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'I'm too old'- Referee Raynal's impromptu exit midway through match

By Kim Ekin
Referee Mathieu Raynal

The combination of playing at altitude and the stiflingly hot summer weather in Pretoria was widely tipped to be a deciding factor in Exeter Chiefs’ visit to Loftus Versfeld yesterday to face the Bulls, but few predicted the most significant casualty from the conditions would be referee Mathieu Raynal.

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With 51 minutes on the clock, the Frenchman took captains Ruan Nortje and Henry Slade aside to explain that he can no longer referee the match, which the hosts went on to win 39-28 in the Heineken Champions Cup.

“I’m sorry, I have a problem [with] my hamstring, so we will just change the referee,” he said after officiating a back-and-forth match that had already seen six tries scored between both sides.

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“I cannot run, I have something, so sorry, all the best,” he continued, before shaking both captains’ hands and bizarrely briefing them on how the game should restart. “Knock-on blue, scrum Exeter,” were his instructions, which both captains had to presumably relay to the incoming replacement referee Thomas Charabas.

Raynal’s final words before disappearing down the tunnel were “I’m too old.”

Things may have panned out differently for Exeter, particularly Slade, had Raynal remained on the pitch. Within minutes of replacing the 41-year-old, Charabas and his TMO adjudged Slade to have committed a red card offence when tackling Springbok Kurt-Lee Arendse. In what has proven to be a debatable call, Raynal may have come to a different conclusion.

Raynal is not the first referee to fall victim to officiating at altitude, as Nigel Owens picked up a similar hamstring injury in 2013 while overseeing South Africa’s epic with the All Blacks at Ellis Park. The Welshman picked up cramp in the closing stages of the match that day and was able to limp on, but the prospect of another 30 minutes for Raynal was too much.

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