Robson: No-one wins when refs get it wrong

TOBY ROBSON
Last updated 05:00 20/05/2013
Victor Vito
CRAIG SIMCOX/Fairfax NZ
REF UNDER SIEGE: Referee Lourens van der Merwe gets stuck between Hurricanes loose forward Victor Vito (left) and Chiefs lock Craig Clarke during their Super Rugby match in Wellington.

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OPINION: Blaming the referee is a sure-fire way to paint yourself as a sore loser, but Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett had some fair points after his side's loss to the Chiefs.

He will lodge a formal complaint today about the performance of South African referee Lourens van der Merwe in Wellington on Friday night.

Hammett's discussion with the Sanzar referees boss Lyndon Bray will not give the Hurricanes back any competition points, but it highlights a growing issue for Super Rugby.

Two weeks ago it was Chiefs coach Dave Rennie doing the fuming after a TMO failed to call a "ridiculous" forward pass in a match against the Rebels.

The Chiefs won, but what if it had been the difference between making or missing the playoffs?

That could well be the price of van der Merwe's errors during the Hurricanes' 17-12 loss at Westpac Stadium on Friday night.

The Hurricanes believe the South African cost them nine valuable points during the first half.

They enjoyed 63 per cent possession and 55 per cent territory, but trailed 12-9 on the scoreboard.

The three contentious calls Hammett raised after the match were:

1: Victor Vito was penalised for leaving his feet when the Hurricanes had clearly won possession legally by clearing out a ruck.

2: Lock Jason Eaton was penalised for playing the ball at the tackle when he appeared to have rights to do so as the tackler.

3: Andre Taylor was penalised for "playing the halfback" despite legally coming through to clean out a Chiefs defender.

Chiefs lock Brodie Retallick was also marginally offside when he charged down TJ Perenara's kick for the only try of the match.

It's not the first time the Hurricanes have been frustrated. Hammett was less than impressed with Australian referee Steve Walsh after a loss to the Reds in round three.

Other coaches have publicly aired concerns about officials and the Stormers' ire bubbled over on the sidelines in Palmerston North.

Rugby's referees have not become worse this season, but the game's financial stakes are rising and the differences between success and failure are closing.

Officials are becoming more accountable and at the same time the pace of the game and quality of the athletes are increasing.

Rugby's bosses must look closely at the situation before a refereeing error decides a showpiece match, as it did during the All Blacks' 2007 Rugby World Cup quarterfinal exit.

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American sports competitions such as the NFL and NBA are criticised in some quarters for being overly officious, but perhaps rugby needs to look again at the idea of having more eyes on the action.

The TMO is a step in the right direction despite some incompetence thus far, but it does not address technicalities such as the ruck and maul.

Perhaps it is time to consider a second on-field official as they have in the NRL.

- The Dominion Post

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