Super Rugby referee boss Lyndon Bray has issued a warning to Super Rugby players after it seems the Highlanders Ben Smith confronted the referee Nick Briant over a try that the Crusaders scored in their match on Saturday.
The sight of Smith attempting to address the referee when he was supposed to stay on his line must not be repeated, said Bray.
“The perception, immediately for all of us watching it, is that we believe Ben Smith influenced that outcome,” Bray said. “We can’t have that perception by allowing the captain to walk out to where the conversion is taking place.
“Did he influence it? No. But it certainly looked that way. And that is what we have to protect because it is not his role, and not his right, to engage in a discussion when the referee is allowing play to continue.”
Bray said he had emailed and spoken to Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger, who, after the match, had praised Smith for approaching Briant.
“I know Nick Briant would have felt uncomfortable with Ben Smith coming all the way out to the conversion,” Bray noted. “I have talked to Aaron Mauger directly about that, and we have signed-off that Ben Smith is not entitled to take that approach. And I am going to be writing to all 15 head coaches with the summary of what the Highlanders have accepted, and what has to be our agreed protocol going forward.
“The bottom line is there is no way we want to see that become a regular practice.”
Bray said he had full confidence that the Highlanders and Smith understood his point of view.
Unlike football, where players often rush the referee to bleat about a contentious call, or in the NRL where players are at times more vocal when unhappy about a decision, rugby players have a reputation for being respectful towards the officials.
Bray said it was vital for the integrity of the game that there should be no repeat of the Smith incident at Forsyth Barr Stadium.
“I have total confidence with Ben, and certainly the Highlanders reaction, that they understand very clearly now where the boundary has been set. We just have to make sure all the teams understand the dialogue we have just had.
“It’s too important for the game. It’s one of the things that sets rugby apart from particular games like soccer, that we really do have a strong and healthy respect for the role. It’s just an example where we have make it clear that it becomes unacceptable behaviour.”