Something I picked up on this year while watching various international matches is the difference between southern hemisphere and northern hemisphere refereeing. Maybe it’s because I like what I’m used to or maybe it’s simply because the refs down under are useless but the officials from Europe appear far superior.
The best-known and possibly most respected referee in the Super 14 is Jonathan Kaplan. A shocking display in last nights contest between the Lions and the Sharks by the Durban native seemed to sum up the low quality of refereeing of southern hemisphere rugby and the impact it could have on this Lions tour. At the best of times Kaplan was erratic and inconsistent, at the worst of times he was plainly incorrect and unpersuasive.
The scrum has been pin-pointed as a possible weakness in the Boks’ game and is undoubtedly an area of strength Lions. Their superiority could be nullified however, if Kaplan’s approach was repeated. When each and every scrum was going down on the same side it was obvious that one prop was unable to take the hit and was collapsing. Inexplicably Kaplan refused to stand on the side where the problem existed opting instead to guess, and guess incorrectly that Gethin Jenkins was the culprit. Replay after replay showed the Welsh prop staying on his feet while his opponent du Plessis dragged the scum down. Having obviously been informed of his repeated mistake at half time the ref whistled in favour of the lions when the scrum went down in the second half.
I somehow contained my urge to lash out at the TV when Kaplan declined to go to his pocket when a yellow card was clearly in order early in the second half. On his ref-mic the official could be heard saying “…repeated infringements by the same player in dangerous positions…” and yet, amazingly that conduct doesn’t warrant a card. Basic common sense dictates that infringements such as those described by Kaplan himself must produce a card.
Crucially Kaplan stamped no clear authority on the breakdown. In fact there seemed to be one rule for the Sharks and another for the Lions. Geech’s men were constantly pinged for not rolling away and holding on but when black jerseys flopped over rucks, lay on the wrong side and made no effort to roll away the Referee saw nothing wrong. If this vital aspect of the game is not controlled in a clear and proper way the tourists will be left guessing as to what they can and can’t do, leaving them with the options of playing a low-risk game at the breakdown to stem the penalty count or try to upset Bok ball at the risk of being penalised…. neither option is going to please Gatland, Edwrads or McGeechan.
In a tour where the odds are already stacked heavily against the Lions, the last thing they need is refereeing inconsistency. Unless the tests are ruled with greater authority and clarity the Lions may find themselves beaten before they even get a chance to play.