Richard Cockerill has reignited his campaign for an improvement in the standard of refereeing in the Guinness Pro14, after being left infuriated by the officiating of Welsh whistler Ben Whitehouse in Edinburgh’s defeat by Benetton in Treviso last Saturday.
“I’ve been in contact with Greg Garner [the Elite Referees Manager for the Pro14] because it was a really poor performance from the official,” said the capital outfit’s head coach. “There was some really poor errors from him around how he refereed us, the same as when he refereed us against Leinster.
“His performance wasn’t good enough. So, there is some responsibility [for the defeat] that lies with the officials but we’ll deal with that.
Asked if the issues with Whitehouse’s refereeing were the same in the Benetton match as in the Leinster match, Cockerill replied: “Yeah, just worse. He was just inaccurate and wasn’t good enough. He missed things.
“We had an incident where there was a no-arms clean-out on one of our players. Their player ran in from 15 metres and hit our player. It was a dangerous clean-out and it was just a penalty. We’ve all seen the World Cup and we’ve been sent the mandates by Greg Garner around how that area of the game will be refereed – that was a straight yellow card, but it wasn’t given. Then our player hits a man off the ball and it’s given as a straight yellow card.
“Earlier in the game, one of their players led with an elbow straight to the face of one of our boys. The TMO doesn’t see it, but I see it live and Greg Garner sees it live. If you review it, then it’s a straight red card. But it wasn’t picked up. That’s what their job is – to see it. The only job of the TMO is to look for foul play and tries: yes or no.
“We’ve been having discussions with them. But we’ve been in this process basically for three years now and we’re still having the same issues.”
It is not the first time Cockerill has expressed exasperation at this issue and he is clearly frustrated at the lack of progress from his perspective.
“It’s not good for the credibility of the competition. We’ve been saying the same thing for three years and it’s not good enough, simple as that,” he said.
“There are inconsistencies within each individual game, let alone from one game to the next. I was unhappy with the referee’s performance, I’ve put that forward, and we’ll continue to work with the Pro14.
“As and when Nigel Owens retires, there won’t be one international referee in the Pro14. We’ve got to get better, haven’t we?”
Whilst Cockerill clearly felt that Whitehouse’s performance did not help his team’s cause, he recognised that the team only have themselves to blame for the defeat by Benetton.
“It is a game we put ourselves in a position to win but we made some poor errors at times and our discipline wasn’t good enough,” he said.
“In terms of things we can control, the first part of the game our defensive performance just wasn’t acceptable – we were too soft. The conditions were wet, we knew Treviso would run at us hard, and we just didn’t meet that physical battle well enough in the first 20 minutes.
“As the game went on, we improved physically, but we need to improve our game-management and learn that we can’t be giving teams any points for free. We have had a good review and we have made sure there’s no misunderstanding around parts of our game where we need to get better.
“We want a good win on Friday night [against the Dragons at Murrayfield] because five points would take us on to 20 points. We would be starting to get ourselves into the [play-off] mix, if not cemented in the mix.”
Winger Darcy Graham will not be available for the match due to a quad strain he picked up in Scotland’s final World Cup outing against Japan last month, which is expected to keep him sidelined for another two to three weeks, but fellow internationalists Grant Gilchrist, Ben Toolis, John Barclay, Jamie Ritchie and Simon Berghan will all come back into the selection mix.