CAPE TOWN – Making Jaco Peyper the referee for the Super Rugby final was always going to be a big call.
But is it the right one?
Sanzaar have pointed to their policy in explaining the appointment of a South African referee for a decider that includes a South African team in the Lions, who take on the Crusaders on Saturday at Ellis Park.
CEO Andy Marinos said: “The selection criteria for all match official appointments for the last two years follows a clear tournament policy – as agreed by the SANZAAR Executive Committee and the tournament’s stakeholders – that such appointments be merit-based.”
Former Welsh and Stormers centre Marinos also pointed out that it was the same criteria used in 2016, which saw New Zealander Glen Jackson chosen as the man in the middle despite the Hurricanes being involved in the Wellington final against the Lions.
But while that may be the policy, the question is rather if that policy is the correct one.
Yes, during the season it makes sense in order to reduce costs perhaps, and having the better referees for a big game such as the Lions against the Crusaders or Hurricanes.
But the playoffs are different, and it should be handled as such.
The pressures on the match officials are enormous, as we saw last week when Peyper was in charge of the Lions-Canes semi-final.
He made a controversial call in deciding to yellow-card Beauden Barrett for moving the ball illegally out of a ruck with his legs, as he was trying to “roll away” from the tackle area.
The Kiwis felt that the Hurricanes flyhalf was hard done by, as it wasn’t deliberate.
But for me, Peyper got the call spot-on, as he had made a decision on what had happened – Barrett moved the ball with his legs – as opposed to intention, which you can never prove anyway.
However, a lot of the angst in the build-up and aftermath of the game across the rugby spectrum would’ve been avoided if a neutral referee had been in charge.
And the same applies to Saturday’s final. Imagine the outcry if Peyper awards the Lions a late penalty to win the game? Everybody would be crying “biased!”, and it would be hard not to blame them.
Peyper is one of the better referees around, but he does sometimes – like most referees – get caught up in the emotions from the home crowd.
The other danger, though, is that his appointment may actually be a negative development for the Lions.
He is a professional and will not do it deliberately, but subconsciously, Peyper may just be stricter on the Lions than on the Crusaders, purely due to the fact that he doesn’t want to be seen as a South African referee favouring a South African team.
That is not fair on the Lions, or Peyper himself.
There will be over 62 000 people at Ellis Park on Saturday, baying for the Crusaders’ blood and reacting to every Peyper decision that goes against their beloved Lions.
That is why, while he may not have been rated as the best referee in Super Rugby this season, Australia’s Angus Gardner should’ve been appointed to remove any doubt about bias.
Of course, if the Lions can dominate the Crusaders, then there won’t be any questions about the ref!
* Ashfak Mohamed is the Digital Sports Editor at Independent Media.