Owen Doyle: Referees must handle outside pressure from South Africa for Ireland Tests

Referee Andrea Piardi had a brilliant game in the URC final, despite the comments of Bulls coach

Jesse Kriel of South Africa breaks clear to score their first try against Wales. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty

It is a scrum to South Africa, five metres out, under the Welsh posts. Chris Busby, in his first major Test, sets it well, there is an acre of space to the left, and also to the right. There is no better position to launch an attack, and the crowd wait for a move of stunning invention.

And what do the ‘Boks actually do? They keep the ball in the scrum, and powerfully generate a penalty kick. Heavens above, if that is the height of their ambition, then we can all give up.

But, of course, it is not. The reality of their ambition is quite different. It is to inflict a couple of defeats, the heavier the better, on Ireland next month. They are smarting after three Irish victories on the trot, including their only defeat in the World Cup.

So, create the penalty, and not show any moves to Andy Farrell, in a match which lacked real Test match intensity, and which they were always going to win. They changed gear in the second half, and Wales could not score again.


In contrast, the coming Irish Tests will lack nothing in intensity. In fact, be prepared for high-octane physicality, all of which must stay within the laws on foul play. There is, though, an unwelcome tone to some of the comments coming from South Africa just now.

Matches like this are not easy to referee, and Busby will look back at his performance and consider what he could have done differently. That is all part and parcel of the detailed reviews which take place in the professional world. The main areas, without dissecting his decision-making, which need some work are communication and the breakdown. There was a lot of slow ball, although admittedly some of this was caused deliberately and was not illegal. South Africa will play very differently in the coming weeks.

Aphelele Fassi of South Africa is yellow carded for the challenge on Taine Plumtree against Wales. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty

Overall, the referee came out of the match fairly well, making some strong decisions both in the scrum and in sending Aphelele Fassi to the sinbin for a bunker review. These calls did not please the punditry team, led by former ‘Boks coach Nick Mallett. In this role, he rarely sees anything wrong with South African play. Rassie Erasmus will never need to criticise a referee again, this group will happily do it for him.

They expressed shock and horror that the stronger South African scrum had been penalised. For a long time they have generated penalties legally – but also illegally. They have always been rewarded just because they shunted the opposition pack backwards, which has given them a sort of licence to then be the disrupters.

More dismay followed as the pundits also disagreed completely with the Fassi decision, saying that the ref should have listened to his assistant, Christophe Ridley, who also seemed at odds with Busby. In catching the ball, Fassi’s leg was in the air, just as Wales’ Taine Plumtree arrived on the scene.

At that point, Fassi made a second voluntary movement with his leg, resulting in his boot striking the Welsh player. While opinion may be somewhat split, I’m completely with Busby on this one. And, I’ll bet that, if the studs on Fassi’s boot had done some splitting of their own to Plumtree’s face, then my opinion would be unanimous.

There were too many stoppages, and we certainly got TMO overload. A scoring pass, clearly forward, got the okay from TMO Mark Patton, who then called another one forward which actually looked straight enough. Several foul plays were also called in, resulting in “penalty only” decisions. I don’t think we need these intrusions.

Glasgow Warriors' Josh McKay, Zander Fagerson and Seb Cancelliere after beating Bulls in URC final. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Now, to Loftus Versfeld. Glasgow, who would have guessed it? They were nothing short of brilliant in a truly epic finale to the season. They clawed their way back from a near hopeless 0-13, throwing the kitchen sink into the task they just about managed to reduce the half-time deficit to 7-13.

Fast and effective in attack, they ending up scoring three tries to one, and winning the second half by 14-3. And what of the defence, it was as tight as a drum; particularly a masterclass in maul defending, which was vital to the victory.

Franco Smith must take a bow, he was the better coach on the day. Bulls coach Jake White had quite an extraordinary post-match comment reserved for referee Andrea Piardi, saying that he “let the away side win”. URC will not be amused, and is bound to protect its match officials by investigating this remark. We will wait and see what happens. An immediate, profuse apology might get the coach off the hook.

Piardi’s performance was pretty much top notch, totally calm and assured throughout a frenetic, physical match. His communication, in perfect English, was hard to fault, a comment which also applies to his TMO, Matteo Liperini. Piardi now does a bit of leapfrogging in my completely unofficial ranking – he finishes the tournament as its leading referee. Tanti complimenti.

PS: The South Africa v Ireland matches will be reffed by Luke Pearce and Karl Dickson of the RFU. Nothing but their very best will do, so no pressure then.