The refereeing in the Trans-Tasman comp was seriously skewed, but perhaps not how you think

I recall a response from then Manchester United Manager Alex Ferguson when questioned about potential favouritism given the number of penalties his side were awarded during the season, when he pointed out that his side were simply in the opposition penalty area more than anyone else. And so it generally works in rugby union, South […]

The refereeing in the Trans-Tasman comp was seriously skewed, but perhaps not how you think

I recall a response from then Manchester United Manager Alex Ferguson when questioned about potential favouritism given the number of penalties his side were awarded during the season, when he pointed out that his side were simply in the opposition penalty area more than anyone else.

And so it generally works in rugby union, South Africa’s win column in the run up to the last Rugby World Cup was only challenged when forced into penalty deficit by the All Blacks.

The bottom two England and Italy copped the wrong end of the penalty count in the last Six Nations, both overall and at set piece time.

Italy led the yellow cards table by some distance with seven (we will come back to cards).

In this year’s Australia and Aotearoa competitions, the winning side came out, as expected, on the right side of the penalty count in 70 per cent and 75 per cent of games respectively.

Even these numbers are skewed somewhat to the downside by the ability of both the Brumbies and the Crusaders to win domestic matches where they end up on the wrong side of the penalty count, and let’s face it, both these sides are happier to concede three over seven more than most.

Len Ikitau celebrates with his Brumbies teammates. (Photo by Brett Hemmings/Getty Images)

Before examining the outcomes at trans-Tasman level let’s cover the high-level facts of the tournament.

New Zealand sides not only won the game count by 23-2 but also positively dominated the league tables in all the areas where penalties are normally conceded.

The top five ruck retention numbers were all Kiwi sides, only the Force made it into the top six in the tackle percentages and the Brumbies the only Australian side in the top five for lineouts and the top three scrums were all owned by the Shaky Isles inhabitants with the Waratahs the Aussie side in the top five.

So not only did the New Zealand sides dominate the win column but they also performed best in all of the key areas where penalties are predominantly conceded.

Worth noting here for the long-suffering Waratah fans that in the four games where New Zealand sides did not win the ruck retention numbers, it was the Waratahs who upset the trend with three of the four dominant performances on the ground which goes some way to explaining their ability to attack with some pace and directness.

So, I find it interesting that despite the overwhelming dominance of not only outcomes but also the key game components, New Zealand sides still managed to end up on the wrong side of the total penalty count 291-281 and on the wrong side of the card numbers by 17-13. Odd, no?

Never hurts to break it down by refereeing domicile.

When refereeing Australian sides, Australian referees saw their sides win the penalty count five times out of 11.

New Zealand referees favoured their domestic sides in only two of the 14 games they officiated, with two tied.

We know that over time in Super Rugby South African referees favour their sides most, Australian sides get their teams in front of the penalty count next and New Zealand sides marginally referee against their sides, but the number we saw coming out of the trans-Tasman comp seem to defy all logic of our sport, so where did this come from?

A couple of quick examples, when the Highlanders played the Brumbies away, I counted nine red zone penalties and advantages conceded by the home side without a warning even being issued. The Highlanders did score three tries during these visits but surely conceding a score doesn’t reset the offenses clock back to zero, certainly isn’t in the laws, but it wasn’t a oncer.

Another interesting observation is that the Brumbies topped the Australian yellow card count with eight while they were winning but managed to finish with the lowest equal number of cards in trans-Tasman when they were getting beaten four times out of five.

Note, the Crusaders finished top of the yellow card count again in the combined comp.

But this is my personal favourite of the year, Rebels versus Blues, the Rebels are under warning after conceding four penalties in a row on their own try line and then this happens – start at 3.55 on the tape and see if you can spot another defensive penalty, it ain’t.

But even under warning and another obvious infringement, not further action was taken by the New Zealand referee.

How?

Any visit to The Roar’s match day threads, or god forbid a tip toe through twitter on match day would have you believe that the New Zealand referees were slaughtering the Australian teams every week in the Trans-Tasman this year, but the outcomes suggest something very very different.

How this happens is open to any number of conspiracy theories and that is not my primary concern for pointing out all the aforementioned.

