Morrison denies officials are killing rugby

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The Independent Online

Ed Morrison, the head of elite referee development in England, insists match officials are not to blame for killing rugby as a spectacle.

Morrison was reacting to Brendan Venter's blistering attack on the standard of refereeing in the Guinness Premiership following Saracens' 22-15 defeat to Leicester on Saturday.

In a remarkable tirade, the Saracens director of rugby questioned referees' professionalism and blamed the "lottery" of their decisions at the breakdown for the negative rugby which has blighted the Premiership this season.

The RFU are considering whether to charge Venter with bringing the game into disrepute and he is set to be disciplined for breaking the Premiership's code of conduct.

Venter received support last night from his Wasps counterpart Tony Hanks, who said: "Week in, week out the breakdown seems to be different. We need to get clear interpretation in terms of who's allowed to play the ball.

"We need that to encourage teams to play rugby. At the moment what incentive is there to play rugby?"

But Morrison insisted referees could not be held responsible for the negative rugby and branded Venter's comments inaccurate and "highly inappropriate".

He said: "The breakdown is a very competitive area and the more competitive it gets, the more complex it gets.

"When you look in the Premiership and how difficult a contest it is, the guys do a very good job in a highly-pressurised environment.

"What we are working towards is ensuring the number of mistakes we make and the influence we have on the outcome of a game is reduced to the bear minimum.

"All the directors of rugby know what we are doing, we speak to them every week.

"I watched the game on New Year's Day between Sale and Harlequins, when two teams played positively, it was refereed positively and the outcome was an entertaining game of rugby.

"When the game is played properly, the results are there to see."

Venter also accused referees across the Premiership of not being as professional or as forensic in their preparations for a match as the coaches and players.

"We cannot (have referees) just rock up and say: 'Hi boys, I am here, where is the whistle? Chuck me an orange.' It can't work like that," said Venter.

"We are professional here. If I can watch the opposition's last five matches how come the referee doesn't look at the last game and come prepared."

Morrison would prefer a team of full-time referees - but he does not believe the standard of officiating is compromised because some of them have day jobs.

The RFU recently took on a new strength and conditioning coach to work with referees last summer and Morrison has been delighted with the immediate impact she has made.

"I would refute that we are not professional. I think we have moved a long way in a few years," said Morrison.

"There seems to be the notion in some peoples' minds that referees just turn up for a game at 10 to three. Nothing could be further from the truth.

"A huge amount of time is taken up with reviewing and preparation and that will continue. I am convinced we have a very professional and committed group of people."