long to change Graham Henry is as stupid as P Divvy! Yes GH doesnt select players out of position and he also doesnt have a love child or favourite month of the year (January)! Even if we did have 15 players on the field for 80min we would still have lost the ABs were way better than us! They were more aggressive in the tackle and they shut down our space! They committed more players to the break down which stopped Flo from getting stuck in! We need to have a look at the basics again! Our lineouts were shocking our scrums could improve even tho its come along way since last year! I mean how long does it take to tell an oak to kick the ball into the freaking stands so that they cant take a quick throw! Simple things like that! Play Jean at 12 get F Steyn in at 15 get JPP in at 14 and for goodness sake Olivier, January and Chilliboy suck!!!! Play Juan de Jong at 12 if you have to atleast the guy does something!!!!!!!!!! At the end of the s14 we were saying we have so much depth… Use it!! Olivier needs a ticket to france!

    Thats my breakdown for the week..

  • Comment 29, posted at 20.07.10 05:00:35 by Ozbok789 Reply

  • @Ozbok789 (Comment 29) :

    Welcome Ozbok789

    I’m sure you felt better after that vent….. most will agree with you !

  • Comment 30, posted at 20.07.10 09:51:55 by Hertford Highlander Reply
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