Recently retired Springbok vice-captain Victor Matfield has laid the debate about New Zealand referee Bryce Lawrence's World Cup quarterfinal performance to rest.
The legendary Bok lock, who retired from all forms of the game after captaining the Barbarians against Australia last Saturday, said he felt Lawrence had "frozen", rather than "cheated" - as has been suggested in some quarters - when the Wallabies beat the Boks 11-9 in their World Cup quarterfinal encounter in October.
South African fans were so incensed by Lawrence's performance - in which he missed 20-odd calls and allowed Wallaby flank David Pocock a free reign at the breakdown - that they flooded an online petition to have the referee banned from the game.
A Facebook campaign entitled "Petition To Stop Bryce Lawrence Ever Reffing A Rugby Game Again" has over 84,000 signatories, having been started soon after that match on October 9.
The ugly spectre of match fixing was even thrown into the ring as the fall-out over the Boks' exit from the global showpiece boiled over, while Lawrence recently said he would not referee in South Africa if he received threats.
However, Matfield poured cold water on the suggestion that there was anything untoward about the Kiwi match official's performance.
He said that at a World Cup the margins were so small and the outcome of games were influenced by so many factors that it would be unfair to suggest the referee was "out to get them".
"I don't think Bryce [Lawrence] was out to cheat," Matfield told this website in an interview, on the day of the Cape Town launch of his book - Victor: My Journey.
"I think the occasion [the importance of the match] might have got to him," the 110-times capped Bok said, adding: "He probably froze, but I doubt he was intent on cheating."
This in stark contrast with the view expressed by prominent sports professor Tim Noakes, who afterwards challenged the International Rugby Board to launch an investigation into the Kiwi's performance.
Noakes, head of the University of Cape Town's Exercise and Sports Science Department, spoke of "bent" science and a "predetermined outcome before kick-off".
"When science is manipulated to produce a predetermined outcome, it's called 'bent' science. Such science is usually directed by large commercial interest. When the outcome of a sporting event is predetermined, we call it ‘match-fixing'," Noakes wrote in a letter to a local newspaper.
"I am not saying that there was match-fixing, I am saying that the IRB must prove there wasn't," Noakes added.
However, Matfield was adamant that it was a "poor performance" rather than anything sinister on behalf of Lawrence.
Lawrence, who earlier this month said he would not referee in South Africa if he received threats against his person, admitted he was "disappointed" with his performance in the quarterfinal.
"I was disappointed with some aspects in my own performance that day after refereeing four really pretty strong games in pool play. I'm not blaming anyone for the quarterfinal refereeing display apart from myself. I didn't referee as well as I could," the Kiwi ref admitted.
He said he went away from what he is best at.
"I'm best when I'm pretty decisive and reasonably technical and tactical - and I just went too much down the tactical side of things where I was really trying to minimise making technical errors.
"I got criticised heavily and some of that I accept because I know I could have done better."
He has since been dumped by the International Rugby Board from their panel for the Six Nations tournament that starts in February, although he will still feature in the 2012 Super Rugby series - where he is likely to encounter South African teams again.
Lawrence is also fully aware of the South African reaction and the reaction that his performance has had for himself.
"My quarterfinal performance created a lot of negative reaction in South Africa, pretty hostile, very personal, very harsh," said Lawrence.
"It hasn't been the greatest four or six weeks of my life... in all honesty there isn't a day goes by even now that I don't think about what I could have done better and how it's affecting me and what it means for me going forward.
"It's still very fresh and probably pretty raw really," added the Kiwi official.
However, Lawrence could have an 'ally' in Matfield should he officiate in South Africa again - although the former Bulls skipper is unlikely to provide the Kiwi whistleman with a key to the City of Pretoria!
By Jan de Koning
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