A referee is an inseparable part of a rugby match and is, as it were, the 31st player on the field. His interpretation of the game’s rules can undoubtedly make or break a game, but experts believe that it is not always the ref’s fault when your team loses. Contrary to what many disaffected rugby supporters have claimed in the past.
Naas Botha, former Springbok flyhalf, says the excess of rules that must be applied in rugby these days often means that referees are more involved in the game than they should be and sometimes interfere too much. And yes, there are times when a referee is arbitrary.
“But I can assure you that no referee ever goes on the field with the mindset that a particular team will win or lose.”
With the World Cup tournament kicking off in France in just a few hours, former Bok defender Stefan Terblanche believes there are very few referees – and especially good referees – on the international stage.
“It is a thankless job they do and I feel sorry for them, but this is their profession. They are in an important position that comes with a lot of pressure and they must prepare accordingly.”
He says that although referees are people who sometimes make mistakes, these days they have many technological tools at their disposal.
“I know how quickly things can happen on a rugby field and just like a player, a referee also only has a fraction of a second to make a decision. Consult the TV referee or the bunker review official; after all, it is there to protect referees so that the right decisions are made. In a World Cup tournament, you want to prevent a decision that obviously favors or harms one team. It can rob the game of its competitiveness.”
According to Terblanche, the bunker system can indeed lead to a yellow card mockery, as referees try to protect themselves a little on the field.
Still, an extra pair of eyes is not necessarily a bad thing. In the pressure cooker of a World Cup tournament you want to do the right thing; even if it takes a little longer.
Kobus Wiese believes that it is not only referees who have to stand up for their performances on the field. The smart fellows who write down the rules must also stick their hands in their own bosoms.
The former Springbok lock, who held up the Webb Ellis trophy at Ellis Park in 1995, believes that rugby rules have hopelessly too many gray areas.
Although he understands player safety, he warns that rugby must not lose its striking power. After all, it is a contact sport.
“For example, if a player is on the front foot and a defender pushes away a little too hard, then it is a penalty against the ball carrier,” Wiese said with a touch of disbelief in his voice.
It is like penalizing a boxer because one of his stoppers hit his opponent in the jaw with too much force.
“Rugby players know that at some point in their careers they are going to be tackled hard. It’s part of the game. Some of the rules are unrealistic and this can negatively affect the game.”
Would he want to be a referee in today’s circumstances?
Not at all, he says.
- Match Officials for the 2023 World Cup:
Referees: Nika Amushukeli (Georgia), Wayne Barnes (England), Nic Berry (Australia), Andrew Brace (Ireland), Matthew Carley (England), Karl Dickson (England), Angus Gardner (Australia), Ben O’ Keeffe (New Zealand ), Luke Pearce (England), Jaco Peyper (South Africa), Mathieu Raynal (France) and Paul Williams (New Zealand).
Assistant Referees: Chris Busby (Ireland), Pierre Brousset (France), James Doleman (New Zealand), Craig Evans (Wales), Andrea Piardi (Italy), Christophe Ridley (England) and Jordan Way (Australia).
TV referees: Brett Cronan (Australia), Tom Foley (England), Marius Jonker (South Africa), Brian MacNeice (Ireland), Joy Neville (Ireland), Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand) and Ben Whitehouse (Wales).
- Officials for the Springboks’ opening match against Scotland:
Referee: Angus Gardner
Assistant Referees: Nika Amushukeli and Jordan Way
TV Referee: Ben Whitehouse