Cape Town - Former All Black flyhalf Andrew Mehrtens says TV producers and home crowds are swaying the judgment of referees in international games.
Mehrtens was commenting after New Zealand coach Steve Hansen criticised the persistent replays on the video screen at Twickenham, which he believed tried to influence the referee during their 24-21 win over England last Saturday.
Hansen was not impressed by the replays of the second-half incident which led to the yellow card for All Black hooker Dane Coles, and New Zealand's final try for prop Charlie Faumuina. After both actions were repeatedly shown on the stadium screen, booing by English fans seemed to prompt Welsh referee Nigel Owens to go to the Television Match Official (TMO) for advice.
After Coles was pulled to the ground by opposite number Dylan Hartley, the New Zealander lashed out with his foot and struck England captain Chris Robshaw in the leg. TMO Simon McDowell viewed replays and recommended a penalty against Coles but not a yellow card. But, with Robshaw and the crowd protesting, Owens demanded more replays, then carded Coles.
Later, the crowd's vehemence at Faumuina's try made Owens doubt his try decision and seek a replay while the conversion was being lined up. It took only one view by the TMO to confirm the try was legitimate.
"My biggest concern is not TMOs or referees - my biggest concern is that TV producers are starting to have an influence on the game," Hansen told the Associated Press earlier this week.
"We don't need a TV producer to replay something 100 times - that's not in the character or the spirit of the game"
Mehrtens, who played 70 Tests for the All Blacks between 1995 and 2004, agreed with Hansen and voiced his concerns via a column on the Stuff.co.nz website.
He also said the TV producers played a part in South Africa's home win over the New Zealand at Ellis Park last month. The Boks won a late penalty after replays of an illegal All Black tackle was replayed on the big screen. Pat Lambie's 55m penalty enabled the Boks to win 27-25.
Mehrtens wrote: "Watching the All Blacks against England at Twickenham, it was hard not to think at times that the lunatics had taken over the asylum.
"Or in this case, that TV producers and home crowds are swaying the judgment of referees, who can barely cope with the task they have as it is.
"I'm with Steve Hansen on this - rugby needs to address this issue before it gets out of hand. In essence, home TV producers or directors are having too significant a say on big decisions in rugby Tests.
"It's a consistency issue.
"We saw it in Johannesburg, and now we've seen it again at Twickenham, and it's creating a scenario where 'home advantage' is being taken to an unacceptable level.
"It's dangerous. How can you say things are impartial when you've got a local TV type deciding images that are played over and over again, and a home crowd responding and putting subliminal pressure on the refereeing team?
"How many shots did we see of English players indulging in borderline acts? Or in Jo'burg did we see replays of any Springbok hits off the ball?
"That's where the shades of grey occur. You seldom see questionable moments from the home team replayed ad nauseam.
"I'm not sure what the solution is, because clearly there is a place in the game for technology to assist in on-field rulings. And I understand that replays enhance the live experience.
"But it's the selective nature of it that concerns me.
"Has it reached a stage where contentious replays should not be shown at the ground because it's too much to ask TV people to be impartial?
"You can't under-estimate the influence a baying crowd can have on a referee. We saw it at Twickenham when the TMO recommended no yellow card in the Dane Coles incident, yet Nigel Owens over-ruled him.
"He can't help but have been influenced by the reaction of the 82 000-strong crowd, who are not exactly impartial in these matters.
"I know referees have a tough job but at times they don't seem to have any feel for what their role should be. They are an accessory to the game, not the main event."
CLICK HERE to read Mehrtens's full column on the Stuff.co.nz website.