EDINBURGH head coach Richard Cockerill has once again directed the spotlight of scrutiny towards the standard of officiating in the Guinness PRO14, after being incensed by the performance of Welsh referee Ben Whitehouse during his team’s defeat to Treviso last Saturday.
It is not the first time that the pugnacious Englishman has broached this issue, and he is clearly frustrated at the lack of progress being made by PRO14 when it comes to improving refereeing performances, which he believes is undermining the credibility of the league.
“There are inconsistencies within each individual game, let alone from one game to the next. I was unhappy with the referee’s performance, I’ve put that forward, and we’ll continue to work with the PRO14,” he said.
“It’s not good for the credibility of the competition. We’ve been saying the same thing for three years and it’s not good enough, simple as that. As and when Nigel Owens retires, there won’t be one international referee in the Pro14. We’ve got to get better, haven’t we?”
Cockerill revealed that he has been in contact with Greg Garner, the Elite Referees Manager for the PRO14, with specific reference to Whitehouse’s recent performances when officiating Edinburgh games.
“There was some really poor errors from him around how he refereed us, the same as when he refereed us against Leinster,” said the coach. “His performance wasn’t good enough. So, some responsibility [for the defeat] lies with the officials but we’ll deal with that.
Cockerill was asked if his complaints about Whitehouse’s refereeing were the same in the Treviso match as they had been against Leinster. “Yeah, just worse,” he replied. “He was just inaccurate and wasn’t good enough. He missed things.
“We had an incident where there was a no-arms clean-out on one of our players. Their player ran in from 15 metres and hit our player. It was a dangerous clean-out and it was just a penalty. We’ve all seen the World Cup and we’ve been sent the mandates by Greg Garner around how that area of the game will be refereed – that was a straight yellow card, but it wasn’t given. Then our player hits a man off the ball and it’s given as a straight yellow card.
“Earlier in the game, one of their players led with an elbow straight to the face of one of our boys. The TMO doesn’t see it, but I see it live and Greg Garner sees it live.
“If you review it, then it’s a straight red card. But it wasn’t picked up. That’s what their job is – to see it! The only job of the TMO is to look for foul play and tries … yes or no!
“We’ve been having discussions with them [the PRO14]. But we’ve been in this process basically for three years now and we’re still having the same issues.”
Only themselves to blame
Whilst Cockerill clearly felt that Whitehouse’s performance did his team no favours, he did also recognise that this was not the only reason Edinburgh came up short against Treviso.
“It is a game we put ourselves in a position to win but we made some poor errors at times and our discipline wasn’t good enough,” he said. “In terms of things we can control, the first part of the game our defensive performance just wasn’t acceptable – we were too soft. The conditions were wet, we knew Treviso would run at us hard, and we just didn’t meet that physical battle well enough in the first 20 minutes.
“As the game went on, we improved physically, but we need to improve our game-management and learn that we can’t be giving teams any points for free.
“We have had a good review and we have made sure there’s no misunderstanding around parts of our game where we need to get better.
“We want a good win on Friday night [against the Dragons at Murrayfield] because five points would take us on to 20 points. We would be starting to get ourselves into the (play-off) mix, if not cemented in the mix.”
Missing men and returning warriors
Winger Darcy Graham is recovering from a quad strain picked up playing for Scotland against Japan at the World Cup last month and will not be back in action for another two to three weeks, but fellow internationalists Grant Gilchrist, Ben Toolis, John Barclay, Jamie Ritchie and Simon Berghan will all come back into the selection mix this weekend.
Meanwhile, Cockerill was fairly unsympathetic to the plight of current English and European Champions Saracens, who have been deducted 35 English Premiership league points and fined £5.36 million for failing to honour the league’s agreed salary cap.
“Wow,” he said, when asked for his reaction. “Somebody showed me earlier and I thought it was a spoof. I’m surprised that it ever came to anything because these things generally don’t.
“I don’t know all the details of it, but it clearly has an effect because the salary cap is quite strictly policed, and there have been discrepancies previously, but they have been fairly minimal. It clearly gives them an unfair advantage.
“The salary cap is to try and make it a level playing field so it gives more opportunity for teams across the competition to win, and Saracens have won the league in two of the last three years and it clearly has an effect on Europe, on rotating the squad, on internationals and everything else, so it is a big deal isn’t it.
“You are resting players for Europe, you have players away for internationals, and you are still winning. Now we can understand why they have been so competitive.”
He was asked if he thought Saracens’ English titles should be rescinded. “I remember Melbourne Storm in Australian rugby league got done for a similar thing, and they got their titles stripped,” he pointed out. “It’s not for me to comment on, really, but, yeah, it is something I am sure people are talking about.”