Top SA refs a curse?
As the southern hemisphere descends on Europe, the next month will not only be massive for international rugby coaches and players, but so too will it be a crucial time for referees.
There is no doubt that performances by the officials will be scrutinised by the big shots at the IRB and whatever pecking order will be established after November, will probably determine which of the referees will get the nod to go to the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand next year.
Rumour has it that no more than two from each country will go to New Zealand, and if true, that is very disturbing news indeed.
South Africa has been blessed with a number of great officials and to deny any of Jonathan Kaplan, Mark Lawrence, Craig Joubert and Marius Jonker a chance to officiate at the World Cup solely because they are from South Africa, would be a disgrace.
Jonker and Kaplan of course, went to France in 2007, when Joubert was still climbing the ranks and Lawrence was out of favour.
Both gentleman had excellent tournaments and should get the nod again. The only problem is that Joubert has risen to number one in the country and was given not only the Super 14 final, but the Currie Cup final as well, whilst Lawrence has redeemed himself since 2007 and is back on the official Test panel.
As it stands at the moment, we have four referees in the top 20.
England have three in Wayne Barnes, Andrew Small and Dave Pearson, New Zealand have three in Bryce Lawrence, Keith Brown and Chris Pollock, Australia have the duo of Stu Dickinson and Steve Walsh. Ireland, surprisingly, have four in George Clancy, Peter Fitzgibbon, Alan Lewis and Alain Rolland, Wales have only Nigel Owens, and France have Christophe Berdos, Romain Poite and Jerôme Garces.
It will be unacceptable if any of Small, Pearson, Brown, Pollock, Fitzgibbon, Clancy, Lewis, Berdos or Garces make it to New Zealand ahead of any of our four.
Because of the top-heavy structure in that top 20 and if only two per country are selected to go, one can almost already pick the referees that will handle the quarter-finals.
The two top teams in Pool C, expected to be Australia and Ireland, and Pool D, expected to be South Africa and Wales, will play each other in those quarter-finals.
If things go according to world rankings, South Africa will then face Ireland and Australia will face Wales.
In our match against Ireland, we will have to do without say Kaplan and Joubert, Rolland and Clancy, whilst in the other quarter, Owens, Walsh and Dickinson will have to be excused.
They are, according to those in the know, all in the top 10 of the current crop.
This will mean that Pool C and D will have to do with the bottom half when it comes to quality of officials, while Pools A and B will get our guys, the cream of the crop.
Not quite fair.
My biggest fear is that, as it happened in the Tri-Nations, the Springboks will have to deal with officials not of the same quality as the South Africans, while others benefit from being reffed by Joubert, Kaplan, Jonker and Lawrence.
It is no coincidence that the Wallabies v All Blacks clashes in Tri-Nations were such spectacles - they were all handled by South African referees.
By having our top four referees at the World Cup, it will eliminate two less competent officials.
The final should be handled by the number one ref in the world. Problem is, if the Boks again make it all the way, they might have to do with number six or seven!
Good luck to the officials in Durban on Saturday. Jason Jaftha (Under-19), Tiaan Jonker (Under-21) and Joubert (Currie Cup final) will have to be at their best and let’s hope all the losing teams accept the result and the referee’s judgment.
Rugby certainly will not be the winner if the losing captain whines the way Schalk Burger did after the Super 14 final!
But then, it is Western Province’s time, is it not?
Read JJ every Sunday in Rapport.
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