Referees must remember they are not the center of attention – The Irish Times

The precision engineers were out in force again over the weekend.

There used to be a phrase, not so very long ago, which was just common sense in its simplicity – “referees need to let the game breathe”. We saw precious little of that as the referees continued in their precise and meticulous way.

They are not supposed to be the center of attention, and maybe they don’t want to be, but that is now fast becoming the situation.

I’d be perfectly certain that not one person in the Aviva, Twickenham or Murrayfield shelled out even a minuscule portion of the ticket price to watch, or listen to, Ben O’Keeffe, Mathieu Raynal or Karl Dickson.

These matches had too much referee involvement and a review about their modus operandi must be put high on the agenda – it is not all about the whistle and long-winded communication.

Very simply, it is about refereeing the clear and obvious accurately and ignoring calls that are 50/50. Fast ball from the breakdown is utterly essential, but the speed of whistle (or the advantage arm) need not be based on nano-second failure to release or to roll away. O’Keeffe’s appeal to the Irish and Australian players that he was trying to get things going also needed a hard look into his own mirror.

If this is the future of officiating then we can all fear for the Six Nations and the approaching World Cup.

Referees must go back to basics and not get involved with any player who wants to open a debate. Instead, we see referees who are more than happy to engage with anyone and everybody, instead of politely shutting them up.

There was plenty of foul play too for O’Keeffe to deal with and neck rolling seems to have become an Australian pastime. This needed tougher communication from the referee.

Andrew Porter was also lucky not to sit out 10 minutes for an unnecessary shoulder into the back of an opponent which wasn’t picked up by O’Keeffe and his fellow officials.

There was huge controversy too when Australian scrumhalf Nic White left the pitch clearly shaken and unstable. It is a farce that he was allowed to return on the basis that he apparently passed a HIA. Given the condition he was in, there is no provision for a HIA and White’s removal should have been permanent.

Murrayfield became the House of Cards as Scotland and Argentina fairly tore into each other with five yellows and one red handed out by Dickson. The match was marred by a nasty enough touchline brawl which went on for far too long and must surely be the subject of a World Rugby investigation.

The red card to Argentina’s Marcos Kremer was totally correct, his forearm to the head of Jamie Ritchie was delivered with considerable force. Amazingly, part of Dickson’s explanation for the color of the card was that Kremer had other options. Are we really supposed to think that if there had been no other options, then the forearm smash would have been acceptable?

When the Autumn referee appointments were announced it was clear that Mathieu Raynal was being rested having been awarded just one match – Romania v Samoa.

Instead, he has become a sort of super sub, standing in for the injured Jaco Peyper and, at Twickenham, for Nic Berry who had to return home for family reasons. For whatever reason, Raynal took the opportunity to give us an unwanted dissertation on the laws, managing to hand out a total of 30 sanctions in the England v New Zealand game.


Commit the crime, serve your time, then repeat the offense. Not many of us would consider that’s the way to go, but, then, none of us is Rassie Erasmus.

Having just completed a lengthy suspension for his attack on Australian referee Nic Berry after the Lions’ first Test, Erasmus decided to train his guns on Nika Amashukelli in Dublin, then really opened fire on Wayne Barnes.

This time, after France’s recent narrow defeat of South Africa, his public criticism of Barnes was more sarcastic and less direct than that of Berry. Nevertheless, it was completely unacceptable and Erasmus was suspended again for South Africa’s final two matches of the series, including the game next Saturday against England.

The criticism also prompted online abuse of Barnes and his family, including death threats.

Erasmus can justifiably claim that this had nothing to do with him, but feeding the mob in this way must be perilously close to incitement, even if completely unintended. His two-match suspension of him, under all the given circumstances, amounts to nothing more than a light rap on the knuckles of him.

With the World Cup on the horizon it’s hugely important that this is cleared up unequivocally. It won’t stop the trolls on social media but would show a united front in support of officiating. It is not just sorely needed, it is essential.


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