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'Lions tour could be watershed officiating moment' - former Premiership ref

By Paul Smith
David Rose (Getty Images)

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Former Premiership and European Cup referee David Rose believes the Lions series could represent a watershed moment in the scrutiny and criticism of match officials.


The 57-year-old Devon-based whistler, who now operates as a TMO, made his comments following a series in which Australian ref Nic Berry was subjected to a 62-minute video critique by Springbok head coach Rassie Erasmus which was subsequently made public via Twitter.

“The scrutiny on officials ramps up year on year,” Rose said.

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Alun Wyn Jones talks about the scrutiny of match officials
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Alun Wyn Jones talks about the scrutiny of match officials

“Technology advances don’t help with this and the way in which games are analysed is ever more detailed.

“There now seems to be an expectation level that match officials in all sports can get everything right.

“But every so often something happens that is so extreme that you get a pull-back against it – and I sense this is happening following the Lions series.

“Sometimes it takes things going to an extreme for the voice of reason to kick in and for us to all remember that in reality mistakes do happen for genuine reasons.”


Erasmus will face World Rugby misconduct charges over the video which highlighted a host of officiating discrepancies in detail, including instances where he suggested officials showed the South Africans a lack of respect.

And according to Rose, depending on the outcome of the hearing, a behind-closed-doors private rapprochement may well then take place.

“This kind of thing has happened several times over the years,” he recalled.

“I remember one well-known former Premiership director of rugby having a massive rant about me then being forced to backtrack after he ended up in a disciplinary.


“That was nothing compared to the level we’re at now, and also it was done on a more personal level between the referee and the coach, away from the public eye.

“Things have often got smoothed out this way even if this hasn’t then hit the press.”

Rose points to the ever-growing use of technology as something that has ramped up pressure on officials, but also believes the voice of reason will usually win through in the end.

“The ability for coaches to watch a match on a laptop using a slight delay to analyse every decision as it happens in slo-mo has made life tougher for officials,” he said.

“I remember once having a coach come to me at half-time with a laptop and telling me: ‘We have an analyst watching with a 15-second delay and I’m telling you this decision was wrong.’

“I think there is a growing sense that the levels of criticism during the Lions series don’t represent natural justice.

“You think ‘the mark has been over-stepped here’ and worry that it becomes not just about sporting decision-making but something that might have an impact on people’s lives and potentially cause wider issues.

“There has been an erosion in the acceptance that mistakes will happen; if you have human beings involved, you’re going to have human error and being professional in any walk of life doesn’t mean you make no mistakes.

“If you look at the speed things happen at and the number of factors officials are required to process in really quick time, then allow for fatigue levels later in a game plus other external pressures, it is no surprise that mistakes occur. No-one sets out to make an error but it happens.”


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