It’s tough at the top, or so they say. The reality is that actually it is tougher in the middle. The expectations placed on referees is growing at all levels of the game, and none more so than those lucky (?!) few who make the international grade.
Tomorrow England face Argentina in their opening World Cup clash in Dunedin. The most significant name on the team sheet is that of one Bryce Lawrence, the New Zealand referee charged with the arbitration of the match.
Normally the choice of referee is simply a matter of curiosity as a rugby fan, but this selection has some serious significance. England have NEVER won a game with Lawrence in charge. Coincidence? Maybe.
But then consider that the recent shock (but deserved) win of Italy over France in this year’s Six Nations had signore Lawrence at the helm. In matches with southern hemisphere versus northern hemisphere teams the south have always prevailed. Bias? Maybe.
Worst of all, Lawrence had the most significant impact on the 2009 British Lions tour to South Africa.
He officiated the first test so badly that most international press had a field day in criticising his quality and pedigree – he is after all the only New Zealand international referee (Steve Walsh in now Australian) and his dad was also an international referee.
He came into his own special league less than 60 seconds into the second British Lions test when he made the recommendation to yellow card Schalk Burger for eye gouging! Any under 9 player could tell you that contact with the eyes is a simple and straight red – a concept seemingly way beyond Lawrence. Incompetence? Maybe.
So tomorrow promises to be a tough day at the office for England. Even if a competent display is forthcoming will Lawrence favour the south over the north, the underdog over the favourite, as appears to have been is form for the last 3 years at International level. Anomaly? Maybe…..