Rugby Union: Referees attacked by Cooke

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The Independent Online
GEOFF COOKE savages the standard of Five Nations refereeing in his England manager's report released yesterday - thereby encouraging the Rugby Football Union in its campaign to have international appointments made on considerations of quality rather than by Buggin's turn.

It sounds like an easy excuse for the inadequate England performance that led to two Five Nations defeats, but the RFU was calling for a refereeing meritocracy even while England were twice doing the Grand Slam.

Remember, too, that Cooke is the man who once said he would be happy to have Clive Norling of Wales referee England at Cardiff Arms Park - because Norling was the best. On the other hand, the RFU has not helped its cause by relegating Fred Howard, who is at least as good as any other referee in England, from its own international panel.

As Cooke exempts Jim Fleming, who took England v France, from criticism, his barbs are aimed at Joel Dume, Brian Stirling and Sandy MacNeill, referees in the other three games. Cooke is appalled that Dume and MacNeill will referee the forthcoming Lions Tests in New Zealand.

'When players are working so hard in their preparations it seems only right that they should have the best available referees for top matches,' the Cooke report states.

'It seems a nonsense that the leading referees do not actually referee the major international matches and the time has surely come for an independent panel to appoint the best referees to the Five Nations matches.

'I also believe we must review the whole process of the coaching, training, assessing and grading of referees. At a time when the preparation and commitment of players has reached a very 'professional' level I am concerned that the preparation of referees has not kept pace.'

To the latter end, England's 44 senior referees (including Howard) will all be fitness-tested on Sunday at Loughborough University. As for the broader point, other countries are set on perpetuating Buggin's turn.

'We put it to the Five Nations committee, and the RFU stood alone,' Denis Easby, the union's Five Nations representative, said. 'All the other unions were nervous that there wouldn't be a fair share.'

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