Controversial call placed Rolland in firing line but refs got it mostly right
They've been analysed and assessed down to their toe nails. They must have woken up some nights at 3.00am shouting ‘Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage’. God help the wives who have been with them through it all.
So what do we make of the referees at this 2011 Rugby World Cup?
Have they been in harmony with the play or hopeless? Good or ghastly?
As ever, there have been all kinds of emotions, all sorts of individual performances.
Reputations have been revived or ruined. In some cases, perhaps terminally so
For example, imagine the suspicion and sense of unease if you’re playing in the next match refereed by New Zealander Bryce Lawrence, after his shocker in the World Cup quarter-final.
All South Africa swears blind that they were robbed by Lawrence, denied a place in the semi-finals because he allowed Australia to cheat blatantly in the match in Wellington. They had a point.
Lawrence, apparently bent on producing a fast flowing game (we don't know for sure because he won't talk to us and put his viewpoint), applied the laws of his own rule book.
Sadly, they bore little relation to those of the IRB’s version, the one to which we are all accustomed.
Handling in the ruck? Lawrence waved play on.
Players over the top and off their feet at the breakdown? Lawrence wasn’t interested in that, either.
Now in fairness to the bloke, the notion that South Africa lost because of his performance is banal. The Springboks went out because they butchered about five clear try scoring chances.
It wasn’t Lawrence who threw a forward pass when the ‘Boks had a guy free outside, ready to run in by the posts.
All the same, the New Zealand official’s performance was the worst of the tournament by some distance.
Yet others excelled.
Craig Joubert’s calm officiating was a welcome sign for the future.
At just 33, the South African who controlled this World Cup final has years ahead of him at the top of the game. He represents the new brigade.
Did referees influence games? Well, yes and no.
Nigel Owens played a decisive role in the South Africa-Samoa game when he red-carded Samoan full-back Paul Williams.
But he didn’t see the incident and was led into a cul-de-sac from which there was no escape by his assistant referee’s over-harsh judgment.
It should have been a yellow card, not red.
That ended Samoa’s chances of victory but again, it wasn’t the main reason they failed to reach the last eight.
That was down to the IRB who handed them the withering schedule of four matches in just 16 days, many less than the big nations received.
Irish referee Alain Rolland (pictured) made the single most controversial decision of the whole tournament, red carding Wales captain Sam Warburton for what the official saw as a spear tackle in early in the semi-final against France.
Debate still rages over that one, and technically Rolland was correct.
It wasn’t his fault that the laws offered him no room for manoeuvre.
Had they done so, it may well have been a yellow and the match would not have been cruelly influenced by the decision.
English referee Wayne Barnes missed a forward pass in France’s winning try over New Zealand at the 2007 World Cup.
And he missed (or at least, so did his assistant, the ordinaire French official Roman Poite) another forward pass in the Wales-Australia third place play-off game.
That led to a try by Shane Williams but it didn’t alter the outcome, thank goodness.
But overall, I would say that the level of refereeing at this tournament, Lawrence at Wellington excepted, was pretty acceptable.
Sure, mistakes were made. But didn’t the players make any of those?
Didn’t the media boys? With human beings, it tends to go with the territory.
But the level of preparation, coaching and instructing of the match officials overall, paid off.
The referees certainly played their part in a Rugby World Cup which was a great success overall.