MEXTED: Some referees care about rugby, some don’t

Over the years, I’ve observed and listened to many referees, firstly as a player, and for the last 20 years as a commentator. Referees are wired, and commentators hear everything they say, including their justification for decisions made in real time.

By , 15 Mar 2012

Referee Bryce Lawrence gestures for a scrum. AP Photo/Ross Land

This is the thing, of course.

The referee has to make a call instantly on what he thinks he has seen, and to a degree it is the same for opinionated commentators.

Often we’re proven to be incorrect on replays where all and sundry have the opportunity to see exactly what happened from several angles, often in slow motion.

So it’s a hard job being a referee and getting it all right.

The thing that concerns me most about referees is that they hold the power so firmly. A referee can decide the outcome of a game, and that affects players, coaches, sponsors and spectators.

It is indeed a powerful position.

When I first started commentating, I had long thought that the referees should be accountable if they had this sort of influence. At that stage, of course, to criticise a referee was just not on. It wasn’t the norm.

The game has since moved on and become very professional, and now and again, referees are held accountable by the powers that be. In my opinion, however, nowhere near as much as they should be.

There are highly qualified referees on the world stage who continually influence the result of matches that are close. These referees seem to remain in their post because, generally speaking, they are good referees and they do everything they should do politically off the field.

What also concerns me is what they do on the field.

Often, their personality influences their actions.

Bryce Lawrence is an example. Bryce doesn’t really care about rugby. Bryce cares about himself.

I see that time and again when he referees a game. On some occasions, he is very good. Perhaps it’s his mood. But on other occasions, he dominates to the detriment of the game and the spectacle for crowds and sponsors alike.

Steve Walsh? Well, he’s on a power trip and he enjoys that power position.

This is not all bad, if it doesn’t influence the game.

In my opinion, he rides with the team with possession, therefore the team in defence are scrutinised more precisely than the team with the ball. This makes it extremely difficult for the defensive team to turn over possession or to stop the attack.

What inevitably happens is that a try is scored or a penalty is given.

On the other hand, we have referees like Craig Joubert, Mark Lawrence and Jonathan Kaplan.

These three referees are all South African, which is irrelevant in my mind. But it is interesting to see the development of South African referees over the years.

I can clearly remember the days when South African referees were exceptionally parochial. At one point I played a match for Natal against one of the smaller unions in the north.

Approaching the referee at the cocktail party afterwards, I introduced myself and I said, “I’ve got no axe to grind here because I am just a visitor for the season for Natal, but I have never played in a match where the referee favoured the home team as much as I have today.”

His answer, in a heavy Afrikaans accent, was, “Murray, I have to live in this town.”

Well, we have clearly come a long way since those days, and I am delighted to see the quality of today’s South African referees. Somebody is doing a great job back there.

I’d like to add the name Vinny Munro to the three South African referees.

The four of them clearly like the game of rugby and want the game of rugby to be the victor. This type of attitude, provided they are vigilant where necessary, is fantastic for our game and the future of the game.

I bow to these referees.

On the other hand, I have no respect for referees that are pedantic about the point of the law to the detriment of what is a great team game. Power to the referees who love the game, I say.


Facebook Comments


  1. avatar


    March 15, 2012 at 4:24 am

    Go Murray…tell it like it is.

    Refs are only human and are prone to predicjuice, just, like us. It could be the home town support, attacking team syndrome or as with these two racist predicjuice.

    Personally somehting is up. We have had Bray and now Murray slamming two kiwi refs. Both of these refs are serial offenders.

    Are our kiwi’s feeling guilty…? My mates do! They are pretty coy now.

  2. avatar


    March 15, 2012 at 5:06 am

    Mexted just being his over-emotional,generalising self and he’s entitled to his opinion (of which I do not really disagree with)… however how can he even begin to quantify who ‘cares’ about rugby and who doesn’t…

  3. avatar


    March 15, 2012 at 8:33 am

    I disagree with this part:
    On the other hand, I have no respect for referees that are pedantic about the point of the law to the detriment of what is a great team game. Power to the referees who love the game, I say.”

    The problem with the game and the officiating of the game is that the referees do NOT apply the LAWS and interpret any BS to make the game flow for the sake of entertainment etc. What does this entertainment help the game? Maybe it gives youtube more clips of some fancy stuff but the game in full loses out IMO.

    For example why does the Law require the scrum feed to be straight? Because the scrum is supposed to be a contest! Why does the LAW require the players at a ruck to stay on their feet? Because it is supposed to be a CONTEST! etc etc etc,

  4. avatar


    March 15, 2012 at 8:39 am

    BTW: All this ref bashing is not helping rugby and if this goes on it all spread to the players and we will end up like soccer! You want that?


