The present outcry about South African referees and their neutrality are nothing new and history has ample examples where home team decisions have won matches, in South Africa and abroad.
The decision by TMO Marius Jonker who denied the Crusaders what would’ve been the winning try with a more than just contentious decision, brought new scrutiny to South African referees and their handling of matches.
This highlighting of recent instances doesn’t reflect well on South African referees. Even the All Blacks coach Steve was critical of the consistency demonstrated in the penalty award by South Africa’s top referees, without going as far as to call it bias. And he wasn't the only one.
Current stats show to what extent South African Super Rugby teams have benefitted against overseas visitors or even in SA derbies (see below).
♦ It is, however, nothing new and as old as the game itself.
Only the older readers of today will remember how Springbok prop Jaap Bekker was pummelled in and outside the scrum (see picture) after the recall of heavyweight boxer Kevin Skinner to the All Blacks front row in 1956.
It was a revenge series for the All Blacks after they had lost the 1949 series 0-4 in South Africa, and they won the 1956 series with referees turning a blind eye to the illegal attacks on the Springbok forwards and Bekker in particular.
This 1956 revenge came after the boot of Springbok (prop) Okey Geffin was responsible for a world record 15 points through five penalties in the first test, won 15-11 by the Springboks after trailing by 0-11.
In the four-test series against the All-Blacks, all of them wins for South Africa, Geffen scored 35 of his team's 47 points – another world record in a series at the time.
♦ And what about the blatant penalty try that wasn’t awarded by referee Gert Bezuidenhout in the final test of the 1976 series against the All Blacks?
The following appeared in the New Zealand Herald in 2016, referring to SA referees’ bias:
“…lLike the infamous Gert Bezuidenhout, who whistled the All Blacks out of the 1976 series in South Africa and who was targeted by the All Blacks when they saw him at the airport on their departure.
"Listen boys, you can go to your home," said Bezuidenhout, "I have to live here."
♦ There was also Mannetjies Roux’s tackle on Richard Sharpe during the 1972 British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa. It was blatantly and dangerously high and today would have cost him many weeks off the field today. But not even a penalty ensued in this Lions match against Northern Transvaal for an incident that ruled out visiting centre Sharp, regarded as a match-winner, for the first two tests.
♦ Ask Wynand Claassen’s team of 1981, denied a deserved draw in the All Blacks series with a howler from Welsh referee Clive Norling in the infamous flour bomb test.
He awarded a blatantly incorrect penalty after fulltime that cost South Africa a share of the three-test series with the All Blacks getting the penalty to win the third test 25-22.
One can go on and on about decisions, most of them in favour of the home side, and at all levels. Home teams will and do generally get the advantage, even with neutral refs.
But the present outcry is undoubtedly worth a wake-up call for referees and for Sanzaar, who have the challenge of providing refs over vast distances should they wish to return to neutral referees in the Super Rugby series.
And what follows, indicates that this is perhaps necessary.
Recent stats of Super Rugby matches in South Africa –
Overseas teams playing against SA sides in South Africa this year with a local referee in charge have been penalised 96 times, the SA franchise less than half as many times (47).
The same South African teams, playing with an overseas referee in South Africa, were awarded 72 penalties, the Australasian sides 66.
The Lions team had been awarded 48 penalties in three games in South Africa and the opposition sides only six with South African referees in control.
In diplomatic fashion Hansen didn’t accuse the referees. “I don’t know any team that’s only given six penalties away in three games so I would say there’s not enough consistency in what they’re seeing. I’m not saying the penalties they are giving are not right, I’m saying they’re obviously missing a few.”
The two referees mainly in the firing line are Egon Seconds and Rasta Rasivhenge.
In the Lions match against the Rebels Seconds awarded 20 penalties to the home side and just one to the Rebels. In the Lions versus Waratahs match he awarded 11 penalties to two.
The Lions won two close victories, 36-33 en 29-28 respectively.
Rasivhenge on Saturday awarded 12 penalties to the Lions and only three to the Highlanders, who were beaten 38-29. He awarded 12 penalties to the Bulls and only four to the Crusaders in the latter team’s runaway 45-13 win against the Bulls.