Are ref’s running out of steam?

Written by Morné Nortier (Morné)

Posted in :Original Content on 9 Jun 2011 at 12:30
Tagged with :

I have picked up on something which might just explain the problems that have been highlighted with referee performances of late.

I was asked once why I do not consider picking up a whistle and become involved in rugby as a referee. To be honest, I would rather be strapped naked to a tree next to a nest of army ants with honey on my #$% for 10 days than ever becoming a referee.

I imagine that when you become certified as a referee it comes with a disclaimer on the back of the certificate that you will be hated for the rest of your life by everyone involved in rugby.

Apart from people (and by this I include rugby commentators and even coaches and players) not understanding the laws of rugby, the mere nature of the game that there will be a loser more often than not, will have individuals looking for excuses where the referee has, and always will be, the easiest target.

In recent weeks officials and their performances in Super Rugby has come under the spotlight more than ever. All of us, myself included have our 50 cents worth and for most, the criticism was deserved.

However, to be fair, if we criticise and point out faults in the system, surely we should also offer advice or at least find a cause for these problems, and this is what I set out to do.

I considered various angles to this dilemma, for instance the actual laws and if that could be improved to help referees manage a game better.

Or perhaps if technology could be better used to assist referees as so many has pointed out in the past. The system itself and how referee performances are measured is another area we could also discuss in detail with some merit.

All of these are key points and would highlight various areas in which we can look to make the game of rugby union not only more attractive, but also easier to follow and dare I say, fair or neutral.

The problem with all of this however is that although all these suggestions will have merit on paper, implementing any dramatic change will take time with the results only known years down the line. A recent example of this was the experimentation with the ELV’s, or even when our own Varsity Cup implemented a cricket or tennis like appeal system with the ‘White’ cards.

In other words, until we see any changes applied in practice, it is difficult to support the merit of it.

This brought me back to square one… If we are to see a difference in rugby union, aren’t we perhaps overlooking the simplest of areas or possible reasons why referees all of a sudden are delivering shocking performances on the field?

I suddenly remembered a conversation I had over the weekend with someone who raised the point that he has never seen so many referee’s ‘taken out’ in games like we have been seeing in this year’s Super Rugby tournament. The ‘taking out’ of course referring to referee’s finding themselves in the way of players on the field, not you and I sitting on our couches ‘taking referee’s out’ with choice words or phrases or pouring a litre of brandy on their heads.

This made me consider what I saw in recent weeks too especially between the top teams.  We often we had end-to-end stuff with the ball being in play for minutes on end going from one end of the field to the other, with a commentator only last week making mention of the referee not being able to keep up with the pace.

Everyone that has played the game knows that once you get tired, you are more prone to mistakes and your decision making also become slower, and more erratic.

Could it be that exactly the same applies to referees? I most certainly think so.

In fact, referees arguably needs to be one of the most fittest people on the park in order to follow the ball and plays around the ball for 80 minutes.

I did some quick research on the internet on the referees that will take the whistle in the final round in Super Rugby. The youngest referee in Super Rugby currently as far as I could tell, is Jonathon White, aged 31. He is followed by referees aged between 35 to 45 years old all in charge of what is believed to be the competition played at the fastest pace compared to any other in the world.

It lead me to the question that although referee’s are scrutinised and reviewed by various systems in place by the IRB and SANZAR, have they got rules in place with regards to minimum fitness requirements? Are referees put through their paces, and tested on fitness levels as well as their comprehension of the laws? Is this done regularly?

I have always maintained that referees will never deliberately cheat, but it is painstakingly clear that they are missing a hell of a lot lately. And given how referees of late struggle to get into the right positions in time to avoid getting in the way of players and plays, I believe a massive part of the problem is that some of these referees might simply not be fit enough to keep up with the modern game.

As with the other 30 souls (players) on the park, if you are not fit enough for this game, it will show and you will be found out, no matter how good you are, and it might just be a case that some of the ageing referees currently on the circuit have also been found out in this respect.


  • “I would rather be strapped naked to a tree next to a nest of army ants with honey on my #$% for 10 days than ever becoming a referee.”

    Kinky mofo.

  • Comment 1, posted at 09.06.11 13:00:05 by King Shark - Kanko at 12! Reply
    King Shark
  • You might be on to something here…

  • Comment 2, posted at 09.06.11 13:01:11 by Crock Reply

  • this whole competition is running out of steam. It’s too long and frankly bonkers. Can’t blame the refs for losing interest

  • Comment 3, posted at 09.06.11 13:04:10 by robdylan Reply
    Competition Winner Administrator
  • Could well be..

  • Comment 4, posted at 09.06.11 13:06:35 by Ice Reply
    Competition Winner Ice
  • @King Shark – Kanko at 12! (Comment 1) : :mrgreen: :mrgreen:

  • Comment 5, posted at 09.06.11 13:09:59 by Ice Reply
    Competition Winner Ice
  • :mrgreen: Pro and Graig Joubert gave us the win at loftus my bulls team needs referees like that

  • Comment 6, posted at 09.06.11 13:21:04 by Muzi Reply

  • While I agree with all you’ve said it does however concern me that the Assistant Referees are not involved enough (and when they get involved they seem to make ‘semi-pro’ decisions.

    A referee can’t be everywhere and see everything but the AR don’t seem to want to make crucial decisions either.

    I think a ‘white card’ system must be introduced and a TMO should be able to intervine in case of blatantly obvious mistakes.

  • Comment 7, posted at 09.06.11 13:21:17 by Pokkel Reply
    Friend of SharksworldCompetition Winner Author
  • Do we really have to sort this out?? Iam quite enjoying the “funny” moments when refs get taken out! 😳 😆

  • Comment 8, posted at 09.06.11 13:40:29 by Ice Reply
    Competition Winner Ice
  • @Pokkel (Comment 7) :

    The white card system was tried at Varsity Cup, and imo it failed. Perhaps it could be refined where it can be used for crucial calls like a decision on a try or a card being issued where the TMO can be called in – but only really there.

  • Comment 9, posted at 09.06.11 13:47:41 by Morné Reply
  • @robdylan (Comment 3) : Agreed

  • Comment 10, posted at 09.06.11 13:51:28 by vanmartin Reply
    Friend of Sharksworld Author
  • Over a 4 month season we got bleep tested 3 times as well as having to do 20, 40, 60m sprint times.

    There are minimum requerments for each level of the game.

    I will ask a few of my mates about the current requirements at certain levels.

  • Comment 11, posted at 09.06.11 16:03:12 by KSA Shark © Reply

    KSA Shark ©
  • Two Points:

    (1) I don’t think the white card system will ever work. Its a rugby match played in front of a live crowd. It would seriously suck to wait 5minutes for a desision everytime a white card was called.
    (2) Craig plays touch with us often on a monday (after running on sat) and runs 10-12Kms in an hour. There’s no problem with fitness

  • Comment 12, posted at 09.06.11 19:31:34 by byron Reply


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