  5. avatar


    March 15, 2012 at 8:57 am

    My FB comments: no one is really identifying the true culprits in this IMO: The “entertainment” argument being pushed by the TV guys have created this “forget the Laws and make the game flow” situation and that is killing rugby. Apply the letter of the Law and the gas will sort it self out and most important of all it will become consistent! The referees are only doing what they are told by their employers!


    YOu can’t pick and choose which Laws to apply in a game to make sure it is entertaining! It still comes down to a contest to win the game – forget the entertainment value, that will come with consistancy!

  6. avatar


    March 15, 2012 at 9:54 am

    Reply to JT_BOKBEFOK! @ 8:33 am: Reply to JT_BOKBEFOK! @ 8:39 am: Reply to JT_BOKBEFOK! @ 8:57 am:

    Yep… yep and yep!

    Every one of the recent ‘controversial’ games could have been won if the teams protected their ball better, counter-rucked on opposition ball better, made their tackles and took all their opportunities…

    All this blaming the ref ‘only’ when a game is lost is long beyond tiresome…

  7. avatar


    March 15, 2012 at 10:01 am

    Reply to bryce_in_oz @ 9:54 am:

    IMO there is a problem with the refereeing but it in very few cases determine who wins or loses. The ref does not miss tackles, knock on the ball or throw it forward HOWEVER the ref does determine what is a legal or illegal steal at the breakdown, he determines who is slowing down ball and who is not intefering with play so he does have a big influence on the game.

    If the referee has to concentrate on getting the calls right in an exact order (see previous post on “fix the ref…” thread) then he will have less time to worry about entertainment value and we will see more consistency and hence he will have less influence on the outcome because it will then be down to the players to keep their noses clean and not give away penalties.

    At the moment the frustrating thing is that only some penalties are given and others ignored and fans see that as cheating/bias or incompetance all thanks to entertainment… are we entertained in S15 2012? Not yet :cheers:

  8. avatar


    March 15, 2012 at 10:06 am

    the old saying IMO still apllies: The forwards determine who wins or loses a game and the back by how much!

    How I long for those days! :whistling:

  9. avatar

    The Year of the Cheetah

    March 15, 2012 at 12:16 pm

    Yip ref blaming is not helping anyone.

    Just sort out the scrum and allow players to pull down the maul. The rest I can live with

  10. avatar


    March 15, 2012 at 12:27 pm

    Reply to The Year of the Cheetah @ 12:16 pm:

    Reply to The Year of the Cheetah @ 12:16 pm:

    scrums: take out the hit!

    the rest: apply the LAWS – ALL of them!

  11. avatar

    Cosa die BLOUBOK

    March 15, 2012 at 12:40 pm

    Reply to JT_BOKBEFOK! @ 10:01 am:
    Hi JT.

    I mostly agree, with the exception that a ref can determine the course of a game, by allowing the 1/2 metre of space (on the off-side line, or slowing down) to a specific team.

    With this I refer to a ref’s inconsistence that can spoil an attacking team.

  12. avatar


    March 15, 2012 at 12:56 pm

    Reply to JT_BOKBEFOK! @ 10:01 am:

    I most certainly am… the last Saders game was gold… Reds/Rebels a slog-fest… Cane’s/Force a sight to behold… and then there were the onie-pointer’s down to the wire…

    Loving it…

  13. avatar


    March 15, 2012 at 12:57 pm

    Reply to bryce_in_oz @ 12:56 pm:

    And add every game the Highlanders have played…

  14. DavidS


    March 15, 2012 at 2:08 pm


    Have refs not brought this upon themselves with their high handed arrogance even demanding the IRB discipline players who disagree publicly with them.

    In my view they have made their bed by choosing Paddy NoBrain as their boss and backing poor referees and having their little closed boys club and threatening anyone who suggests they make mistakes…

    1984 = Refs under Paddy NoBrain…

    Kind of like the rugby version of Catholic dogma.

  15. DavidS


    March 15, 2012 at 2:24 pm

    What is that Latin saying?

    Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

    This applies to the refs…

    Paddy NoBrain set them up to be untouchable and godlike above us.

    Even court judges are subject to review.

    TOO MUCH rides on correct refereeing decisions for them to “interpret” the laws to suit the wonts of television producers.

    It is no longer a question of amateurs going home fuming.

    Nowadays a poor refereeing call can cost millions

    Referees need to realize what a responsible position they have.

    I once said about refs.

    They do not have to be 100% perfect all the time… all we want them is to be 100% correct for 80 – 85 minutes per week… Is that REALLY too much to ask?

  16. avatar


    March 15, 2012 at 8:11 pm

    Brian Moore and the other commentator on the BBC Eng v France game:
    Moore ” that is not the LAW!?”
    OCom: “he is interpreting the law”
    Moore “That is exactly what is getting us (rugby) in the mess we are in!”



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