Worst start to the season in recent years for referee abuse in Manawatu rugby
The Manawatu Rugby Union has vowed to continue its hard line on referee abuse after its worst start to the season in five years.
Four players have fronted the Manawatu judiciary already this year for referee abuse, including one player copping a 60-week suspension.
Manawatu Rugby Union operations manager Martin Brady said it had been a disappointing start to the year.
"This is the most referee abuse cases that we have had in probably five years," he said. "We have never had four in a season."
"We feel like a broken record, but we will not be changing our stance on referee abuse. If you continue to do this, the punishment will fit the crime. Any form of referee abuse will not tolerated."
In April, Te Kawau colts player William Fugle copped the heaviest suspension this year after he dropped his shoulder into a referee during a match.
He was subsequently banned from all rugby for 60 weeks for physical abuse of a referee, meaning he will not be able to return until June next year.
Bulls senior two player Ioane Meleah was banned for 24 for "threatening words and actions" towards a referee, also in April.
Referee Brittany Andrew red carded him for the incident which was then referred to the judiciary.
Two further players fronted the judiciary last week.
They were both found guilty of verbal abuse of a referee with Feilding Old Boys-Oroua's Jordan Trevelyan banned for six weeks and Old Boys-Marist's Leighton Osgood was banned for two weeks.
Brady said the union would be getting in touch with rugby clubs to reiterate their message.
"In the next week the clubs and schools will be receiving a letter again reiterating Manawatu Rugby's stance on referee abuse and that is that it will not be tolerated," he said.
At the union's annual meeting earlier this year, chairman Tim Myers put the onus on the clubs to stamp out referee abuse.
"The problem that we all face when it comes to referee abuse is never going to be solved sitting in a boardroom table downstairs once a month, " he said. "We can be as supportive as we like, but until we are actually owning that particular issue where it matters out on the field, we are not going to make much headway.
"That issue around referee abuse has to be owned by people on the sidelines and it has to be owned by the clubs."
Referee abuse has been linked to the shrinking numbers of referees.
While community rugby manager Ben Koch said referee numbers this year were similar to last year, there is still a shortage in the region - a presidents and a colts match have no referee assigned to them this weekend.
Brady said aside from the referee abuse cases, the Manawatu judiciary was seeing its normal levels of traffic, despite the stricter line being taken on head high tackles.
But he said the effect of the high tackle rulings was seen by the yellow card count.
"We are sitting on 95 [yellow cards] at the moment and last year we had at the same time 57," he said. "We were always expecting that. The threshold for yellow cards has been lowered, particularly around head highs."
Aside from the quartet of referee abuse cases, the only other senior player to be suspended this year was College Old Boys halfback Karl Bryson.
He was banned for eight weeks for stamping after being deemed to have made contact with the head of Varsity hooker Nick Grogan in week two of the competition.
This is the final week of his ban so he will be available to play from next week.
Referee abuse bans in Manawatu since 2015:
2017: William Fugle (60 weeks) - physical abuse of referee
2017: Ioane Meleah (24 weeks) - threatening words and actions towards a referee
2017: Jordan Trevelyan (6 weeks) - verbal abuse of referee
2017: Leighton Osgood (2 weeks) - verbal abuse of referee
2016: Pama Paisami (life ban) - physical abuse of referee (punching)
2015: Tipene Campbell (10 years) - verbal abuse and spitting at referee
2015: Wiremu Hape (two and half years) - verbal abuse of referee
2015: Rangi Ranginui (35 weeks) - verbal abuse of referee