Bryce Lawrence has announced his retirement from refereeing and he hasn’t gone quietly. Lawrence claims that South Africa and Australia blackballed him due to their resentment over his officiating at the Rugby World Cup.
Australia believed that Lawrence’s inability to adjudicate the scrummage cost them their match against Ireland in the pool stages. This wasn’t just a case of whingeing Aussies. A former English international prop analysed that game and agreed with much of what the Australians had to say.
Lawrence says that the fall-out from that match caused political pressure to be put on him ahead of the quarter-final between Australia and South Africa. As a result Lawrence admits that he bottled the big game.
He said: "I went into the quarter-final knowing it was a massive match and I didn’t want to overly influence the outcome. The way that transpired was I didn’t make decisions and, if I had my time again, I would just go out there and do what I normally do, which is just referee and back myself.
“I had four really good [group] games at the World Cup and then I had that. I had outside pressure from pretty senior people from rugby countries behind the scenes that really created my mindset of lacking confidence to deliver what I normally do. There was some pretty nasty political stuff going on about that appointment with some people kicking up a massive stink. It probably made me freeze on the biggest stage.
“I was told I would be brought back in the middle of the year but they dropped me because of pressure from unions like Australia and South Africa behind the scenes and that is the reason for my career change – all because of one game."
In the immediate aftermath of that game, I disputed Paddy O’Brien’s previous claim that no World Cup match had ever been decided by a ref. I said that Lawrence had ignored the offside line and virtually every law relating to the breakdown. In short, the referee had made a complete hash of a huge match, South Africa would feel cheated and they had every right to complain.
Now we know why. It appears that Australia’s movers and shakers – and you have to think that John O’Neill was involved – were turning the screws. As a result of pressure Lawrence froze.
That tells you three things. He was never good enough in the first place. It was a woeful decision by the appointments panel given Australia’s stated misgivings. And the Southern Hemisphere has been interfering with refs for years, much to the detriment of the game.
I have little time for Lawrence as a ref. He is star struck by the likes of Richie McCaw and seems in love with the Crusaders. He has a habit of refereeing one side. He talks far, far too much. And he is absolutely clueless about the scrummage. The Lions will join Australia in the witness stand when it comes to that area of the game.
That is not to say that Lawrence has not been hard done by. The personal abuse that Lawrence received after the quarter-final was quite unacceptable and an employee would like to think he would be backed by his bosses. Instead Lawrence was left to dangle.
Lawrence’s claims about political pressure do resonate and should be investigated. The refs have a hard enough job already without union officials bringing undue pressure to bear. The players behave on the pitch with proper respect. The IRB should make sure that union employees behave the same way.