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The big north-south referee debate

Fri, 27 Sep 2013 20:31
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We look at the refereeing stats
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Wallaby coach Ewen McKenzie fired a verbal broadside at match officials ahead of their Rugby Championship encounter with the Springboks.

Addressing a media scrum ahead of the match between South Africa and Australia at Newlands on Saturday, McKenzie suggested that team tactics are dependant on who the referee is.

McKenzie made no secret of the fact that he felt there was a huge difference between match officials from the Northern Hemisphere and their counterparts from south of the equator.

With match officials having been the source of much controversy in the competition this year, Frenchman Jérôme Garcès would be keen to avoid the same pitfalls that his disgraced compatriot Romain Poite stepped into a fortnight ago in the encounter between the Boks and All Blacks.

The Wallaby mentor said that while they will continue to strive for an expansive game, they do make some allowances for the fickleness of referees.

"We always try and play a tactical game, but it is the balance between how much you run, kick and pass," McKenzie said, when asked if his team will abandon their running game.

"The All Blacks lead the competition and they have kicked the most, even more than the Springboks," he added.

"We understand what is working in the competition at the moment, where you play and how you play the game.

"It doesn't detract from the fact that, given a chance, we are going to run the ball -  we will run the ball because we like to do that.

"We are doing okay in that area and we want to get better."

He said the Wallabies want to be a "smart" team.

"Being a smart team also means you have to recognise the circumstances and be able to adapt to them."

While the All Blacks' kicking game has brought them success this year, McKenzie said it is all part of a cycle.

"I have been around for a long time and the game oscillates between attack and defence," the Wallaby mentor said, adding: "You can go for periods where you don't want to play rugby in your own half.

"That is a function of the referees and how they view the breakdowns, and how many times they penalise the attacking team versus the defensive team.

"We know, when we look at the refereeing stats, where that sits.

"The Northern Hemisphere referees are different to Southern Hemisphere referees.

"The confidence you have to play in front of your own poles is different, depending on where the game is at the time.

"At the moment a lot of the teams are not spending much time in their half, they want to be in the opposition half, because you don't quite know which way it is going to go on the penalty side of things.

"Every team has good goal-kickers at the moment, so you have to make sure you don't get behind on the scoreboard."

He said the Wallabies will continue to make adjustments and work with what is "relevant" in the game.

"As I said, we won't move away from our philosophy and continue to play rugby.

"We can run the ball from wherever - it is just a question of where we choose to ruin it from.

"We practice to play rugby all the time, then just work out what is going to work on the day.

"We will always be adapting around that, but the capacity to play won't leave us - we look forward to play ball in hand as often as possible."

By Jan de Koning

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