Home All Black Rugby Mark Reason: Wellington Sevens final refereeing charade an embarrassment

Mark Reason: Wellington Sevens final refereeing charade an embarrassment

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aOPINION: Brendan Venter, the former Springbok centre and current technical director of Saracens, has called for an investigation. And it is not cricket in Mumbai or tennis in St Petersburg that Venter is concerned about, but rugby in Wellington, the home of the New Zealand Rugby Union.

The Boks are outraged by both the refereeing of their pool match and their final against New Zealand at the Wellington sevens and while it may go against the grain to feel empathy with a South African rugby supporter, they have a point.

The officiating of both those matches made any neutral observer wonder what the hell was going on.

The penalty count in the final was 9-1 in favour of New Zealand.

Let’s start with the final. The penalty count in that match was 9-1 in favour of New Zealand and they were not the dominant side. Every marginal call went their way. They got away with forward passes and knock-ons, while South Africa were penalised, once quite crucially, for knock-ons that seemed to have propelled the ball back out of the hand.

New Zealand were allowed to do whatever they liked at the breakdown.

They came in from ludicrously offside positions to clean out, notably in an important try scored by Rieko Ioane.

Matt O’Brien’s refereeing of the final has come under fire in South Africa.

In contrast South Africa were penalised at one breakdown even when the men in black were not competing for the ball.

South Africa raised their arms to appeal for high tackles that weren’t given and then heard the whistle blown against them once more. They raised their arms to appeal against Akira Ioane diving in off his feet and wrestling a ball clear. South Africa almost stopped playing, so obvious was the penalty.

The whole charade was an embarrassment and it made you wonder two things. Does the sevens circuit covertly endorse home town refereeing in order to boost ticket sales. And was the appointment of the referee for Sunday’s final as neutral as those of us who just love sport have a right to expect.

The referee in question was Matt O’Brien. He had already refereed New Zealand’s quarter final against Kenya when he let a New Zealand pass go that was 10 metres forward. That is not an exaggeration.

Despite such a blunder, O’Brien was appointed to the final. O’Brien referees under the flag of Australia, but he is a New Zealander. He is also the son of Paddy O’Brien, who is World Rugby’s man in charge of sevens officials.

When stuff like this goes on, it is almost impossible to avoid the charge of nepotism. There is no way that Paddy O’Brien should be in a position of power when his son is a likely candidate. There is no way that Matt O’Brien should officiate New Zealand matches when he is clearly a Kiwi. Both then become hostages to misfortune.

This country has a poor history when it comes to home town bias, most infamously in the disgraceful umpiring of the cricket series against the West Indies. It was the series when Michael Holding kicked over the stumps, Colin Croft barged an umpire and Lawrence Rowe said, “You’re nothing but a pack of cheats.”

It did not help when one of the umpires said in an after dinner speech, “I didn’t know the main export from the West Indies was the Coconut Rough.”

One of the great sadnesses of that series was that New Zealand’s batsmendid not choose to take the moral high ground and walk when they knew that they had edged the ball. By standing their ground they were endorsing cheating.

Now although I am not suggesting that Matt O’Brien deliberately favoured New Zealand on Sunday, I am suggesting he was wearing Kiwi goggles, influenced by his Southland upbringing and playing time at Otago University, and by the noise of the crowd.

I suspect he will review the match coverage and cringe with embarrassment. I feel sorry for O’Brien.

He is an honest official put in an invidious position and the occasion got the better of him.

It is the same embarrassment that cricket umpire Billy Bowden should feel for refusing to give Corey Anderson out in the one-day international against Pakistan.

Bowden could apparently hear a thin inside edge in the Pakistani innings, but not when Anderson got a snick that could be heard in the stands.

It may have been a good weekend for Kiwi sport in terms of results, but it was a bad weekend in terms of integrity. It was disappointing none of New Zealand’s sevens leaders could have sympathised with South Africa, who were also done over by Stuart Adamson in the group stages.

MARK REASON for NZ stuff

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7 COMMENTS

  1. It happens in XVs too
    NZ are apparently untouchable…
    Like none of their players have ever received a red card in a test..
    No seriously…
    How does that work?

  2. Before anyone gets carried away, you need to be informed that this journo is a UK expat living in NZ who has carried on in the tradition of his journo dad, John. That is to trash the All Blacks at every opportunity as he infamously did during RWC 2011.

    Having said that, why is it that the IRB does not appoint neutral referees during important tournaments like the 7’s?

  3. Neutral/Non-neutral is not the problem. The gambling industry is. What is the chance that gambling entities have paid referees for rugby “fixes” already?
    Going by the revelations from other sports – Almost a certainty.

  4. The referee did not choose too many Orks in the side which saw the forwards having to attempt to cover every tackle resulting in 2-3 players committed on occasion in a game of 7 players…

    The referee did not throw that speculative over-head pass, on attack and in the AB’s 22 with 1 minute to play…

  5. @Timeo:

    Agree 100%. More and more evidence of all sorts of dodgy things are coming into the light for other sports, why do we always assume rugby is clean?

  6. @Craven: Indeed…

    It is becoming increasingly obvious in rugby in particular that referees are not immune to vagaries…

    As far back as 2001 that Welsh guy who fellates England Stephen something or other suggested that New Zealand intimidated referees and referees cannot blow when in NZ.

    Romain Poite’s handling of the one Bok game is surely proof of this

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