WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The Irish playwright Oscar Wilde famously asserted that the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. Referees in Super Rugby likely would disagree.
For referees in most sports the hallmark of a good performance is that it quickly fades from memory. If the referee's performance is still being discussed days after a match, it's likely not out of admiration.
Referees were a talking point during the 14th round of Super Rugby from the first match to the last as a fermenting brew of bewilderment or disatisfaction with their decisions came to a boil.
Nobody doubts that referees in rugby have a hard job; few sports have such a complex or arcane compendium of laws to absorb and enforce. And while in other sports decisions are usually clear cut — a player is offside or not, a ball is in or out — rugby operates in shades of grey where interpretation takes precedence over unequivocal law.
Nor is the rugby rulebook sacred and unchanging. Laws are amended with almost every season as new rules or new applications of rules are created, often only to untangle knotty issues caused by previous attempts at change.
While the object is usually to produce a better and simpler game, the results are often challenging for referees and baffling for fans. The application of the laws appears to change not only from hemisphere to hemisphere or from match to match but within games themselves.
Rugby rules, also, are seldom intuitive. When a forward pass is not a forward pass because the ball went forward but was propelled backwards out of the hands — as was the case, or not, in one match this weekend — it is little wonder many fans feel lost.
It may be for that reason that rugby coaches are less openly critical of referees than those in some other professional sports. And, when they do question or criticize, they couch those views in cautious terms.
Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger was a case in point when he questioned the 12-3 penalty count against his team in its 38-29 to the Lions in Johannesburg, South Africa. Mauger suggested South African referee Rasta Rasivhenge might benefit from close analysis of his own performance.
"When you look at our process, we preview the game, we review the game and we take the learnings, so I'm sure when the referee looks back on his performance there'll be some things he'll need to tidy up," Mauger said. "Just like we hold ourselves and our players accountable, I'm sure there'll be a few questions around that performance."
Mauger was not the first visiting coach to find the refereeing in Johannesburg not to his taste. Only a week earlier the New South Wales Waratahs complained when South African referee Egon Seconds blew an 11-2 count against them in a match won by the Lions on a late penalty.
In a round-five match, Seconds came up with a 20-1 count against the Melbourne Rebels, making the count against visiting Antipodean teams 43-6 in three games.
The defending champion Crusaders were also miffed when they were forced to settle for a 19-19 draw with the Stormers in Cape Town, although Crusaders winger Sevu Reece appeared to have scored a match-winning try. The try was awarded, then disallowed on the intervention of television referee Marius Jonker, who ruled a "clear and obvious" forward pass, which was apparently less than "clear and obvious" to television viewers.
"We were obviously disappointed, we liked the first decision better," Crusaders assistant coach Brad Mooar said.
In New Zealand, the Hamilton-based Chiefs bridled after their loss to the Auckland-based Blues at two tries awarded to the Blues. In the second, Blues prop Ofa Tu'ingafasi knocked the ball on over the line.
"We didn't get the rub of the green," Chiefs coach Colin Cooper said. "Tries went their way which maybe should have been looked at and weren't looked at."
In a happier frame of mind, Argentina's Jaguares beat the Wellington-based Hurricanes a week after a series of contentious calls cost them a deserved win over the Highlanders.
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