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CEO Chat with Tony Lewis


Referee abuse from the side-lines should never be part of Rugby.

I will put my hand up as a player, coach, supporter and now CEO, that I’ve been guilty of questioning the ability of the referee at times. I still struggle with a referee performance in a grand-final in the Premiership where the Mako outscored the opposition in tries then still ended up losing, but this was done in the privacy of my mind wasn’t for public debate.

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As a player I was fortunate to have as a university lecturer, one of NZ Rugby’s great referees, Dave Millar – he always espoused the concept that you will never ever change a referee’s decision with abuse or ridicule. The best form of flattery was over a beer after the game. 

It amazes me that players, coaches and supporters can only see what they want to see. There is no debate that Nick Berry missed a blatant infringement in the last ruck of the Crusaders – Hurricanes semi-final but why didn’t TJ or Plumtree acknowledge the blatant foul play by Dan Coles. I am a great believer in the cricket concept that everything evens itself over a game or a season. 

Last week quite rightly we had the national media absolutely slamming football over referee abuse. It is never ever right to abuse, ridicule or threaten a match official. They are VOLUNTEERS who are giving up their free time to ensure that we all have a game to watch or play! They deserve our unconditional support on all fronts no matter what.

Every time a player or coach critiques a referee performance to me personally, or blames the referee for a loss, I inform them they are welcome to come back to me when they as individuals, or their team, stopping making mistakes. Everyone is human and in 40+ years of watching rugby I am yet to see any participant, referee or player have an error free game. Last weekend when my son told me that the reason his team lost was because of the referee, I reminded him that he failed to catch the ball on the full and mark it, instead he let it bounce, conceded a try and that was main reason. End of an illogical argument.

In my book there is no place for referee abuse.

It brings me to the question the arose on Saturday in Club rugby at Trafalgar Park. When will our Rugby grow up?

The game on Saturday was not a great game of rugby and all participants should take some responsibility. It was not a spectacle of quality and I was frustrated with the large number of scrums, the quality of the game and the large number of infringements in the second half.  But what surprised me most was the level of abuse directed at the official! 

I don’t have any issues from the gentlemen who screamed out at me personally from the East Stand that I had to do something about it and I was at fault, I agree it is my job. In fact, one of the gentlemen and I have had a very constructive discussion on the match this morning face to face which I really appreciate.  

What was the most upsetting for me was that seated directly behind me was a young referee with his mother. He in my opinion is the future of the game. They informed me after the game about the level of advice he receives when refereeing each week! We need to keep young men like him in the game.

Under the management of Steve Mitchell and the Referee Manager Dave Patterson we at TRU work very hard to recruit and retain referees but this is becoming more difficult each year. Each week we have extensive referee education sessions in both Nelson and Blenheim. We have referee coaches who work constantly with our referees. Referees, like players, make mistakes but like the players they also want to improve and have an enjoyable game.

I agree with some of the sentiments of the frustrated spectators on Saturday at the game. Like everything I do at work, I will ask this question, “Is this good for the game of rugby in our region?”

I encourage all supporters to please respect our referees who are crucial volunteers that we need to ensure we have a game to play and watch. I promise to offer all the support to Tasman Referees Association to continue the growth of this group. 

It was only two weeks ago a group of disgruntled supporters waited outside the referee changing room after a game to intimidate one of NZ’s most promising teenage referees. Inside the changing room, he must have questioned why is giving up his time. We have an independent judiciary and the player they were siding with, who had knocked down an opposition player after receiving a Red Card for punching, will have the next 26 playing weeks to consider his actions. 

Please support our volunteer Referees. And if you believe you could do a good job of it, please contact me and we’ll get you involved.

#FinzUp
Tony Lewis