Paddy O’Brien, the IRB’s head of refs, told me before the start of the tournament that no World Cup had ever been decided by the man in the middle.
It is a highly debatable claim and certainly the refs went out of their way to try to get Australia over the line in 2003. But you would not rule out this Rugby World Cup being decided on a shonky decision.
Mr Bryce Lawrence, the son of an official, is rated rather highly by those in charge of the whistle blowers. But a lot of players and fans have absolutely no idea why. He made a complete hash of today’s game between Australia and South Africa and the Springboks will be furious.
They identified the breakdown as a crucial area of the match beforehand, but they did expect there to be some sort of reffing.
The South Africans thought that the tackler would have to release the ball carrier. They thought that the offside line would be respected. They thought that men would have to stay on the feet. Instead it was a complete shambles.
The trouble is that Lawrence has form at this sort of thing. He was given the final of Super Rugby for apparently being the best ref in the tournament.
Some of us thought that the South African refs were in an altogether different class. They would also have had the advantage of being neutral as the final was between an Aussie and a Kiwi side. But no, Mr Lawrence got the nod.
And despite all the fantastic players on the pitch, the match became a farce because Lawrence had absolutely no control over the breakdown. Players were diving in on all sides. It became a free-for-all.
What could have been a great game of rugby turned into a mess, because Lawrence did not rule the breakdown.
So should we be surprised at today’s snore. More often than not dull matches are greatly contributed to by the refs inability to be accurate at the contact area. Yes, South Africa are nothing like as efficient there without the great Juan Smith to clean out.
But unless the IRB’s refs get a grip we are going to have some really dull semi-finals. Hopefully the guys who can really get a grip at the breakdown – the South Africans and the Northern Hemisphere refs – will be put in charge of the final four matches.
If we let a Kiwi near the games, then it will be more mayhem. South Africa will feel cheated. And they have every right to complain.
The Aussies have already made one New Zealand ref – Steve Walsh – one of their own. Lawrence could well be next in line for honorary citizenship.