Out of depth referees turning rugby into exasperating viewing

We expect the best from our national teams, and got it last weekend when the Wallabies produced their most conclusive performance for some time while the All Blacks again showed off their ruthlessness.

However both Tests were almost ruined because those officiating weren't up to the required standard. Each international was marred by inconsistent refereeing and/or meddling TMOs (television match officials). So dire were they, calling them second best is almost a compliment.

First up, the outcry over England referee Luke Pearce following the All Blacks-France Test was justified. Maybe France were never going to win. But they were cruelled by Pearce wrongly sending their lock Paul Gabrillagues to the sinbin for a dangerous tackle on Ryan Crotty when the score was 11-all.

It was a poor, knee-jerk decision. Without consulting the TMO George Ayoub, Pearce immediately pointed Gabrillagues to the sideline. The replay which showed Gabrillagues not making contact with Crotty's head, confirmed how wrong Pearce's decision was. While Gabrillagues was off, the All Blacks took advantage of the extra man, scoring two tries- and thus ended what was until then an engrossing tussle.

Then two far more dangerous tackles by All Blacks Sam Cane and Ofa Tu'ungafasi on French winger Remy Grosso only led to a penalty.

Cane hit Grosso on the chin and Tu'ungafasi's shoulder crashed into his head, but both were allowed to remain on the field. No consistency there. Adding to the stupidity was World Rugby's pathetic citing commissioner report three days later which issued only 'a warning' for Tu'ungafasi's tackle, deeming it "dangerous 'just short' of red card level." The collision fractured Grosso's skull.

As diabolical was South Africa's Marius van der Westhuizen, who was merrily led down the garden path by New Zealand TMO Ben Skeen during the Australia-Ireland Test. While Skeen loved to eagle-eye every try, he was also involved in dubious decisions that understandably infuriated both teams, including when Israel Folau's second-half try was disallowed for foul play.

The supposed foul play was when Ireland played a decoy move and Wallaby lock Adam Coleman believing the ball was about to go to his opposite Iain Henderson, was committed to the tackle.

This tackle of the decoy runner, which had absolutely no effect on that Irish attacking movement, was deemed horrific enough for a try to be disallowed. When Wallabies captain Michael Hooper asked why, van der Westhuizen offered the weak reply: "It is what it is."

Gee thanks Marius. It is what it is... absolute rubbish. This is a stinker of a law that needs to be interpreted with a bit of common sense. It also enables referees to get unnecessarily finicky about non dangerous off-the-ball moments that clearly do not affect a game - that is until an over-zealous TMO who wants to remind everyone of his existence thinks otherwise.

There was a far worse moment of foul play shortly after when Hooper was dumped on his head at the breakdown by Ireland's Sean Cronin, aided by teammate James Ryan. After numerous replays, those in charge said: "There was a clear neck roll. He doesn't finish him off. Penalty only."

Doesn't finish him off? Hooper was dumped on his head. It was at least a yellow card. As infuriating was that we had to wait two minutes 55 seconds before a decision was made, and play at last resumed.

Two minutes 55 seconds of absolute nothing. During that break, they could have run four or five greyhound races around the perimeter of Suncorp Stadium. Far more interesting than listening to blundering officiators.

All further evidence that the biggest blight on the game has become the ever-increasing intrusion of TMOs. Referees are now too scared to make a decision, and TMOs want to butt in, prompting endless dead moments as we wait an eternity for a decision to be made. The TMOs should be renamed the TNOs (Tedious Nuisance Operatives), especially as we are now told they are watching replays of incidents not shown to the general public.

As if wasting almost two minutes virtually every time a scrum is set is not enough of a pain in the butt, there are the constant interruptions as referees and TMOs use any excuse to replay anything that is slightly out of the norm. Rugby is becoming one long yawn.

Compare it to rugby league. Unlike rugby, the NRL is targeting 'nit-picking' referees, realising that as they are in the entertainment business they must doing everything possible to quicken the game. They use the TMO. But it is sharp and effective. After only one or maybe two looks at the incident, they make a decision. Twenty or thirty seconds at the most, and the game moves on.

Not rugby. The TMO is another unnecessary pause in a succession of long punctuation marks.

The Mr Magoos in the rugby TMO box love nothing better than put on the slippers, place pipe in mouth while they watch something six, seven, eight times before deciding the bleedingly obvious. As minutes of sheer tedium looking at a referee look at a big screen pass, you sometimes wonder if Magoo has toddled off to put the kettle on. You've certainly gone off... your brain.

As perplexing was appointing New Zealand's Ben O'Keeffe for the first South Africa-England international at Ellis Park. O'Keeffe, who would be in the running for this year's most underwhelming Super Rugby referee, struggles to keep control and regularly bewilders with confounding decisions. Most games O'Keeffe finds himself berated by someone on the field. It's not a good look. Even New Zealand-based commentators admitted O'Keeffe 'lost it' in the second half of the Johannesburg international.

There are good referees. Angus Gardner is pretty consistent, even though in recent times he seems distracted by engaging himself with on-the-run battles with several Australian players. Since Jaco Peyper stopped palling around with the players, his refereeing has improved markedly; while the young South African referee Rasta Rasivhenge looks promising. He at least appears to have a feel for the game.

But there are many clearly out of their depth who keep getting important fixtures. Until that stops, rugby will remain among the most exasperating sport viewing experiences going around.