It’s official, Bryce Lawrence has retired from Rugby refereeing, here’s my take on his retirement and the Facebook Petition Page that drove him to make the decision to pull the plug.
At around 2am yesterday morning I received a link to an article on the Bay Of Plenty Times website. It made a hard-hitting announcement… Bryce Lawrence was officially retiring. After a year and a few days since his dismal performance during the quarter-final between South Africa vs Australia during Rugby World Cup 2011, this was music to many a Rugby fan’s ears, Bryce had thrown the towel in after taking charge of his 200th first class match, something that only three other New Zealand Refs have achieved before him, Paddy O’Brien (221 matches), Paul Honiss (220) and Steve Walsh (210). In some way I was slightly weary of its validity, however as the day progressed and finally hearing it from the horse’s mouth during a radio interview, there is absolutely no doubt that it is was valid.
As news broke out on South Africa’s Sport24.co.za yesterday, and following the Bay Of Plenty Times article, it is very clear that the main reason why Bryce Lawrence retired is due to the vitriol he received from angry Rugby fans on the Facebook Page, “Petition To Stop Bryce Lawrence Ever Reffing A Rugby Game Again” which I started hours after that quarter-final that accumulated the support of 85 000 supporters, which a year later is still sitting at 80 000 supporters strong…. although it’s quite possible that a good chunk of those that had left were those who opposed the petition constantly causing a ruckus with supporters of the petition.
This is what Bryce had to say regarding his retirement…
“It got pretty bad,” Lawrence said. “Not really threats on my family as such, there was a concern, but it was mainly aimed at me through social media. On Facebook they launched a ‘get rid of Bryce Lawrence‘ site and it was pretty nasty.
“That was absolutely the reason for my career change.
“I got told at the end of the World Cup that I would have a break from Test rugby for the Six Nations and I could totally accept that as there has to be a consequence for poor performance.
“I was told I would be brought back in the middle of this year, as I was ranked in the top three or four referees in the world. But because of the political reaction from rugby unions like Australia and South Africa behind the scenes, they dropped me.
“SANZAR used me but not in South Africa, so eventually they said it was getting tough having you in the draw, because we have to keep making changes to keep you in the system when you are not going to South Africa, so see you later. So I knew I was not able to referee at the level I needed to be re-contracted, really – all because of that one game.”
Now this is where Bryce speaks rather honestly and openly about outside pressures from senior Rugby administers and others before the SA vs Aus quarter-final
“I went into the game knowing it was a massive match and I didn’t want to overly influence the outcome and that was in the back of my mind. 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 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. I refereed Australia versus Ireland and Ireland had won but behind the scenes guys like (Australian chief executive) John O’Neill were kicking up a massive stink. I knew a bit about that and it was enough to affect me, and it probably made me freeze on the biggest stage.”
Coincidently John O’Neill just last week resigned from his post to focus on outside business… you can only wonder if everything as it seems at face value, purely speculating, but who knows what has been going on behind closed doors at the IRB, but one thing is for sure, there are some positive results in the air.
It wasn’t the first time Bryce had been subjected to outside pressure…. “At last year’s Super Rugby final between Crusaders and Reds there was massive media pressure around me being a non-neutral referee and I let that affect me going into that game. Again, I didn’t make decisions and let the outside pressure change what I do.”
“It will be a big change, as I have had 10 years basically running myself and now I will be working for the NZRU reviewing, coaching and selecting referees. I am keen to do it but it is something that might just take me a while to find my feet.”
Bryce describes his career highlight being the first Test between the Springboks and the British and Irish Lions in Durban in 2009.
“This clash between two heavyweights was my biggest appointment and probably my best ever performance at this level. I felt great going into the game and certainly was well prepared. The match had a huge atmosphere but throughout the 80 minutes I felt at peace and in the zone.
“My performance got huge feedback from players and rugby people. I felt proud that my peers recognised it as a top international performance. My bosses at the IRB and NZRU all agreed I’d had a good day at the office, which was very satisfying.”
In January, Bryce will take up a role as the New Zealand Rugby Union high-performance referee reviewer.
