Johannesburg - In a week that has seen increased calls for neutral referees in Super Rugby playoff matches, Bloemfontein-born Jaco Peyper has controversially been awarded the tournament final between the Lions and Crusaders on Saturday.
The 'pied Peyper of Ellis Park' was the centre of attention in this past Saturday's semi-final between the Lions and the Hurricanes; the spectators dancing for him every time he put his whistle to his lips.
In the first half, Peyper gave the Lions nothing and the bloodthirsty Ellis Park faithful launched obscenities his way in scenes that bordered on the savage.
Then, in the second period, Peyper started winning the crowd over as more and more calls went the Lions' way.
It was almost like Peyper checked his phone at the half-time break and saw the deluge of insults that had been directed towards him on social media.
He didn’t, of course.
The big call came on the hour mark, when Beauden Barrett was sent to the sin-bin for what Peyper deemed a professional foul.
After examining the replays, most disagreed with the decision, and New Zealand fans had their excuse sewn up.
In the time that Barrett was off the field, the Lions went from being 29-22 down to 39-29 ahead.
How much that decision impacted the final result of the game will never be known. Hurricanes supporters will say it changed everything, but the Lions were a side possessed at that stage and may very well have got the job done in any case.
What followed was a growing chorus of calls for a neutral to referee the final, with Australia's Angus Gardner being heavily tipped for the gig.
Instead, Peyper will now officiate his third straight South Africa v New Zealand playoff match in 2017.
SANZAAR spent a large part of their press release justifying the appointment.
Tournament policy, they said, dictates that the best referees are appointed to referee the best matches.
SANZAAR's 'refereeing scorecard' for the year obviously has Peyper at the top of the list.
Last year, when the Hurricanes beat the Lions in Wellington in the tournament final, Kiwi Glen Jackson was in charge.
The concern here is not Peyper’s ability. He is a quality match official and is considered one of the best in the world, and there is no doubt that he has the pedigree to referee a match of this stature.
The argument against this appointment is rather that it draws attention away from what should be one of the greatest days in South African rugby history.
Ellis Park is sold out. Saturday will spell the end of an era for one of the finest coaches this competition has ever seen, and it is a chance for South Africa to wrestle back some power from New Zealand.
It really doesn't get any bigger than this, so the last thing we want is for this match to be remembered for the referee and not the rugby.
Does a home crowd sway a referee? I believe it can, and it does.
Will Peyper go into that match looking to blow the Lions to a victory? Absolutely not. He will look to make the right calls and get as close to the perfect performance as he possibly can.
And that's all you can really ask from any referee.
Did the best team win at Ellis Park in the semi-final? If you can honestly answer 'no' to that question, and you feel that the Barrett call changed everything, then you're allowed to be peeved.
But, from where most people were sitting, the Lions blew the 'Canes off the park for an entire half and were deserved winners.
They were fitter, they wanted it more and they dished up a brand of rugby that knocked the Kiwis off their feet.
As coach Johan Ackermann said afterwards, it was pressure from the Lions that led to Barrett making the infringement in the first place.
One thing is certain; the Crusaders will not be making excuses.
Yes, they will do their research and look to push Peyper as far as they can on the day, but they will not be making any excuses should they lose.
Both of these sides back themselves in any situation.
This is the final the tournament deserved - the two best sides in the competition going at it.
The teams, players, coaches and occasion are all far more important than the referee. Let that be the focus on Saturday and, until Peyper gives us a reason to ask questions, let's give him the benefit of the doubt.
Lloyd Burnard is a journalist at Sport24 and the former Sports Editor of The Witness newspaper ...
Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.