JP Doyle, the former international referee, says officials should not be felt “sorry for” despite the huge scrutiny on them throughout the Rugby World Cup.
The pool stages have featured a number of divisive decisions with the introduction of the ‘bunker system’ taking crucial calls over yellow and red cards away from the field of play.
Despite seven red cards punctuating the 32 fixtures so far, Doyle, who spent over a decade refereeing in the Premiership before a stint in Major League Rugby in the United States of America, believes referees are in a good place.
“It’s a really complicated job. Please don’t feel sorry for us. It is a very brilliant job, which is well rewarded. We love it, we get great trips and it is a wonderful thing to be involved at a World Cup,” Doyle told the Telegraph Rugby Podcast. (Listen below)
All of the red cards in the tournament started as yellows when initially referred to the ‘bunker’. Doyle, who was part of the officiating team at the 2015 tournament, says that the installation of a foul play officer has alleviated pressure on referees and sped up the game.
“The bunker is providing a brilliant clarity for the referee on what they need to do to speed up the game and taking the pressure off to make it less draconian for them,” the 44-year-old said.
However, Doyle, who is currently head coach of match officials at the Scottish Rugby Union and has been working as a consultant for ITV during the World Cup, does not expect a straight red card to be shown without input from the ‘bunker’ during this World Cup.
“I would say it is highly unlikely,” he said. “I think you’ve seen some that were fairly clearly towards that line and we would all agree ‘that was red’. You know it’s going to come back as red and it comes back as red and that’s OK.
“I don’t believe that [the power to give straight red cards] has been removed from the referees. They do have the power but the reasons I listed earlier around pressure, that’s removed for them. I can certainly understand and support why they wouldn’t do that.”
Although World Cups provide international referees with the rare opportunity to collaborate over an extended period, with the aim of achieving consistency, Doyle suggested that top referees will be able to adapt to distinctive situations and name-checked three leading arbitrators.
“You will see the best referees – and I don’t think I would be speaking out of turn to say Wayne Barnes, Jaco Peyper, Ben O’Keeffe – having a greater malleability in their hands to spot the moments and deal with them correctly,” he added.
“That’s what seniority and class of performance gives you. We all love to hate the referees, and I’m sure those three refs I listed will have plenty of nay-sayers out there, but they have way more people who back their wonderful abilities on the pitch.”
Doyle’s referee tip for the final (should England not make it)
O’Keeffe was the man in the middle for Ireland’s 13-8 victory over South Africa in Paris, but Doyle believes that Wayne Barnes would be the front-runner to officiate the decider; provided that England do not make it and he remains eligible.
“Nationality is always a big thing,” he said. “If New Zealand get there, Ben O’Keeffe won’t do it, and there’s South Africa and England. You’re looking at those three referees but it’s a subjective choice for the people who hold the decisions.
“It could be outside of those three but you would strongly suggest that Wayne Barnes, in his fifth World Cup from 2007 to now, would be the class of the field. He’s shown that and has refereed that way for so many big games and has annoyed probably every nation along the way because he’s done so many big games [and] you can’t keep people happy all the time.
“But people believe he’s class and what’s really interesting is that as he referees, people in general will believe what he says as fact because they know he’s got the game’s best interests at heart. Other referees who don’t referee in that style, they irk people much quicker because you don’t show the class that the top guys do.”