Ulster coach Matt Williams last night urged the governing body of the Heineken Cup to appoint a sole tournament director of refereeing to bring more consistency to officiating after claiming that Welsh referee Tim Hayes played a role in his side’s defeat to Harlequins at the Stoop.
Williams, who had been furious that referee Nigel Owens refused to consult the television match official to adjudicate whether Ryan Caldwell had scored against Stade Francais in Ulster’s opening defeat to Stade Francais at Ravenhill, believes his side once again were treated harshly in the 42-21 defeat on Saturday to Quins, who moved top of Pool Four with a six-try bonus-point win.
“At half-time the count was eight penalties, two free-kicks and a penalty try against us to one free kick,” blasted Williams, whose side had initially opened in blistering fashion with a converted try by Timoci Nagusa in the third minute establishing a 7-0 lead in the third minute.
“That’s effectively an eight-zero penalty count at half-time. Are you telling me that they did not infringe at the breakdown once in the first half?
“You have got to say that Quins scored two great short-kicking tries in the second half. All credit to them, great skill, but the referee influenced every other Quins score in that first half. The sin-binning was (McCullough's) frustration (coming out).
“We were competing for the ball and not getting the penalties, our scrum-half was getting hit by guys coming across the side and give Quins credit, they really targeted the breakdown, very, very smart. But no team can cope with that ocean of possession against you. A sin-binning and a penalty try.
“Officiating is just so difficult at this moment but you have to be very careful what you say as a coach. It is just totally inconsistent.”
Williams, who could be seen making his feelings felt to Hayes as the players left the field at half-time, said he didn’t speak to Hayes afterwards but added he would be filing a report.
But he believes the only way to improve the consistency of refereeing is a complete shake-up of the current structure in which referees are drawn from the competing unions’ panels.
“We will put in a report. I don’t talk to referees. It’s like complaining to your mother-in-law about your wife. It doesn’t get you too far,” he said.
“We don’t need a Welsh director of refereeing, an Irish director of refereeing and a Scottish director of refereeing or an English one, what we need in a tournament is one refereeing director who says ‘this is what we are going to do’ and so we all know.
“It is very frustrating when you come here and start the game so well but then for a 25-minute period you just can’t get possession because of the penalty count.”
Quins stretched their lead with a try by Mike Brown just after the restart and although Ulster rallied bravely with touchdowns by Paddy Wallace and Andrew Trimble, the home side were able to close the game out with a second Williams’ try and a second penalty by Malone, who also slotted his second penalty late on.
Quins director of rugby Dean Richards had little sympathy for Williams’ complaints. “I don't think it was unfair. I think the referee refereed it as he saw it,” Richards said.
“A couple of things we noticed about Ulster before we came into the game was that at times they could be ill-disciplined, that if they turned up here without a disciplined head on they would shoot themselves in the foot.”