- South African official Stuart Berry – who whistled the Queensland Reds off Ellis Park in Johannesburg on the weekend – is among four Super Rugby referees axed for poor performances. Berry, compatriot Lourens van der Merwe, Argentina’s Francisco Pastrana and Australian referee Angus Gardner were all stood down by governing body SANZAR on Monday.
- March 24, 2014 – 6:36PM
The quartet paid the price for sub-par displays as SANZAR referees boss Lyndon Bray takes a hard stance on improving the competition’s standard of refereeing. Bray last week indicated there would be a purge of officials at the end of the month but has wielded the axe a week early, following continued on-field controversies.
Berry had come under widespread criticism – from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa – after he penalised the Reds 17-4 against the Lions, who came back from 20-3 down to win 23-20 in Johannesburg on Sunday morning Australian time. Reds coach Richard Graham, particularly incensed by the final 10 minutes of the game, said he’d never seen such a lop-sided count.
Berry was due to stand as assistant referee in Pretoria this weekend but has been taken off duty for at least two weeks, as has Gardner.
The performances of Berry, who awarded a controversial try to the Lions against the Blues the week before, and van der Merwe in South Africa had sparked renewed calls for SANZAR to return to neutral referees.
Graham had previously made a formal complaint about van der Merwe’s display in Queensland’s 35-20 loss to the Sharks in Durban the week before.
Cheetahs coach Naka Drotske was just as cutting after panning Pastrana following his side’s 40-30 loss to the Blues in Auckland.
Van der Merwe has been stripped of controlling this Saturday’s Blues-Highlanders clash in Auckland, while Pastrana has been replaced by Nick Briant, who will referee Friday night’s Crusaders-Hurricanes game in Christchurch.
Bray has dismissed the need for neutral referees but said decreasing the pool of officials would see more consistency, with the very best handling more games heading into the finals. ”One of our core strategic objectives is to grow the depth of the team that is able to referee ‘any game, any time’,” he said. ”In line with this, we have reduced the size of the team heading into the next phase of the competition and in doing so, have recognised who has performed to expectation and who has not.”