Exiled official: Bryce Lawrence has retired after political pressure from the ARU and SARU

by Ben Coles

NEW ZEALAND referee Bryce Lawrence has retired, citing heavy criticism following the Rugby World Cup quarter-final between South Africa and Australia last year behind his decision.

The 41 year-old is set to take up a position as a high performance referee reviewer in his homeland but has frequently been denounced for his officiating by both the South African and Australian Rugby Unions. The criticism led to Lawrence questioning his own abilities as an elite referee ahead of the quarter-final last year in Wellington, causing the 25-test veteran to “freeze.”

“I went into the quarter-final knowing it was a massive match and I didn’t want to overly influence the outcome. 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 [group] 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 with some people kicking up a massive stink. It probably made me freeze on the biggest stage.”

Much of the criticism from South African supporters directed towards Lawrence was based on his officiating of the breakdown, with Australian flanker David Pocock repeatedly infringing without being penalised. Following the match, retiring South Africa captain John Smit was scathing in his comments about Lawrence’s performance:

”Bryce is not difficult to communicate with, he just doesn’t seem to listen very well. The one positive (of retirement) is that I won’t ever have to be reffed by him again.”

Complaints from former ARU chief executive John O’Neill regarding Lawrence’s handling of the Wallabies group stage loss to Ireland added to the pressure on the New Zealander from two of the game’s major governing bodies. With both the SARU and ARU blocking his appointment for the June Tests, Lawrence stated that he had no choice but to call it a day.

Follow Ben Coles on Twitter @bencoles_