Monday 18 November 2019

IRB have blind spot in dealing with mistakes of referees

Sean Diffley

American TV presenter Jay Leno wanted a career in sport when he was a youngster, but, he said: "I had to give it up. I'm only 6ft tall, so I couldn't play basketball. I only weigh 190lbs, so I couldn't play football. And I have perfect 20-20 vision, so I couldn't be a referee".

As for today's official in charge of crouch, touch, pause, engage at Lansdowne Road, Bryce Lawrence, I can reveal that he was 40 years old on the day before Christmas Eve last, is from New Zealand, and will be refereeing his third Six Nations match, but I have no idea of his ability to determine, through his presumed 20-20 vision, if a ball is worthy of a quick throw-in from touch.

Those professional referees who control the big internationals are expected, by the International Rugby Board's referees' co-ordinator, Paddy O'Brien, to be as fit as the players.

As O'Brien has written: "When the ball is in play for more time than ever and with players becoming fitter and faster, the world's top referees often cover up to eight kilometres and undertake 400 changes in speed during the average Test match, while heart rates can be up to 70pc in the high-intensity zone, which is comparable to many athletic disciplines."

All very well, O'Brien, but have you taken note of the 400 changes in heart rate of the thousands of Irish rugby fans when referee Jonathan Kaplan and touch judge Peter Allan made a cobblers of the quick throw when everyone watching events knew the ball had gone into the outer regions of the Millennium stadium?

So then, International Rugby Board, physical fitness should not be Plan A for referees. A greater degree of understanding of the playing laws might be a better place on which to set their focus.

As for Allan, where did they get him? In the 11 seasons of the Six Nations, he has never been called upon to referee a Test. As for referee Kaplan, he is considered so capable by the powers-that-be that his 17th match, this famed one in Cardiff, put him top of the list in the Six Nations. And it also means that he has been in charge of 60 Tests, a world record for a referee.

But in 2009, when the Lions played the Sharks in Durban, referee Kaplan, from Durban, virtually blew Lions prop Gethin Jenkins out of the game when all except Kaplan knew that it was the Sharks prop, Jannie Du Plessis, who was collapsing the scrum. The Lions won in the end, but Sky TV pundit Paul Wallace referred to Kaplan's performance as "one of the worst I've ever seen".

Lions coach Ian McGeechan was also furious at the ridiculous 16-11 penalty count against the Lions. But Kaplan's career didn't suffer. What on earth is going on in the referees' department of the International Board. It's the Great Crisis, isn't it, much more serious than set-scrum difficulties?

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