SOUTH African Tappe Henning is to take over the education and training of Scottish referees next month after signing a three-year deal to become the SRU’s ‘referee commissioner’.
The new post was not advertised and came into being after the 52-year-old met with SRU chief executive Mark Dodson earlier this year. Scottish referees have struggled to make an impact in the world game with a succession trying and failing over the past decade to make the breakthrough to the main tournaments. Not since Jim Fleming in the 1990s has Scottish rugby had a respected presence in world refereeing.
In recent years, the SRU has complained to the IRB about the lack of recognition of Scottish referees at the top level and called for fairer selection for the RBS Six Nations, summer tours and Rugby World Cup, but to no avail.
Malcolm Changleng was the last Scot to referee a Tier 1 Test match as far back as 2007, while Rob Dickson was the last Scot to referee a Six Nations game, back in 2004. Scotland’s proud history of providing world leading officials sunk to its nadir at the 2011 Rugby World Cup, when, for the first time, no Scottish match official was involved, as a referee, assistant referee or Television Match Official.
Dodson and SRU representative on the IRB, John Jeffrey, have now decided on a different tack, to bring in an experienced Test official to provide an outsider’s view of refereeing in Scottish rugby and improve the quality.
William Taljaard Stopforth Henning only refereed 14 Test matches, starting fittingly at Murrayfield in 1995 with Scotland’s World Cup clash with Samoa, but he has been a mentor of South African referees and gone on to become an IRB selector and advisor of referees.
He was described by former IRB Referee Manager Paddy O’Brien as the “jewel in my crown”. One of the four-man refereeing selection panel chaired by Jeffrey in recent times, he will quit the South African union at the end of the month and move to Edinburgh, with his wife following next year.
The SRU declined to confirm that the move was about tackling under-performing referees or the failure of Scots to be taken seriously in the world game.
The move is unlikely to be met with universal support among Scotland’s refereeing fraternity, some of whom have felt badly let down by the union in their representations at IRB level in recent years. However, the SRU’s
Director of Rugby Operations, Colin Thomson, said: “We have a number of referees who have officiated at Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup through ERC and who have shown they have the aptitude to perform at the top level of the game.
“Last season, Dave Pearson was appointed to drive up the standard of refereeing within the Six Nations and now, with this appointment, we are determined to help our referees make the next step and once again officiate at full international level.”
Intriguingly, Pearson was in Hawick on Saturday watching the RBS Premiership match between the host club and Melrose, refereed by one of the new group of promising young Scottish officials, Lloyd Linton.
Henning has been handed a wide remit, starting with what the SRU described as a “root and branch review of refereeing in Scotland”.
It will also include training, education and “up-skilling”of Scottish referees and mapping a new direction for referees to break the perceived glass ceiling back into international rugby.
He will be in charge of the SRU’s solitary professional referee Andrew McMenemy and work with the refereeing system down to club level, as well as with Scotland’s pro and international coaches and players to improve their discipline.