Referees in spotlight after contentious decisions

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) Contentious refereeing decisions once again dominated the headlines after two of Saturday’s rugby tests in the southern hemisphere, prompting Australia coach Michael Cheika to invite one of the officials to a post-match press conference to explain his calls.

French referee Pascal Gauzere didn’t take up Cheika’s offer as the frustrated Wallabies’ coach admitted he was at a loss to understand some of the rulings in his team’s 20-16 loss to Ireland in the deciding third test in Sydney.

”I invited (Gauzere) to come to the presser but he didn’t want to,” Cheika told reporters. ”You guys have seen what happened out there. You saw the decisions.

”The only people who can answer the questions are the referees, not me. I’ll say something and you’ll say it’s a biased view.”

Cheika said he did not want to be too critical of the whistleblower for fear of being branded a bad loser but he did admit he was left scratching his head after Gauzere’s decision to penalize Australia replacement hooker Tolu Latu for not releasing the ball at a ruck late in the match, gifting Ireland flyhalf Johnny Sexton the chance to put his team four points ahead.

”I think you guys saw what happened. Tolu is first there with no ruck formed and he gets awarded a penalty against him. Like I said, that’s the fact,” Cheika said.

”I don’t want to be the guy who looks like `oh he’s a moaner’. That’s how it always ends up.”

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt said he was confused by some of the decisions that went against his team but conceded that was just part of the game.

”There’s always a few bounces of the ball that don’t go your way and some that do,” Schmidt said.

”I felt there were probably a couple of things that didn’t go our way as well. It’s all about perspective.”

World champions New Zealand seemed to benefit for the third straight week from a disputed refereeing decision as they completed a 3-0 test series win over France by winning the third test 49-14 in Dunedin.

Irish referee John Lacey appeared to impede France scrumhalf Baptiste Serin at a scrum in the 32nd minute, allowing New Zealand flyhalf Damian McKenzie to dash through a gap in the defense to score a try that gave the All Blacks a 21-14 lead.

New Zealand won the first test 52-11 after the match had been in the balance until the referee issued a dubious yellow card to French lock Paul Gabrillagues. France then lost the second test 26-13 after fullback Ben Fall was sent off.

After Saturday’s series finale, France coach Jacques Brunel said he thought Lacey should have disallowed McKenzie’s try.

”To me it seems quite clear and straightforward that if a player or referee should obstruct the play, and it disadvantages one team or another, it should be dealt with,” Brunel said.

But New Zealand coach Steve Hansen disagreed, saying the Irish official had correctly followed the laws of the game.

”I know the rule book reasonably well. I’ve read it for years,” Hansen said. ”There’s nowhere in the rule book that says a referee can cause obstruction.

”He’s got to stand somewhere and it’s not our fault that our guy (McKenzie) ran close to where he was standing.

”People are clutching at straws there. What do they want him to do; click his fingers and disappear or something?”