Referees have the hardest job in sports, when they get it right nobody notices, when they get it wrong everyone bays for blood. During Saturday night's game between the Hurricanes and the Sharks, referee Paul Marks made four huge decision and the video evidence would suggest he got two of them horribly wrong.
Referee Marks was rightly critised after not dealing with a high tackle correctly during the Chiefs vs Cheetahs game, this writer labelling him "weak willed". Growing a backbone and no longer being afraid to make the big decisions is a good thing, but Marks first needs to make the right decision when he does.
The first big decision in Saturday's game came in the 59th minute when he gave Hurricanes' prop Neemia Tialata a yellow card for an off the ball charge on Stefan Terblanche. This decision was clearly correct, Tialata moved into the path of Terblanche deliberately as the Sharks' fullback chased a kick and did so right in front of the assistant referee.
Just five minutes later Marks was called into action again when Sharks' replacement forward Epi Taione head butted a Hurricanes' forward while joining a maul. Marks deliberated with his assistant to make sure he had the right player, then sent off Taione and few could argue that decision. In fact Taione will probably serve a long suspension for his indiscression.
Having got two big calls right, Marks undid all his good work in the final ten minutes of the game. Hot on attack, the Sharks set up a textbook rolling maul which went to ground as it crossed the goal line, but the Sharks were unable to ground the ball. Playing advantage for an earlier infringement, Marks gave a penalty try for deliberately collapsing the maul but replays showed it was the Sharks who brought the maul down as they attempted to ground the ball.
His final error of the night was by far the worst, costing the Hurricanes the game and leaving fans in the stadium scratching their heads.Time was up on the clock, the scores tied when the Hurricanes made a break down the right flank and looked to snatch victory.
Hosea Gear dashed down the touchline, then flicked the ball back inside to Conrad Smith but a hand from Terblanche knocked the ball back, and then Smith was tackled without the ball by Bradley Barrett. Instead of awarding an obvious penalty try, or even referring the incident to the Television Match Official, Marks blew full time as Smith stared in disbelief.
If there is one thing worse than a referee who refuses to make the big decisions, it is a referee who is unafraid to make big decisions and gets them wrong. In an effort to improve his game by making the big calls, Marks has taken a step backwards by awarding a penalty try that wasn't, then failing to award one which was as obvious as they come.
Referees make mistakes, they always will, but in this day and age of professionalism we seem to demand accountability from the players, but not the officials. After making three shockers this season, all of which affected the outcomes of the games, I fully expect to see Marks refereeing next week, perhaps even getting a promotion to international rugby, and that is just unacceptable.