Australian great David Campese has slammed the standard of officiating at the World Cup, saying "the referees are there to ref, not for the world to watch the ref".
With New Zealand's Bryce Lawrence facing an online petition calling for him never to referee again after his controversial handling of Australia's 11-9 quarterfinal win over defending champions South Africa last weekend, Campese said teams at the tournament were being forced to "play the referee".
"I think at some of the games, some of the skills have been very disappointing overall," Campese told Thursday's New Zealand Herald. "It's a highly different game. The referees have a big influence on how you play."
This Sunday sees New Zealand play Australia in a World Cup semifinal, with one of the key confrontations set to be the battle of the openside flanks between All Black captain Richie McCaw and Wallaby flank David Pocock.
Lawrence was widely criticised for letting Pocock do as he pleased at the breakdown against the Springboks and Campese said whoever came out best on Sunday would be down to the whistle-blower, in this case South Africa's Craig Joubert.
"It depends on who's the referee and who gets away with what," explained Campese, a member of Australia's 1991 World Cup-winning team.
"The whole World Cup, it's been interesting. There were so many forward passes that were let go and all the time no crackdowns - tackling with no shoulders, no arms, and it's all let go. You've just got to play the referee."
Campese added there was no consistency in the control of scrums and breakdowns.
"You saw some scrums right through the tournament that collapsed once and it's a penalty, and you saw other games where it's collapsed three or four times.
"You've got to realise it's 800kg of men packing in. The thing is the referees have never packed in a scrum in their life - like me... so sometimes it's a lottery.
"That shouldn't be the case. The referees are there to ref, not for the world to watch the ref.
"If two countries play, then someone in the middle has got to control it, but the best referee is the one you don't know who's reffing."
Campese said the game's increasingly complicated rulebook was behind a slump in playing standards.
"The rules are more complex - the breakdown is a mess, where you have to have a look inside and you don't know what's going to happen."
Meanwhile Campese urged the Wallabies to "turn up and play" in a bid to end their Eden Park hoodoo this weekend.
Australia haven't won at the Auckland ground since 1986, when wing Campese scored a try in a 22-9 victory over New Zealand.
But while he said any visiting team would always have a tough match at Eden Park, all they had to was "turn up and play" to have a chance.
Campese, recalling the Wallaby class of 1986, said: "I think we just had a very good team."
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