IRB referee boss set for talks

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The Independent Online

IRB referee boss Paddy O’Brien is scheduled to fly into Johannesburg tonight and analogies of firemen and fire-fighting are hard to resist.

O’Brien is set to hold talks in the next 24 hours with Springbok coach Peter de Villiers over his reported comments that referees are “being wrapped in cotton wool.” That sort of talk goes down like a lead balloon in IRB circles and although de Villiers will be able to explain and perhaps expand his views, he will be told in no uncertain terms that publicly criticising match officials is off limits in the IRB’s view.



The South Africans’ management will also be told emphatically that there is no provision in the law book for captains to question every decision of a referee during a match. The IRB was infuriated to see Victor Matfield constantly arguing with Australian official Matt Goddard during the Cape Town Test two weeks ago.



The IRB’s view is that Matfield only got away with it because of Goddard’s inexperience and they are anxious to stamp on such a trend for fear it might spread. The South Africans will be told to fall into line and make official comments in the proper way, via the IRB’s established formula. O’Brien claimed recently that the Springboks, unlike most other countries, had not utilised the comments procedure, something SA Rugby officials denied.



But O’Brien might have to answer some relevant questions himself concerning the overall standard of refereeing in this year’s Tri-Nations Championship. For example, it seems extraordinary that the man chosen to handle the Durban Test last weekend, experienced New Zealander Lyndon Bray, could consider CJ van der Linde’s wild, highly dangerous flying head butt which came within inches of knocking Wallaby half back Sam Cordingley into next week, as so minor a misdemeanour it could be so readily dismissed.



Bray saw the offence and merely awarded Australia a penalty. Yet 72 hours later, a disciplinary panel considered it so dangerous that they banned the Springbok prop from all rugby for four weeks. Bray’s tolerance at the time defied belief; observers who saw it felt van der Linde should at least have received a yellow card, and probably a red one. Clearly, the disciplinary officials favoured the latter sanction.



For a supposed top line referee to get it so hopelessly wrong is disturbing. It confirmed views that the standard of officiating in this year’s tournament has been poor, well below the standards to be expected at this level. That isn’t O’Brien’s fault – there is currently a worrying dearth of top class officials available to take these games.



Australia has no-one that stands out, New Zealand likewise especially now that Paul Honiss has retired. The best in the southern hemisphere are the South African duo Jonathan Kaplan and Craig Joubert, but because of their nationality neither is able to handle a Springboks game. It means that referees of lesser quality are always officiating at the ‘Boks matches, a worrying trend for the world game.



O’Brien is fully aware of the problem but until the majority of officials gain greater experience, and that is a process that could take several seasons, the problem will remain. But it’s hardly fair on some of the world’s leading players to have to accept sub-standard officiating in vital games.

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