O'Neill to make formal complaint about referee

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 November, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 November, 2008, 12:00am

Australian chief John O'Neill is to complain to the International Rugby Board (IRB) about the performance of Irish referee Alan Lewis during the Bledisloe Cup encounter at Hong Kong Stadium last Saturday.

O'Neill, the chief executive of the Australian Rugby Union, is to send a formal complaint to IRB referees' boss Paddy O'Brien following the All Blacks' 19-14 win in the fourth leg of the Bledisloe Cup, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.

Lewis was roundly criticised by the Australian media and fans with the Wallabies bearing the brunt of his 'pedantic' interpretation of the law at the scrum and breakdown.

O'Neill's move to issue a formal complaint hasn't come as a shock to Hong Kong officials.

'I'm not surprised O'Neill is taking this step,' said Hong Kong Rugby Football Union executive director Allan Payne. 'But it is not for me to comment.'

However, HKRFU's referees' manager Bernie Fienberg said the players, especially the two front rows, should also be held responsible for failing to make the historic game a showpiece.

'Alan Lewis left it to the players to sort it out and it didn't happen,' Fienberg said. 'It is easy to say it is the responsibility of the referee, but the players also were accountable for making the game a showpiece.' Lewis was blamed for the stop-start nature of the game with both teams struggling at the scrum, while the Australians were also frequently penalised at the breakdown.

Former Hong Kong captain Nigel D'Acre, an Australian, said Lewis' style of refereeing was 'inconsistent'.

'I have watched the replay and there were two areas where he was inconsistent. The first was at the scrum where he got his timing all wrong in his call for 'crouch, touch, pause, engage',' D'Acre said. 'Both front rows had trouble with his timing and more often than not it was Australia who got penalised.

'The other problem area was at the ruck where he was very pedantic. There were numerous occasions where the ball was at the back of the ruck and the New Zealand scrumhalf was about to pick it up and he would blow the Australians for infringement. This was supposed to be a showpiece match, but unfortunately the referee put himself up as the centrepiece.'

Fienberg added it was a shame the players did not shoulder more responsibility to turn the game into a Barbarians-style display.

'Being a dead rubber, it had all the hallmarks of a Barbarians-type fixture. But instead, it was stop-start for long periods,' Fienberg said. 'If Lewis were to revisit the game this weekend, I'm sure he would think about policing the scrummaging area differently.'

The move by O'Neill to criticise the referee can be seen as a bid to put pressure on the IRB and the Northern Hemisphere to revert back to the ELVs (Experimental Law Variations) used during the Tri-Nations.

The Hong Kong Bledisloe Cup was not played under the same ELVs which featured in the Tri-Nations with the main change being the long-arm sanction (penalty) superseding the short-arm (free kick) - thus slowing the game down.