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Bryce Lawrence retires

Tue, 16 Oct 2012 13:56
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I had four really good games at the World Cup and then I had that
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Bryce Lawrence, who endured much opprobrium and was the target of much anger after his refereeing of the World Cup quarterfinal last year, has decided to retire from active refereeing.

He will turn 42 two days before Christmas, which suggests that his retirement is premature.

Two other experienced New Zealand referees who are to hang up the whistle are Vinny Munro and Keith Brown. Munro, who is 43, has refereed two Tests. Brown who will turn 42 five days before Lawrence, has refereed seven Tests. Lawrence has refereed 25 Tests, including those at two World Cups.

Lawrence is the fourth New Zealand to reach the mark of 200 first class matches after Paddy O'Brien (221), Paul Honiss (220) and Steve Walsh (210). A primary school master by profession he will now take up a role as the New Zealand Rugby Union high-performance referee reviewer. He followed his father Keith as a Test referee and now as a top referee administrator.

Lawrence refereed the Super Rugby Final between the Reds and the Crusaders in Brisbane in 2011 and was accused by the All Black captain, Richie McCaw of choking, which is what is believed to have happened in the World Cup quarterfinal between Australia and South Africa, which earned the noisy anger of South Africa and doubtless led to his premature retirement.

The anger masked some gross Springbok error but Lawrence has been honest enough to acknowledge that he got both games wrong.

On the Super Rugby Final, he says: "At last year's Super Rugby Final between Crusaders and Reds there was massive media pressure around my being a non-neutral referee and I let that affect me going into that game. I didn't make decisions and let the outside pressure change what I do."

He says of the quarterfinal: "I went into the game knowing it was a massive match and I didn't want to overly influence the outcome and that was in the back of my mind. The way that transpired was I didn't make decisions and if I had my time again I would just go out there and do what I normally do, which is just referee and back myself.

"I had four really good games at the World Cup and then I had that. I had outside pressure from pretty senior people from rugby countries behind the scenes that really created my mindset of lacking confidence to deliver what I normally do.

"There was some pretty nasty political stuff going on about that appointment. I refereed Australia versus Ireland and Ireland had won but behind the scenes guys like [Australian chief executive] John O'Neill were kicking up a massive stink. I knew a bit about that and it was enough to affect me, and it probably made me freeze on the biggest stage."

Of the criticisms of the quarterfinal, Lawrence says: "It got pretty bad. Not really threats on my family as such, though there was a concern, but it was mainly aimed at me through social media. On Facebook they launched a 'get rid of Bryce Lawrence' site and it was pretty nasty.

"That was absolutely the reason for my career change.

"I got told at the end of the World Cup that I would have a break from Test rugby for the Six Nations and I could totally accept that as there has to be a consequence for poor performance.

"I was told I would be brought back in the middle of this year, as I was ranked in the top three or four referees in the world. But because of the political reaction from rugby unions like Australia and South Africa behind the scenes, they dropped me.

"In Super Rugby, SANZAR used me but not in South Africa. So eventually they said it was getting tough having you in the draw, because we have to keep making changes to keep you in the system when you are not going to South Africa, so see you later. So I knew I was not able to referee at the level I needed to be re-contracted, really - all because of that one game."

Lawrence starts his new job in January. "It will be a big change, as I have had 10 years basically running myself and now I will be working for the NZRU reviewing, coaching and selecting referees. I am keen to do it but it is something that might just take me a while to find my feet."

The undoubted career highlight for him was the first Test between the Springboks and the British and Irish Lions in Durban in 2009.

"This clash between two heavyweights was my biggest appointment and probably my best ever performance at this level. I felt great going into the game and certainly was well prepared. The match had a huge atmosphere but throughout the 80 minutes I felt at peace and in the zone.

"My performance got huge feedback from players and rugby people. I felt proud that my peers recognised it as a top international performance. My bosses at the IRB and NZRU all agreed I'd had a good day at the office, which was very satisfying."

The euphoria did not last. Hosanna died an abrupt death.

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