Super Rugby referees dropped after complaints about performance

Referee Lourens van der Merwe has been dropped after complaints about his control of the match between the Sharks and the Reds at Kings Park. (Gallo)

Referee Lourens van der Merwe has been dropped after complaints about his control of the match between the Sharks and the Reds at Kings Park. (Gallo)

Super Rugby's governing body dropped three referees from upcoming matches on Monday as the organisers of the three-nation tournament responded to a litany of complaints from coaches and players about refereeing standards in this season's competition.

South African Lourens van der Merwe, Argentinian Francisco Pastrana and Australian James Leckie were cut from the refereeing roster in a move referees boss Lyndon Bray said recognises "who has performed to expectation and who has not".

The Super Rugby referees panel has decreased to 14 from 18 with the additional removal of South African referee Jason Jaftha, who is injured.

South African referee Stuart Berry, who has produced some of the most contentious decisions in recent weeks, remains a member of the refereeing panel.

"We have always strived to have strong accountability within our team and, importantly, accountability for the competition," Bray said. "As such we have always sought to conduct ourselves in a fair, transparent and open manner."

Surprising decisions
The coaches of the Auckland-based Blues and Bloemfontein-based Cheetahs criticised Pastrana last weekend after a match in which he made a number of surprising decisions and seemed to misinterpret instructions from the television referee. He has been replaced for this Friday's match between the Crusaders and Hurricanes.

Van der Merwe has been replaced for this Saturday's match between the Blues and Highlanders after complaints about his control of matches between the Queensland Reds and Sharks and the Western Force and Chiefs.

Leckie received criticism for his handling of the match between the Crusaders and Rebels two weeks ago, in which 30 of the 44 points scored resulted from penalties.

Bray criticised Berry publicly for awarding a controversial try to South Africa's Lions in a match against New Zealand's Blues two weeks ago.
He was also responsible for a 19-4 penalty count against the Reds in their 23-20 loss to the Lions in Johannesburg on Saturday after the team led 20-3.

Reds coach Richard Graham criticised harshly Berry's performance.

Penalty count
"The penalty count was 19-4 against us," he said. "I don't think I've ever been involved in a game where the penalty count has been like that ... Certainly we will be speaking to Lyndon Bray to get clarification."

Berry is due to act as an assistant referee in a match this weekend between the Bulls and Chiefs. Bray said Berry and Australians Angus Gardner, Andrew Lees and Matt O'Brien weren't scheduled to be the primary referees in matches over the next two weeks, but would be considered for appointment after that time.

Bray has rejected suggestions that Super Rugby should once again employ neutral referees but says steps need to be taken to ensure higher standards of refereeing.

"One of our core strategic objectives is to grow the depth of the team that is able to referee 'any game, any time'," he said. "In line with this, we have reduced the size of the team heading into the next phase of the competition and in doing so, have recognised who has performed to expectation and who has not." – Sapa-AP

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