I’m glad Bryce has spoken quite honestly and openly about the whole saga, and this is quite possibly the most we’ve heard from him since the quarter-final, albeit over a year later, I think if he had spoken out as whole-hearted as this shortly after the game things may have taken a different direction, you can only wonder what political pressure was placed on him following the Aus vs Ireland game however I’m doubtful we’ll ever know.
I do respect Bryce for his decision to retire, in my view he has come out, fully admitted his faults, taken responsibility, and made the ultimate sacrifice by deciding to pull the plug on his refereeing career, the end result that we all wanted, and he himself has granted us that…In essence, Bryce Lawrence himself has signed the final signature to “Stop Bryce Lawrence Ever Reffing A Rugby Game Again” and that is something I think everyone should respect since it was the only goal of the campaign.
Although the petition page was in no way intended to get as nasty as Bryce describes, there were times where I was under pressure to disable the ability for users to post comments on the page, however after consideration it was decided it would be wrong to silence people, since at the end of the day, people are entitled to their opinion and the freedom to express their views given the page was a platform for them to cumulatively express those views. It seems that at the end of the day, it was those views that caused the end result we have today.
I’d like to thank every single person who supported the petition since without your individual support we wouldn’t be sitting with this end result, I think you can all give yourselves a pat on the back and accept a personal virtual handshake from me, we did what others said would be impossible, we moved the mountain and played a massive role in causing possibly the biggest Referee backlash upheaval, in Rugby history… and say what they will, nothing can deter from the fact that it was a “raging” success in the end. Today we have proven that in this day and age, individual emotions and arguments are no longer confined to the walls of your lounge, or small group of mates standing around a fire, these days through social media, those emotions can be echoed and heard across the world culminating into a massive noise that has now proven to be a rather powerful force. No longer is sport entirely controlled and influenced only by its players and governing bodies, but now also by those who support it in a way that they never could. Decision makers will need to be a lot more transparent and be held responsible for actions which will preserve the integrity and fairness in sport, else they risk another backlash such as what we have seen over the past year.
I do however refuse to gloat at Bryce Lawrence’s expense, I don’t feel that is right, he’s been man enough to give us what we wanted, however the end result for me personally is a somewhat bittersweet victory since, although I am quite proud in what the campaign has achieved, I did cop a lot of criticism along the way, with many nasty comments on the page and elsewhere directed at myself, although obviously a mere fraction of what was directed at Bryce, sometimes even friends laughing it off that it would never make a difference, but I guess you brush it off and keep persevering until the end. I personally take no joy, depriving a man of doing something which he undoubtingly loved, even if he made too many mistakes that didn’t warrant him being in that position, and even though it was his choice to retire in the end, it wasn’t intended to be personal since as I’ve said in the past, we don’t know Bryce personally, he’s probably a nice guy, although everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but at the end of the day, the integrity of the game needed to be preserved and the real winner in this case is Rugby.
I’d like to wish Bryce the best of luck in the future ahead with his new career path, and thank him for making the decision to call it quits, it’s quite a respectful move given the circumstances. Nothing will bring back that quarter-final, however I think that things can now move on without this dark cloud hanging overhead. Best of luck mate.
From me personally, here’s an honorary salute for doing the honorary thing in the end… well played.
I’m sure many lessons have been learned from this over the past year, even more so with this final result, that under-performance even at refereeing levels can cost refereeing careers where the thought to be “untouchables” are in fact, well… touchable.
I look forward to seeing how the story progresses with regards to the political pressure that Bryce has openly spoken about, I think he’s opened a great can of worms in this respect and I’m sure we’ll be hearing a lot more about it in the future about just what exactly went on before that quarter-final.
I’d like to take a leaf out of David Campese’s cap, who I had the pleasure of attending a dinner evening with last week… To those who laughed at the cause, said it would never work, and assumed that nobody was going to listen to 80 000 people standing together on a Facebook page…well…
Now although many will agree of the outcome, I know many will still want more out of it which I respect and value your support, however the primary aim of the petition has been a success…. We’ve Stopped Bryce Lawrence From Ever Reffing A Rugby Game Again!
Now have a listen to this Radio interview that Bryce Lawrence did recently on Radio Sport NZ discussing his retirement.
I think it will be an interesting topic of discussion at the John Smit and Lewis Moody Dinner on the 22nd November
What are your thoughts on Bryce Lawrence’s Retirement?