S15 refs pay for poor officiating
Wellington - SANZAR, Super Rugby's governing body, on Monday dropped three referees from upcoming matches as organisers of the three-nation tournament responded to a litany of complaints from coaches and players about refereeing standards in this season's competition.
South African Lourens van der Merwe, Argentine Francisco Pastrana and Australian James Leckie were all cut from the refereeing roster in a move referees boss Lyndon Bray said recognises "who has performed to expectation and who has not."
The Super Rugby referees panel has been reduced from 18 to 14 with the additional removal of South African Jason Jaftha, who is injured.
South African referee Stuart Berry, who has produced some of the most contentious decisions in recent weeks, remains a member of the refereeing panel.
"We have always strived to have strong accountability within our team and, importantly, accountability for the competition," said Bray. "As such we have always sought to conduct ourselves in a fair, transparent and open manner."
Pastrana was criticised by coaches of both the Blues and Cheetahs last weekend after a match in which he made a number of surprising decisions and seemed to misinterpret instructions from the television referee. He has been replaced for this Friday's match between the Crusaders and Hurricanes.
Van der Merwe has also been replaced for this Saturday's match between the Blues and Highlanders after complaints about his control of matches between the Reds and Sharks and the Force and Chiefs.
Berry was publicly criticised by Bray for awarding a controversial try to the Lions in a match against New Zealand's Blues two weeks ago. He was also responsible for a 19-4 penalty count against the Reds in their 23-20 loss to the Lions in Johannesburg on Saturday after the team led 20-3.
Reds coach Richard Graham harshly criticised Berry's performance.
"The penalty count was 19-4 against us," he said. "I don't think I've ever been involved in a game where the penalty count has been like that.
"Certainly we will be speaking to Lyndon Bray to get clarification."
Berry is due to act as an assistant referee in a match this weekend between the Bulls and Chiefs. Bray said Australians Angus Gardner, Andrew Lees and Matt O'Brien weren't scheduled to referee matches over the next two weeks and would be considered for appointment after that time.
Bray has rejected suggestions that Super Rugby should once again employ neutral referees but says steps need to be taken to ensure higher standards of refereeing.
"One of our core strategic objectives is to grow the depth of the team that is able to referee 'any game, any time'," he said. "In line with this, we have reduced the size of the team heading into the next phase of the competition and in doing so, have recognised who has performed to expectation and who has not."
Round 7 (revised appointments):
Crusaders v Hurricanes - Nick Briant
Rebels v Brumbies - Jaco Peyper
Blues v Highlanders - Steve Walsh
Reds v Stormers - Chris Pollock
Bulls v Chiefs - Craig Joubert
Sharks v Waratahs - Mike Fraser
Round 8 (no change):
Highlanders v Rebels - Chris Pollock
Brumbies v Blues - Rohan Hoffmann
Hurricanes v Bulls - Steve Walsh
Reds v Force - Garratt Williamson
Cheetahs v Chiefs - Craig Joubert
Lions v Crusaders - Marius van der Westhuizen
Stormers v Waratahs - Glen Jackson
Stuart Berry, Angus Gardner, Andrew Lees and Matt O'Brien are not scheduled for primary refereeing appointments in the coming fortnight (as per the communication issued on March 11), but will be considered for Rounds 9-10, which will be released in due course.