What does concern me is how the same referees can have such a different focus on the laws dependent on the participants, last year we saw a massive difference between Australia and New Zealand refereeing with the following Rugby Championship seemingly ignoring the breakdown directives across the board.

Same this year, Kiwi referees in Aotearoa ruled significantly differently in the trans-Tasman and it concerns me that we will go into International season with some new kind of variation in place.

When they eased up on the breakdown laws, and I presume to accommodate the way Au was refereed, the Kiwi sides jumped on it and took advantage, smart but not the outcome I want to see.

Bryce Hegarty of the Reds makes a run

Bryce Hegarty. (Photo by Jono Searle/Getty Images)

But we are not alone, I think we all accept that the referees in the English Premiership have done the best job that the breakdown this year, but then watch how the two English referees performed in the Champions Cups semi and final. Not only were the new directives abandoned in totality but the law book itself seemed to be totally optional. The breakdowns were a complete free for all with offside lines irrelevant.

Are the referees directed where to focus by the administrative body based on whatever comp they are refereeing?, you would sincerely hope not but the evidence on the field seems to suggest otherwise.

I have watched Exeter play a fair bit over the past month and the number of people off feet, sealing off the past the ball at ruck time , and the return of the slower caterpillar ruck, are demonstrably creeping back in, all things I hope the officials jump on quickly.

If we want the game to progress uniformly the world over, we need to take the responsibility for officiating out of the hands of the local administration, so I re-state my earlier call that the top three referees from each country should be centrally contracted to World Rugby and are answerable for their performance only to the senior centralised body.

Otherwise, the focus on officiating performance and perceived bias, not matter how incorrect those claims are, will dominate discussion over the game itself and will simply never going to go away and the variability in performance by geography and competition will continue.

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The Thursday rugby two-up: Super Rugby review

The tipping panel is done for another Super Rugby season, but the panel is by no means done for the 2021 rugby year. With the July Internationals and a Lions Tour upon us, we’re only just getting started. A snappy new name for a format you may well remember; the quick questions have served us […]

The Thursday rugby two-up: Super Rugby review

The tipping panel is done for another Super Rugby season, but the panel is by no means done for the 2021 rugby year. With the July Internationals and a Lions Tour upon us, we’re only just getting started.

A snappy new name for a format you may well remember; the quick questions have served us well at this end of the season for several years now, and who are we to break a winning combination?

So we’ll be going around again, albeit one member down with this week’s departure of .

Naturally, we’ve all deleted his number now that he’s turned his back on the Panel.

But, in some positive news, we’re hopeful of adding the one missing component from the Panel ahead of The Rugby Championship, so stay tuned.

Onto the two-up questions in a moment but first, let’s tie up the tipping loose ends.

LAST WEEK: Harry, Geoff and The Crowd were on the Blues; Dan, Digger, and I weren’t.

OVERALL: Harry 56, Dan 55, The Crowd 54, Geoff 51, Digger 49, Brett 45.

Question 1: What was your highlight of the Super Rugby season?

Harry
James O’Connor scoring a try at the death in the Super Rugby AU Final.

It also came at the exact moment I had some sort of allergic attack; the kind that makes your eyes well up, your heart leap for joy, and the ancient human yearning for redemption find its home.

Bad boy come good; prodigal son falls into our arms.

I’m not crying you’re crying. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Geoff
Did Brett ask for a highlight or highlights from Super Rugby this year? How about passing porn from Aaron Smith? And a cameo off the left hand by Richie Mo’unga at Eden Park.

The Brumbies bravely hanging on against the Reds in the AU final, until sheer weight of numbers and a sense of ‘it’s time’ finally willed the ball out to James O’Connor, for him to bury the ‘amigos’ tag once and for all.

Billy Harmon, not the captain, calling a captain’s challenge for foul play on himself by Dane Coles, when it was actually him who started it all. What on earth was he thinking? That the cameras had been switched off just for those few seconds?

And also from the shame file, Stan/Nine, not for coverage of the Force v Chiefs match turning to custard, but for pretending it never happened.

