Super Rugby boss denies referee bias despite alarming statistics

SANZAAR chief executive Andy Marinos has poured cold water on complaints about the standard of refereeing in Super Rugby, saying statistics that show South African officials appearing to favour sides from their own country need to be "validated".

Australia's director of rugby Scott Johnson and Super Rugby bosses have not been impressed with the standard of officiating in Super Rugby after four rounds. Johnson has suggested neutral referees are the way forward and club officials have called for an inquiry.

South African referee Egon Seconds speaks to Waratahs back-rower Michael Hooper. Credit:BackPagePix

As it stands, SANZAAR appoints match officials on a merit-based system and has done so for more than a decade.

It says Super Rugby teams have made it clear they prefer this method over neutral referees, a system that can be difficult to organise.

Yet recent figures published by rugby website Green and Gold Rugby from 2017 to 2019 highlight some alarming trends.

According to the website's data, across 246 matches pulled from Super Rugby's official website, of seven South African referees who have officiated a South African team playing at home in the last three seasons against a foreign side, none have awarded more penalties to the visitors.

For matches in South Africa, against non South African opposition, home sides have earned 154 more penalties than their overseas opponents across 42 games. This is in stark contrast to Australian referees in Australia (11 more penalties to the home side) and New Zealand referees in New Zealand (10 more to the away side).

In the last three seasons there have been 105 matches where a referee has taken the whistle in charge of a match between their country of birth and an overseas side. Overall the home team received an average of 1.56 more penalties per game.

However, when broken down by nationality, South African referees awarded 3.67 more penalties to the home side, while Argentinian referees, from only two fixtures, 4.5 more per match.

By comparison, Australian referees gave 0.5 more penalties on average each game to the home side and Kiwi officials awarded 0.26 fewer penalties per game to New Zealand sides.

With a neutral referee, the ledger was fair more even, with the home side receiving 0.2 more penalties a game.

SANZAAR appoints match officials on a merit-based system rather than making sure the referee is from a neutral country.Credit:AP

"We need to validate those numbers and we need to put a proper picture in place, which is something we will do and respond in due course," Marinos said in Sydney on Wednesday. "It's very interesting that the whole neutrality thing comes up when we've been of a merit-based system for 10 or 12 years. You've got to take a lens as to where it's coming from.

"In terms of statistics, people are always producing statistics. At the right time we will communicate our view in terms of where we are from a competition perspective and the performances of our referees. I just don't understand where all of a sudden, after 10 years of meritocracy, suddenly now neutrality becomes an issue."

Marinos bristled at a suggestion that SANZAAR could be more transparent in how it communicated the performance of match officials.

He noted the backlash that followed when the performance of Australia's best referee, Angus Gardner, and other officials was scrutinised in a statement by World Rugby in the opening stages of last year's World Cup.

"Minds are very short in this market," Marinos said. "It wasn't so long ago that Angus Gardner got a bit of a public expose in terms of his performances in his internationals.

"There was a very upset outcry especially by Australia around, 'how dare he be put up there and vilified and be made a scapegoat and his performances should be confidential'.

"It's a delicate balancing act. The refs don't go out there to deliberately negatively manipulate the outcome of a game. They are trying to manage what is a very complex situation to the best they can so there is a big reliance and dependency on the ARs [assistant referees].

"Could we engage a bit more in how we feel the referees are tracking? Absolutely. Communication is something that can be improved."

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