By Nick Mulvenney
TOKYO (Reuters) – New Zealand coach Steve Hansen has dismissed the notion that referees favour in-form teams and says comments by counterpart Rassie Erasmus ahead of Saturday’s Rugby World Cup opener against South Africa were aimed at putting the match officials under pressure.
Erasmus is convinced that referees favour successful teams and this week called for a more balanced approach to officiating at the World Cup.
But Hansen believes there is no special treatment for his side, or any of the other major contenders in the competition, suggesting Erasmus’ words were aimed at influencing Saturday’s referee, Frenchman Jerome Garces.
“It’s pretty obvious what they are trying to do,” Hansen told reporters in Tokyo on Thursday. “I have a lot of respect for South Africa and particularly Rassie, he’s a great coach, but I don’t agree with them trying to put more pressure on the referees. They’re under enough pressure already.
“They don’t need us coaches doing what he is doing. It doesn’t matter who you are, as a coach or a team, you can always find things after a game and get emotional about the fact that it is against you and not the opposition. We have done it ourselves.
“But at the end of the day they go out there to do the best that they can and, yes, they don’t get it right all the time, we have suffered from that, just like other teams.”
The All Blacks were often alleged by fans and pundits to have received favourable treatment from match officials during a decade-long reign at the top of the world rankings.
Erasmus said he knew from personal experience that 50-50 decisions were likely to go your way if you came into a match with a reputation or on a lengthy winning streak.
“There is certainly a time when you get that respect and even referees buy into that respect,” Erasmus said. “Because you are playing so well, referees tend to almost find it tough to penalise you in 50-50 decisions.”
Three-times champions New Zealand were knocked off the top of the world rankings earlier this month after a draw with South Africa and a loss to Australia, with first Wales and then Ireland taking over as number one.
Erasmus believes the perception that as many as six teams will be in contention for the title this year could help.
“I think the way rugby has evolved in the last year or so, all teams are so close currently,” he added.
“This is a World Cup where any team can beat any team. That is the way it should be – referees should be open-minded going into test matches – which they are currently.”
World Rugby chief executive Brett Gosper said on Tuesday that he believed the referees for this World Cup were better resourced and trained than officials at any previous tournament.
“This is the best prepared group of match officials we’ve ever had,” he said.
“Everything’s in place for as much consistency as possible.”
Garces is widely regarded to favour dominant teams at the breakdown and scrum.
The Frenchman has also handed out red cards to two All Blacks – Sonny Bill Williams in a 2017 British and Irish Lions test and Scott Barrett last month – as well as South Africa’s Damian de Allende against New Zealand in 2017.
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, Additional Reporting by Nick Said; Editing by Ian Ransom and Toby Chopra)