Tappe: Neutral refs not vital
Cape Town - In his days having neutral rugby referees were always paramount, even if it was just about limiting the pressure on the match officials.
That was the word from former Test referee Freek Burger about the controversial system in the Super Rugby tournament according to which "the best referee is appointed for the best game", irrespective of his possible affiliation with a team.
"It has nothing to do with whether a referee is a cheat or not. There is already a lot of pressure on him and it is magnified if he controls a game in which his country plays.
"He may go through a few games without any problems, but then could find himself under the spotlight and be exposed to more criticism if he makes one big mistake," said Burger.
The debate about neutral referees was opened again after last week's quarter-final between the Crusaders and Sharks in Nelson, where Kiwi referee Bryce Lawrence made a number of dubious calls.
The fact that he is going to handle the final adds further fire to the argument.
Tappe Henning, who is also a former Test referee and currently an international assessor, does not believe there is any reason for concern.
"The referees' preparation for these games is exactly the same as with others. The perception of the public, commentators and some coaches is that neutrality cannot be maintained and that the pressure will become too much.
"But as assessors and referees we take emotion out of the calls and in our assessment thereof. Then it becomes just another, yet important game."
Henning believes that the principle of picking the best referees irrespective of where they come from is the right one.
"It won't easily happen at Test level because there will always be enough top referees available. At Super Rugby level the pool is only so big and the tournament is complicated. Emerging Test referees need to be developed somewhere."
He emphasised that referees do not consider themselves bigger than the game and that the system that is being utilised is preferred by the majority of the stakeholders in the tournament.
"The future will be determined by the need. Decisions about referees depends on many things, of which coaches is one. They could be viewed as clients, who need to be kept happy.
"Their feedback played a significant part in Bryce's appointment for the final - a factor being how he performed under pressure in the last two rounds. The main thing is whether our decisions are good for the tournament and the answer to that is predominantly 'yes'."