André Watson chats to Sport24
Cape Town - Former international referee and current General Manager of Referees at SARU, André Watson, answers YOUR
questions. He talks illegalities at ruck time, new innovations and how referees are held accountable...Gcobani Gqibelo asked: What is your take on the award of such a dubious try in the Lions v Blues match? What can you say to defend Stuart Berry’s decision?
André Watson: I believe it was not a contentious issue from a refereeing point of view but rather from a law perspective. The knock-on law is very clear: a player needs to lose possession, with the ball then travelling in a forward direction. However, the debate with regard to this specific incident revolves around whether the ball-carrier lost the ball or whether the ball was dislodged from his grasp as a result of the action of the tackler. While SANZAR have issued a statement saying the try should not have stood, we at SARU have referred the matter to the IRB and are awaiting a ruling. The debate is currently hanging in the air as two contrasting opinions currently exist.
Jodi Marais asked: In the Chiefs v Stormers match we saw a unique incident whereby Aaron Cruden appeared to deliberately miss a penalty kick in order to set up a try-scoring opportunity. Legal?
André Watson: It was an interesting scenario. The law states that when a player kicks a penalty he must at least aim for goal. If the referee on the day deems that the kicker did not make a valid attempt to slot the goal, then it should be blown up as it’s basically against the spirit of the game. Craig Joubert was spot on in this instance.
Fred Steinberg asked: Why are referees seemingly untouchable? Why can't they, like other employees of any organisation, be held responsible for performing their jobs poorly?
André Watson: That is the common misconception. Referees are held accountable. At SARU, for example, we have a highly robust and scientific programme whereby every one of our referees is assessed. Each error and non-decision is marked by a panel of assessors. If there is a flag, meaning that a referee is out of form, he gets spoken to, subsequently receives remedial action and, if necessary, is even demoted to a lower level of competition. The process is both transparent and scientific and I must state categorically that we take responsibility and ownership thereof.Chris Cook asked: The constant scrum resets destroy the flow of the game and are a real bore to spectators. What would you suggest to sort out the current farce at scrum time?
André Watson: While the scrums are obviously far from perfect, I believe recent statistics prove there is a marked improvement in terms of the number reset scrums. I’m aware the public’s focus is often fixed on this area but they need to be patient as it’s still a work in progress. That said, there is no doubt that the 2014 product come scrum time is a much improved one than a few years back.Derek van Breda asked: Has the time come in rugby that just like in American football the referees can be heard on the stadium PA system thus informing the crowd in attendance of their decisions?
André Watson: Absolutely. While I don’t want to let the cat out of the bag, I can tell you that we’re working on a similar system at SARU. My colleague Andy Marinos is piloting the project. At SARU, we are all for innovation which can improve clarity for spectators and thereby enhance the oval game we all love. I must add that we already have the RefLink radio device available at stadiums across the country so that spectators can hear the referee’s on-field decisions and their explanations first-hand.Arthur S Taylor asked: In light of the Jannie du Plessis incident, it appears that professional rugby players are becoming more arrogant with referees. I’m curious to get your views on this matter…
André Watson: I have no problem with players challenging referees, as referees challenge players all the time. While the public can decide for themselves if they enjoyed the exchange between Du Plessis and Lourens van der Merwe, personally I would have preferred to have seen the incident handled in a different way by both parties. I’m not suggesting that the conversation should have taken place behind closed doors, but we have a phrase known as ‘dead-time communication’ whereby officials and players can address each other on-field without the whole world hearing their dialogue.Christopher Zoony De Croes asked: Will rugby introduce a referral system similar to that used in cricket so the captains of a team can, for example, challenge a TMO or refereeing decision?
André Watson: Although this is a good idea and has notable plus points, I believe a lot of water still has to pass under the bridge before we get there. While the white card concept was trialled in the Varsity Cup, you can’t take concepts still being trialled and implement them at the highest level.
Schalk Burger asked: Why are off-the-ball tackles on players around the ruck allowed and why are those tacklers permitted to remain offside thus causing obstruction and disruption to play?
André Watson: There have clearly been too many incidents in the early rounds of Super Rugby whereby players have held their opponents back at ruck time, loitered around that area and occupied space illegally. With the more stringent directive, I believe we’ve already seen an improvement in this area and am hopeful that there will be a continual improvement. In this regard, the referee’s job is easy; if players are caught transgressing in this facet of the game, they will be dealt with accordingly. We will continue to stress that after a player/s have performed the clean out, they have to get back on-side and then play from that point.
Barry Colyn asked: Why are referees not penalising the scrumhalves for feeding the ball in skew?
André Watson: I would respectfully disagree. If anything we have now been criticised for being over-efficient in this department. There is definitely a strict enforcement of that area of the game by the referees. If the scrumhalf fails to feed the ball in straight, a free kick will be awarded to the opposing side. If the player in questions further transgresses, a full arm penalty will come into effect. The next step would be to award a yellow card to repeat offenders, but hopefully it doesn’t come to that.
Liza Lucani asked: What do you most and least enjoy about your job?
André Watson: I feel blessed to be permanently involved in my passion. What I enjoy least, however, is that the general public don’t seem to realise how hard referees work. From a SARU perspective, our referees are strictly scrutinised and measured. There is a misguided perception that referees do things and just get away with it. Nothing can be further from the truth. However, we’re aware that it’s a two-way street in terms of communication and will continue to work hard on clearing up misperceptions.
Joe van Niekerk