Blowing whistle on refs
Kings call in experts to help interpret problem areas
There is a four-letter word beginning with an R that is giving the Isuzu Southern Kings players and coaches restless nights.
Refs and the Kings have not been seeing eye to eye and this has resulted in a plan of action being devised to get both parties on the same page.
Matters reached a head when the Kings had 22 penalties awarded against them during their Guinness PRO14 clash against Ulster in Port Elizabeth earlier in the season.
Kings coach Deon Davids is loathe to talk about referees after defeats, but he mentioned the “R-word” after the Ulster game, which was handled by Scottish referee Sam GroveWhite.
“In the scrums we felt were a bit on the unlucky side not being rewarded, but to get a penalty against us sometimes,” Davids said.
“Those things are frustrating because they influence the flow of the game and it also gets to the mental side of the game.
“It affects the way you think about the next phase of the game and the execution in terms of what you can do.
“It is definitely an area we will have to clarify as soon as possible.”
Davids is not the only coach who has brought up the Rword.
Edinburgh’s Richard Cockerill recently bemoaned the standard of officiating after his team beat Connacht.
“We always differ in terms of certain interpretations,” Davids said.
“What we have done was to get in Mark Lawrence and Stuart Berry, who work for SA Rugby and also with the PRO14, to look at our game and areas that we can improve in.
“So they were here in Port Elizabeth and we had an indepth look at where we need to improve.
“We also wanted to get a background of the referees and their culture. Referees from different countries look differently at certain things.
“The Kings have to understand how referees react and what their focus areas are. So we have made a concerted effort to better understand them and for them to look at the way we do stuff so we can improve in areas where we concede so many penalties.
“This will all help our game going forward. We also have a local referee who comes in once a week to focus in on areas to see whether there is improvement.
“Throughout the competition, on a weekly basis, I will be in contact with Lawrence and Berry to look at areas where we can improve.
“We also want to have a chat with certain individuals about their game and decisions that they make so we can move forward,” Davids said.
Kings captain JC Astle also has a plan of action for dealing with refs.
“It has been tough with the referees and we have been the team that has been penalised the most. So we are struggling a bit with the referees,” he said
“As captain I would like to have a good chat with the referee so we can have trust in each other. He can trust me with my team and vice versa and try to make the 50/50 calls go our way. To get that bond with the referee is quite important.”
PRO14's elite referee manager Greg Garner says work is ongoing to improve the standard of refereeing in the league.
Garner, who took up his position last year, is heading up a new five-year plan around refereeing in the PRO14 and has little doubt that current perceptions can be quickly changed.
“The vision is that we want world-class officiating within the PRO14 from all our unions,” says Garner, who refereed 16 Tests, 40 European games and 120 Premiership contests.
“That’s for referees, TMOs, assistant referees. It goes handin-hand with the PRO14 wanting to be a world-class tournament.”
“We have teams and referees from two hemispheres now, so the difference in interpretation can be quite large,” Garner said.
“We can get more consistency across the board, which is what the teams and spectators want.
“By the middle of the season, we’ll be able to see if the referees are getting better. If they’re not, we can see where they’re not getting better and then we can be sure of how to improve,” he added.
Getting into the minds of referees has become a priority for the Kings.