Digger
There were a few. The thrilling conclusion at Suncorp certainly needs a mention, along with a rejuvenated Chiefs side in Aotearoa and a gritty, never say die Force in Australia.

Not to mention the sheer abundance of talent across the loose forwards right now; I can’t personally recall so many quality options running about and my personal favourite, TOM Robinson, who brings a different perspective to after match interviews, making them a much watch affair.

As cheesy as this will sound, my main highlight was the Highlanders beating the Crusaders, quite well really in Christchurch.

Why? The week preceding the game, with all the peripheral issues dictating a weakened side, written off from pillar to post, it was a magnificent performance and reminded me that Rugby is very much a team game and a well-coached and determined side can achieve great things against the longest of odds. Just marvellous.

Brett
I think from an Australian perspective, it’s really hard to go past how quickly it became obvious that the second season of Super Rugby AU was anything but boring, and how quickly the goodwill of casual and regular rugby fans just blew up like we haven’t seen in years.

Heading into the final rounds, the finals equations meant there was something at play from every game, and it climaxed in incredible fashion for the Final in Brisbane.

And then the Final kicked off, and it became another thrilling Reds-Brumbies encounter and finished with another after-the-bell thriller, and an aggregate margin across the three games this season to just seven points.

Obviously, it was moved on from and even forgotten about a bit too quickly for my liking, but it was the clear highlight of the Super season for me.

Question 2: What’s the logical way forward for Super Rugby in 2022?

Harry
New Zealand and Pasifika need the Australian and Japanese markets; but cross-conference matches are mismatches, at present.

The solution seems to eradicate the barriers for all; so that a young Kiwi playing in Sydney or Brisbane is just as eligible as playing in Dunedin for All Black selection and contracting. A closed system, but 100 percent free within.

Aussie billionaires need to become the new French owners. The only way Super Rugby can gain market share is using the two richest countries in the applicable areas.

Twiggy Forrest

Saviour? Or naughty boy? (Photo by Daniel Carson/Getty Images)

Geoff
Assuming Fijian Drua are added to Australia and Moana Pasifika to New Zealand, look for one round of Super Rugby AU/Aotearoa (5 weeks), one final (1 week), before one full found of SR TT (11 weeks) plus semi-finals and final (2 weeks).

That’s 19 weeks of rugby, which is tight and leaves no room for any kind of ‘champions league’ interaction with Japan at this stage.

If that becomes a goer, then something else will have to give, and the dreaded conferences might be back on the table.

Digger
Well, assuming we all still get along and come to an agreement then the logical solution would be to play a straight round robin with the addition of the new Pacifika sides.

It seems the only practical way to move forward under current circumstances.

Brett
The fact that we’ve all said something different here makes it rather unsurprising that there’s a bit of uncertainty about the way forward even just within Rugby Australia, never mind between RA and New Zealand Rugby.

I think RA are really torn on this, and I’m sure there will be a strong push toward maintaining some form of strong domestic competition among the Australian sides.

But the idea I’ve really warmed to in recent weeks is to play a full trans-Tasman competition as remains the main desire on both sides of the ditch, and with a view to adding in some type of Japanese involvement either in 2022 or more likely 2023.

Len Ikitau celebrates with his Brumbies teammates.

Len Ikitau celebrates with his Brumbies teammates. (Photo by Brett Hemmings/Getty Images)

And then once the international season gets underway, that’s the time of year to play Super Rugby AU. While it’s nice to see the NRC being discussed again, I really do think the easiest, cheapest, and least offensive way to create another tier of rugby development would be to use the existing five state teams and their existing structures.

Add a sixth team, perhaps an Australian Barbarians arrangement if it’s doable, and run a full home and away series while the Bledisloes and Rugby Championship Tests are being played. Call it the NRC, the ARC, the APC, find the old 1990s Ricoh Cup; call it whatever you like.

But it’s known teams with known rivalries providing a much better level of rugby for the contracted players and the injured and fringe Wallabies not in the Test matchday 23 than any confected national club set-up is going to.

I genuinely think that might just be the best way to get everything done in a way that suits the majority of needs.

OVER TO YOU: What were your Super Rugby highlights for 2021?

And what is the best way forward for the competition next season?

Source : The Roar More   

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