In a conversation with the New Zealand Herald on Wednesday, referee Bryce Lawrence said he would not referee in South Africa if he received threats against his person. This follows the outcry in South Africa about his refereeing of the World Cup quarterfinal between Australia and South Africa, a match which he believes cost him an appointment in the 2012 Six Nations.
Australia beat South Africa 11-9 in the quarterfinal though the Springboks dominated most of the match. They had many opportunities to win the match but did not take them. This defeat and exit from the World Cup led to an outcry against Lawrence's refereeing, especially his refereeing of the tackle where David Pocock of Australia was, almost completely, allowed the freedom of the tackle.
The criticism of Lawrence in South African circles was loud, at times bordering on hysteria. André Watson, South Africa's refereeing boss, criticised Lawrence. John Smith the Springboks captain said of his retirement from international rugby; "The one positive is that I won't ever have to be reffed by him again." A Facebook campaign entitled "Petition To Stop Bryce Lawrence Ever Reffing A Rugby Game Again" organised a petition to have Lawrence and soon had over 60 000 signatories.
Appointing Lawrence to referee in South Africa in Super Rugby would appear more imprudent than SANZAR would contemplate, and Lawrence told a reporter of Radiosport in New Zealand that he was aware of the possible danger of refereeing in South Africa where a referee was assaulted and injured while refereeing a Tri-Nations match, the only such incident in 140 years of Test rugby.
Lawrence said: "I'm not totally concerned. I know a lot of other people like the New Zealand Rugby Union and SANZAR do have some serious concerns. In all honesty I'm not going to go over there if there's any personal threat or I have concerns about my safety because in the end it's a job, I know that, and also it's just a sport and so I'm not going to put myself at risk."
His problem is his physical safety rather than any problem with South African teams. "I'll referee South African teams in Super Rugby, it may be in Australia or New Zealand that I referee them and I'm sure the criticism will resurface every time I do referee them."
He is fully aware of the South African reaction and the reaction that that has had for himself: "My quarterfinal performance created a lot of negative reaction in South Africa, pretty hostile, very personal, very harsh. Also on the flip side of that I got a lot of really strong positive support from rugby people in New Zealand and around the world who probably know me a little bit more than the people in South Africa and were feeling for me during that time.
"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."
Lawrence has done his own appraisal of his performance in the match and has found his performance to be wanting. "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.
"I was pretty relaxed going into that game, and Australia/South Africa I have refereed numerous times in the last few years at Tri-Nations level so the game didn't scare me or concern me. I just think I went away from what I'm 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."
The appointments to the Six Nations matches have been made known. Lawrence did not receive an appointment and the statement was made that he was being rested. Lawrence's take on the non-appointment is more direct.
"Look, there has been some pretty clear consequences from my quarterfinal display. I'm not going to be refereeing Six Nations next year. They can say that means I'm rested but in reality I accept that one of the consequences of my performance is that I'm not going to be doing Six Nations.
"That's disappointing on a personal level but also something that I probably support. Referees often get criticised and not held accountable - well, I'm clearly being held accountable. I'm not refereeing Six Nations."
Lawrence did not, of course, demolish South Africa's World Cup chances all on his own. The Springboks contributed to their own demise - two forward passes, twice losing the ball near the Australian line, losing the ball near their own line to set up the Australian try and the conceding a silly penalty for an air tackle in a line-out in full view of the assistant referee. Not kicking goals was also costly. The Wallabies also contributed to the Springbok defeat with a great defensive effort.
Lawrence was not the only referee to come under fire. The Samoans did not like Nigel Owens of Wales, the Welsh did not like Alain Rolland of Ireland and the French were cross with Craig Joubert of South Africa. But there was nothing to compare with South African anger directed at Bryce Lawrence.