Bray: ‘Referees have improved’

Sanzar head of referees Lyndon Bray says there has been an improvement in the quality of officiating in Super Rugby this season compared to 2011.

Referees have been crictised on all platforms in recent weeks – in media reports and social media, and by coaches, players and the public. This comes after the strict application of the law at the breakdowns, tackle points and scrums and several controversial calls, which have had an influence on results in some cases. The latest saga comes after the Brumbies’ 24-23 win over the Cheetahs in Canberra last weekend, which saw the hosts surpass a 13-point deficit in the second half after the Bloemfontein franchise was heavily penalised by Kiwi referee Keith Brown in the final quarter.

However, Bray didn’t believe referees have had a negative impact on the game. Speaking on SuperSport’s weekly rugby programme Boots & All , he provided stats which suggested that the quality of officiating has improved compared to last season’s records.

According to Bray, the average penalty count per match in 2011 was 24. After three rounds this year, it is 23. He noted that the success rate of a ball reaching the No 8 in the scrum was 45% last season. That percentage has increased to 62.5% so far in 2012. He also acknowledged that there have been less tries scored this year compared to the same stage in 2011 (there were 87 tries scored after three rounds in 2011, and 80 after three rounds in 2012), but he didn’t believe this was because of the referees.

‘We can see that some of the stats show that there has been an improvement compared to last year. The increased percentage of clean scrums is a success story. It was a frustrating part of the game last season, especially for the spectators,’ said Bray.

‘There has been a decrease of tries compared to 2011, but there are certain reasons for this. Teams have been defensively well organised this season. I think defence is winning the battle so far. We are also seeing coaches and players taking the decision to kick for posts more often too.’

Bray went on to admit that there were occasions where referees have made the wrong decisions, but said there were post-match procedures in place to try and minimise these errors.

‘The reality is that we’re never going to be able to stop mistakes from happening. Referees are no different to players,’ said Bray. ‘But refereeing is a part of the game we are working hard on. We are trying to achieve a better consistency. We also want to ensure that if we do make mistakes, it has a smaller impact on the game.

‘There is a review procedure that referees follow after the match too. They have the best technology made available to them, and they carry out a self-review, which gets handed over to me. I then read through it and discuss the different points with the respective referee. We talk about his mistakes, strengths and what he needs to do to improve.

‘People also believe that referees don’t get dropped. This is not true. We had 18 referee changes last season because some lost form while others performed really well. This is a job that comes with a lot of pressure and we want to do it well. We take accountability for our actions.’

Other topics discussed were the role of the TMOs and what was being done to regulate the law interpretations in the southern and northern hemisphere. Bray said Sanzar has been discussing this with his ERC counterpart Donal Courtney and IRB head of referees Paddy O’Brien.

‘I’ve been in regular discussions with Donal and Paddy about the law interpretations and we are working hard to ensure that the application of the law is the same in all professional rugby. We especially want to drive this at Test level,’ said Bray.

‘There have been issues around the TMO. People must realise that it’s not the referee or TMO’s fault for the limitations on communication. This is because of the IRB’s protocol and we’ve [Sanzar] have been discussing about the chances of extending the TMO’s role. But we also have to respect the IRB, who is the council that controls this game.’