I have no idea what SANZAR thought they were doing when they appointed Bryce Lawrence to the match between the Reds and the Crusaders at the weekend. Maybe they had taken a blow too many to the head. But the officiating of this game was an accident waiting to happen.
Look at the chat forums before the game. They nearly all predicted a penalty count exactly along the lines of the one that transpired. The Reds were much the better side, yet they were hammered 17-7 on an horrendously one-sided evening of reffing. Sad to say Mr Lawrence was the difference between the teams and the sooner Super 15 brings back neutral refs, the better.
It was not just the Reds that Lawrence penalised, but the other New Zealand teams striving to get to the knockout stages. If the Reds had won by under 7 points, a likely result with equitable reffing, the Chiefs would now be 10 points clear of the Crusaders and the Highlanders, with the Hurricanes a further 3 behind. The Reds would also have a much better chance of chasing down the Brumbies. Instead Mr Lawrence has ruined another rugby weekend for many people.
It is not Mr Lawrence whom we should be annoyed with. The bloke does his best and anyone who has tried refereeing will know that is it an horrendously difficult job, particularly given the mess that the IRB, unduly swayed by the Southern Hemisphere, has made of the laws.
No, we should be irritated with the people in charge of the refs who continue to put him out there. Lawrence has no idea how to officiate the scrummage. He made a complete hash of the Ireland versus Australia Rugby World Cup pool game. The multiple errors he made with the scrummage were detailed to me at the time by a former international prop of neutral outlook. “Guessing” he called it and detailed why Lawrence was a very bad guesser.
At the time Robbie Deans said wryly: “We have to live with the ref’s calls and tonight we didn’t.” When Lawrence reffed the recent game between the Rebels and the Blues, the Rebels captain wondered how on earth he could award the Blues a try that came from breaking off a scrum that had gone through 90. That was the match when Lawrence said, slightly desperately, that it wasn’t easy for him out there either.
Too true. His reffing of the scrum at the weekend was again a joke. Ben Franks was allowed to put his hand on the ground (illegal) and bore in (illegal) and Corey Flynn was allowed to pop up like a piece of toast (illegal). But when the Reds counterparts did the same things they were pinged, presumably on the nonsensical ground that they are not so good at scrimmaging. Where does that end? We won’t penalise Sir Richie for knocking on the ball because he is so good. Sorry, Lawrence did that as well to Will Genia’s comical outrage.
Lawrence’s reffing of the breakdown is no better. The World Cup quarter-final between South Africa and Australia was another accident waiting to happen, because Lawrence had been just as negligent of the laws in creating a turgid Super 15 final. After the World Cup match former WC final ref Andre Watson said: “He didn’t referee the breakdown the way he was supposed to. He just didn’t step in.”
When he does step in, Lawrence is inconsistent. He penalised Digby Ioane for not releasing at the weekend, but the time frame was so short Lawrence was bound to then ping almost every other attacking player going to ground. Of course he didn’t. And the decisive penalty of the match left Liam Gill justly bewildered. All afternoon the tackler had been given rights to the ball on the ground, except this time. It was a ruck apparently. The IRB should be ashamed because the definition of a ruck is now so fuzzy as to be subjective guesswork.
Ewen Mckenzie, the Reds coach, said after the game: “We average 10 penalties a game and then cop 17-7. So it’s pretty hard to play at their end of the ground.” After the World Cup South Africa captain John Smit, one of the game’s most articulate and fair-minded men, said: “Bryce is not difficult to communicate with, he just doesn’t seem to listen very well. The one positive (of retirement) is that I won’t ever have to be reffed by him again.” The African outrage was so great that Lawrence has yet to take charge of a match involving a South African side this season.
A system that continues to put Lawrence out there despite all the justified criticism has to be rotten. There are on average over 7 successful penalty goals in the Super 15 matches that Lawrence has had charge of this season. Far too many of those calls are just plain wrong. It is hard not to suspect that Lyndon Bray, the man in charge of Sanzar’s refs, is too friendly to be objective about this.
Mr Lawrence influenced the World Cup to its detriment. He is now doing the same to the Super 15. If the refs’ boss won’t step in, then maybe Sky TV should. They pay the big money. I feel sorry for Mr Lawrence because he is out of his depth and there is absolutely no place for personal abuse in these discussions. But unfortunately his mistakes are continuing to affect a lot of people’s livelihoods and it is time to blow the whistle on the New Zealander and promote an up-and-comer.