RYAN VREDE writes it is ludicrous that Brendan Venter will face a misconduct charge for saying what most astute observers know is true.
It seems to have become fashionable to lash the Saracens director of rugby into line in Europe. In the past two years the former Springbok centre has faced a battery of charges and been slapped with various sanctions, the most serious of those coming after he allegedly struck a female Leicester supporter and made provocative and insulting gestures to the home fans, whom he was surrounded by thanks to some questionable seating planning.
He vehemently denied all charges, accepting only that at the final whistle he stood up, bowed at the enraged fans, blew them a kiss and cried: ‘I love you all!’ Venter heard the verdict while chomping on an oatmeal biscuit which he had grabbed during recess, and it was duly interpreted as an act of defiance from the judge, who handed down a 14-game ban which included the Premiership final.
Now Venter has been pinned once more, this time by European Rugby Cup [ERC] officials for comments relating to the manner in which French referee Christophe Berdos managed the breakdown in Saracens’ 25-23 European Cup defeat to Leinster earlier this month. He also expressed concerns about the future of the game if referees’ interpretations at that facet of play continue to vary as greatly as they do.
He said: ‘Before the European Cup began, I asked if we would have a conference so all the officials from abroad were in tune as to the new interpretations of the laws.
‘Instead, we got some European referees in the Premiership, but there is a real danger that if we don’t take action going into a World Cup year, the game of rugby is going to die, be killed stone dead because the public won’t come to watch.
‘We will end up playing one type of rugby in the league, another in Europe and when you get to the World Cup, wait and see which referee you get. Last season we won 10 games in a row playing a kicking game, a horrible game to watch, but necessary because the breakdown regulations favoured defending teams.’
Anyone who watched the tense but dull affair will agree that Berdos’ performance was diabolical. It appeared that he had no understanding of the new breakdown law interpretations. Venter’s fury wasn’t misplaced. In fact, Berdos deserved more scathing criticism.
Instead it will be Venter who faces punitive action, not Berdos. A Frenchman chairs the three-man independent disciplinary committee who will decide Venter’s fate in Dublin next week. No prizes for predicting the outcome then.
Venter didn’t bring the game into disrepute, as the ERC allege. Berdos, through his utter incompetence, did. The law interpretations were introduced to promote a more free-flowing and ultimately more attractive brand of rugby. When applied correctly they achieve that purpose, while still allowing skilled poachers opportunities to pilfer.
However, Berdos is not alone in his failings. A number of southern hemisphere officials still struggle to accurately apply the laws in a manner that results in the fluid contest we all desire. But, in the professional era, we can no longer tolerate mediocrity from referees and we certainly cannot continue to shield them from legitimate criticism, which is precisely what Venter offered.