London - Retired referee Bryce Lawrence has claimed he was hounded out of
rugby by Australia and South Africa following his performance in last
year's Rugby World Cup quarter-final.
Lawrence, 41, has also revealed his performance in that game
in Wellington was influenced by behind-the-scenes complaints from
Australian Rugby Union chief executive John O'Neill.
"I had four really good games at the World Cup and then I had that," New Zealander Lawrence told the Bay Of Plenty Times.
"There was some pretty nasty political stuff going on about that
appointment. I refereed Australia versus Ireland and Ireland had won but
behind the scenes guys like John O'Neill were kicking up a massive
"I knew a bit about that and it was enough to affect me, and it probably made me freeze on the biggest stage."
Australia beat South Africa in Wellington and the fall-out
from that match led directly to Lawrence deciding to retire and take up a
role as the New Zealand Rugby Union high-performance referee reviewer.
Lawrence was stood down from the International Rugby Board's
elite panel after the World Cup and he did not take charge of any Super
Rugby matches in South Africa.
"It (the reaction) got pretty bad," Lawrence said.
"On Facebook they launched a 'get rid of Bryce Lawrence' site and it was pretty nasty.
"That was absolutely the reason for my career change.
"I got told at the end of the World Cup that I would have a
break from Test rugby for the Six Nations and I could totally accept
that as there has to be a consequence for poor performance.
"I was told I would be brought back in the middle of this
year, as I was ranked in the top three or four referees in the world.
But because of the political reaction from rugby unions like Australia
and South Africa behind the scenes, they dropped me."
Last month, British and Irish Lions c–oach Warren Gatland
highlighted the pressure Lawrence had been placed under by O'Neill as he
outlined the challenges that await his team in Australia.
O'Neill last week resigned from his post at the ARU to focus on business interests outside rugby.