Ref rant set to land Venter in the dock
THE wrath of the English Rugby Football Union (RFU) seems likely to descend on Brendan Venter after his verbal assault on refereeing after the Guinness Premiership match between Saracens and Leicester on Saturday.
The union's legal officials are studying reports of Venter's comments to judge whether they have brought the game into disrepute.
"It is the RFU's view that negative public commentary on the performance of referees, either individually or collectively, (does) not enhance the image of the game," a statement said.
If Karena Vleck, Twickenham's legal officer, finds a case to answer, it will be referred to Judge Jeff Blackett, the disciplinary officer.
The union has also complained that the comments volunteered by Venter in the post-match press conference contravene the code of conduct agreed between the RFU and Premier Rugby Ltd (PRL), the Premiership clubs' umbrella body.
The former South Africa centre, who took over as the Saracens director of rugby last summer, will be summoned to a meeting with the RFU and PRL to be "reminded of his responsibilities".
Venter's comments were clearly the result of considerable reflection on the state of the game, a process that began with the defeat by London Irish a week earlier. In the course of the normal review with the refereeing hierarchy that followed that game, Venter identified 25 illegalities by London Irish which went unpunished -- an opinion shared, he claimed, by Tony Spreadbury, the RFU assessor and former international referee -- and his displeasure only increased after the defeat by Leicester in a game littered with penalties.
"The RFU believes Mr Venter's comments to be unfounded," Rob Andrew, the RFU director of elite rugby, said. "We have one of the most advanced elite refereeing development programmes in world rugby. If there are concerns to be expressed, then we have existing tried and tested channels for doing so."
It is Venter's contention that the tried and tested channels have not worked, hence his decision to speak out. His error is in the timing; his remarks came in the wake of successive defeats rather than during the winning run that has kept Saracens at the top of the table since early October.
"I think the penalties out there are random. Basically there's no idea what's going on out there," he opined after watching games handled, respectively, by Dean Richards and David Rose.
In the first half of Saturday's game, Rose awarded nine penalties to Saracens and only three to Leicester, who also had Boris Stankovich, their prop, sent to the sin-bin. In the second half the count was 10-4 the other way and Saracens lost Steve Borthwick, their captain, to a yellow card at a critical stage of the game in the last quarter.
Venter described it as a "12-0 swing" and also claimed that Ben Youngs, the Leicester scrum-half, deliberately passed the ball into Borthwick when the England captain was trying to get back from an offside position.
Venter made a similar complaint in September, accusing Lee Dickson, Northampton's scrum-half, of the same action. But he also made clear that his argument was as much with the management of games by officials who have been encouraged, in the past 15 years, to talk more to players and warn them about actual or pending offences rather than issue a punishment.
By the time they have done that, Venter contends, an attacking opportunity has been lost.
"Respect is one of rugby's core values and that must include respect for match officials at all times," Andrew insisted, echoing an observation made by the Scottish Rugby Union 20 years ago that said referees had to be supported, most particularly when they are wrong.
Richard Cockerill, Leicester's head coach, has had his own issues with referees this season, having just returned from a four-week match-day ban for verbal abuse of an official. "I wasn't happy with the referee last week, (but) I went home and watched the video and he was OK," Cockerill said.
"Saracens are not a side that scores many tries; they don't concede many. If you hold the ball for long periods of time, which we did, you're likely to get more penalties than the opposition." (© The Times, London)