Bryce hangs up whistle

New Zealand referee Bryce Lawrence has retired after officiating his 200th first-class match.

Lawrence, who faced mass criticism from the South African rugby fraternity after his poor performance during the Wallabies’ victory over the Springboks in the 2011 World Cup quarter-finals, became the fourth Kiwi official to reach the 200-match mark. He follows Paddy O’Brien (221 matches), Paul Honiss (220) and Steve Walsh (210).

Lawrence also refereed 25 Tests and 60 Super Rugby games.

He told the Bay of Plenty Times that he was forced into retirement because of the threats he received after the World Cup.

‘It got pretty bad,’ said Lawrence. \Not really threats on my family as such, there was a concern, but it was mainly aimed at me through social media. On Facebook they launched a ‘get rid of Bryce Lawrence’ site and it was pretty nasty.

‘That was absolutely the reason for my career change. I got told at the end of the World Cup that I would have a break from Test rugby for the Six Nations and I could totally accept that as there has to be a consequence for poor performance.

‘I was told I would be brought back in the middle of this year, as I was ranked in the top three or four referees in the world. But because of the political reaction from rugby unions like Australia and South Africa behind the scenes, they dropped me.

‘Sanzar used me but not in South Africa, so eventually they said it was getting tough having you in the draw, because we have to keep making changes to keep you in the system when you are not going to South Africa, so see you later. So I knew I was not able to referee at the level I needed to be re-contracted, really – all because of that one game.’

Lawrence also admitted that there was outside influence going into the Wallabies-Springbok quarter-final clash.

‘I went into the game knowing it was a massive match and I didn’t want to overly influence the outcome and that was in the back of my mind. The way that transpired was I didn’t make decisions and if I had my time again I would just go out there and do what I normally do, which is just referee and back myself.

‘I had four really good games at the World Cup and then I had that. I had outside pressure from pretty senior people from rugby countries behind the scenes that really created my mindset of lacking confidence to deliver what I normally do.

‘There was some pretty nasty political stuff going on about that appointment. I refereed Australia versus Ireland and Ireland had won but behind the scenes guys like [Australian CEO] John O’Neill were kicking up a massive stink. I knew a bit about that and it was enough to affect me, and it probably made me freeze on the biggest stage.’

Lawrence take on a new post as the NZRU High Performance referee reviewer.

Kiwi referees Vinny Munro and Keith Brown will also retire at the end of the New Zealand Cup.