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Tensions boiling over treatment of referees in URC games hosted in South Africa

By Sam Smith
(Photo by ©INPHO/Steve Haag via photosportNZ)

United Rugby Championship fans in South Africa and Europe have clashed online over contrasting views of refereeing in the competition.

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With the recent opening of international borders, Scottish, Irish, Welsh and Italian teams have been able to travel regularly to South Africa for the first time following the visits to Europe from the Stormers, Bulls, Lions and Sharks earlier in the season.

This has resulted in new officiating crews taking over the whistle and touch lines in South Africa, which touring clubs have been forced to adjust to, much to the disdain of fans on both sides of the equator.

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Frustrations about the level of officiating have emerged, with Argentine international and Edinburgh fullback Emiliano Boffelli coming under the spotlight online for questioning referees while playing against the Lions in Johannesburg.

South African fans have taken to social media to express their unhappiness with the levels of disrespect shown toward the officials, who they feel have been unfairly victimised, in the wake of the weekend’s match.

One Twitter user said that European fans taking aim at officials is contradictory given the criticism Springboks director of rugby Rassie Erasmus endured for his role in the Nic Berry saga during last year’s British & Irish Lions tour of South Africa.

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European fans, on the other hand, were far more fed up with the standard of refereeing in South Africa, which one fan labelled as “the most inept” in over 30 years of watching rugby.

Looking at penalties conceded in matches played home and away by South African teams, only the Sharks and Bulls have enjoyed better discipline in South Africa with home officials.

The Sharks have conceded an average of six penalties per game at home against European teams, considerably less than the 11.25 penalties they averaged while playing abroad earlier in the campaign.

That differential of 5.25 penalties per games is the largest home-and-away discrepancy of the four South African franchises.

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The Bulls, meanwhile, are also faring better at home with 9.75 penalties conceded compared to the 13.25 they were conceding on the road in Europe.

By comparison, Lions are showing no difference, conceding 7.25 penalties per game at home versus 7.66 away, while the Stormers have conceded 9.33 penalties per home game compared to the 8.66 they had in Europe.

As things stand, though, a disproportionate number of games have been played in South Africa by European teams.

All four of the Welsh teams – Scarlets, Ospreys, Dragons and Cardiff – have all played two matches in South Africa, as have Irish sides Munster and Ulster, Scottish club Edinburgh and Italian outfit Zebre.

However, the table-topping Leinster are yet to tour the Republic, nor have fellow title contenders Glasgow, Irish team Connacht and Italian side Benetton.

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