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Will Mathieu Raynal be the star of the show in the first Bledisloe test?

By Hamish Bidwell
Referee Mathieu Raynal during the Guinness Six Nations Rugby match between England and Ireland at Twickenham Stadium on March 12, 2022 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Bob Bradford - CameraSport via Getty Images)

Who’ll be the star of the show at Marvel Stadium on Thursday?

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Will it be Rieko Ioane? Captain Fantastic Sam Cane? Marika Koroibete or Rob Valetini?

Sadly, as we’ve become increasingly accustomed, it might well be referee Mathieu Raynal.

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I don’t seek to blame referees for rugby’s ills.

After all, it’s an incredibly thankless task.

I was at a schoolboy match the other day, where a spectator found fault with a parent-referee’s decision.

The ref stopped the game to ask the spectator if he’d like to come out on the field and do it himself. I can’t quote what the referee said but, when the spectator replied “no,’’ the ref told him to shut the front door, or words to that effect.

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It’s easy to dismiss Wallabies great David Campese. The man has a lot to say about rugby and rarely is any of it good.

But Campese was right in taking the game to task last week and for trying to speak on behalf of disgruntled and bewildered fans.

Rugby has so many laws, seemingly all of them open to interpretation, which contribute to making the sport stop-start at best.

From scrums, to the breakdown, lineouts, mauls and incidental contact with the head, referees aren’t short of areas in which to intervene.

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I was disappointed, as a fan of rugby, with the way Nic Berry refereed the recent match between New Zealand and Argentina. The Pumas were probably never a chance of upsetting the All Blacks two weeks in a row, but I didn’t feel Berry even allowed them the opportunity to make it a contest.

Similarly, Ben O’Keeffe played way too big a part in South Africa’s win over Australia that same evening.

Refereeing is incredibly hard, not least because of all the audio the man in the middle gets in his ear. Georgian Nika Amashukeli copped a bit of grief for the way he controlled the All Blacks and Pumas in Christchurch, but I’d contend it was the Television Match Official and Assistant Referees who ran that match.

Amashukeli was guilty of over-explaining decisions that night, I suspect in part because often he wasn’t the one making them.

Look, I just want the ball in play and for the two teams to decide the outcome. If a few scrums hit the deck and the breakdowns are a shambles, so be it.

I’m tired of scrum re-sets and referees guessing which prop to penalise for a collapse. I get no satisfaction from hearing the whistle blow every time a ball-runner hits the deck.

I can’t believe we’re having official water breaks in test matches, when guys in bibs are bringing bottles on every couple of minutes as it is.

Rugby’s not alone there. There isn’t a round of the English Premier League that passes without comment on the inadequacy of the VAR system.

The NRL’s Bunker has made that sport almost as stop-start as rugby and cricket’s DRS wastes minutes analysing incidents that should take seconds.

The search for a perfect game, a game without error or controversy or anything to frighten the mothers of would-be players has spoiled a good product.

It has given officials – both on and off the field – licence to nitpick and interfere. Too often the whistle blows and no-one, be they player, coach, spectator or commentator knows why or who’s at fault.

It’s not always that way. I thought Angus Gardiner was in total command, when South Africa beat the All Blacks at Mbombela Stadium.

It was clear he had the TMO and ARs in his ear the whole time, but he ran the show. He let the game flow and he ignored the attempts of the other officials to overrule him.

But that’s the exception, as far as I can tell.

I hope Thursday’s test in Melbourne is a contest. I hope the ball’s in play, both teams perform well and that there’s a worthy winner in the end.

Most of all, I don’t want us to be having to debate whether a particular law is fit for purpose or if Raynal was right or wrong in deciding something that determined the outcome.

I’ll give you one law to ponder, before I go.

In rugby league, a deliberate knock down is merely a knock on. The defender doesn’t have to try and intercept the ball, he doesn’t have to prove his palm was pointing upwards and that he was trying to effect a catch.

The whistle simply blows, a scrum is packed and the game carries on.

I’d take that over 25 replays from various angles that result in someone being sent to the sinbin.

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