An analysis of the Wallabies’ record under the Group of Death referees, looking at key statistics since the 2011 World Cup
The Wallabies face the toughest group in World Cup history this September. They must face the might of the English and Welsh packs behind enemy lines and the unpredictable Fijians. The games will be tough, the margins small and the consequences grave. Little things will need to go the Wallabies’ way, including the calls of the referee.
How much influence do referees have?
The influence of referee Nigel Owens on the Wallabies’ chastening loss to the All Blacks at Eden Park was discussed recently. Mark Reason even suggested that Owens’ performance was laden with “unintentional bias” which directly impacted the outcome. If it is true that certain referees have a “bias” (albeit subconscious) in favour of or against a particular team’s style of play, then in a World Cup where opponents are so evenly matched, this could have a crucial impact.
This article examines how the Wallabies have fared under the referees they will face in the Group of Death and beyond. While many factors go into a result (including most importantly the skill and commitment of the teams), the stats give us some valuable insight into how Australia’s record under certain referees could be the difference between victory and defeat in pursuit of “Bill”.
The Wallabies’ record under Group of Death referees
ROMAIN POITE – THE SCRUM MISER – REFEREE VS ENGLAND
Remember the Wallabies’ harrowing losses to the British & Irish Lions in Sydney (16 – 41) or the All Blacks in Auckland (20 – 51)? Monsieur Poite was the referee in charge of both of those games. It’s safe to say that our record under Poite is not good. When we have lost, we have lost heavily – conceding 10 tries to 3 in the process.
The most worrying statistic is that we only win 71.67% of our own scrum ball under Poite, compared with an overall 79.57% over the same period. This is the worst scrum percentage that we have under all referees in this period. This is a particular concern as we will face a very strong English scrum in the Twickenham cauldron where the perception of a weak scrum is likely to be hugely significant. The English also have a promising 67% win record under Poite over the same period.
However, a relieving fact is that our only victory under Poite came against the English at Twickenham in 2012 (20 – 14).
CRAIG JOUBERT – FAVOURITE’S TALISMAN – REFEREE VS WALES
Joubert is one of the highest regarded referees in the world and officiated in the 2011 World Cup final. If we make it through the Group of Death, we may yet play under him again.
Although we tend to be on the wrong side of the penalty count under Joubert, we have not lost to any side other than New Zealand. Importantly, under him, we have a 100% record against the Welsh from three games, including last year’s 33 – 28 win in Cardiff (although we haven’t lost to the Welsh since 2008). Wales also have a poor 33.3% record under Joubert over the same period.
While the Wallabies only win 73.50% of their own scrum ball under Joubert, this increases to an encouraging 89% against the Welsh.
An important point to note for later in the tournament, when we have played New Zealand under him, we have had one draw and an average points differential of -5 over four matches. The Wallabies’ overall average points differential against New Zealand is -11 over the same period. So under him, we have tended to get closer to the best.
Chris Pollock – Referee vs Fiji
We have a 75% record under Pollock, including big wins over the Irish in Dublin (32 – 15) and the French in Sydney (39 – 13). Under Pollock, the games have tended to be more free flowing, which is reflected in our average of 3 tries per game.
While an open game is good to watch, this has the potential to feed into Fiji’s hands. However, Australia’s far superior set piece, and the English autumn, are likely to make Pollock less pivotal to the overall result.
Pascal Gauzere – Referee vs Uruguay
We have not played any matches under Gauzere since the 2011 World Cup so this is an unknown. However, against Uruguay, the identity of the referee is unlikely to be important.
Referees we could face after the Group of Death
NIGEL OWENS – “VISITOR’S OMEN”
Nigel Owens is probably the highest regarded referee in the Northern Hemisphere – some have touted him as the man to referee the World Cup Final. This is not good news for Wallabies fans.
Remember the Wallabies’ first Rugby Championship loss to the Pumas or the time New Zealand held them scoreless for 80 minutes? Surely you remember the game a couple of weeks ago at Eden Park, when the Wallabies fell from a glorious victory to a 28 point loss in the space of a week?
While we typically face tougher opposition under Owens, our away record under him is abysmal – we have won zero games from 6 away games. The average points differential in those games is a massive -17. Australia’s average score per away game under him is a paltry 12 – well below the Wallabies overall average of 22 points per away game. Our average penalty differential of -3.66 is also among the worst of the referees examined for this article.
A reassuring thought is that we will probably play under Owens at a neutral venue, unless the match involves England. It would not be surprising if Owens is the referee for a potential South Africa v Australia quarterfinal.
WAYNE BARNES – “THE SURE THING”
The Wallabies have an exceptional record under Wayne Barnes – we have not lost in the 6 matches he has officiated in, including wins over the All Blacks in Sydney, two against the Welsh, Argentina and a win against the French. Pre-World Cup 2011, Wallabies’ fans may also remember the famous Tri-nations victory over the All Blacks in Brisbane in 2011, and the drought breaker in Bloemfontein when “Gilbert” nailed the last gasp penalty in 2010 – Barnes reffed both games.
The Wallabies’ scrum win percentage is the highest under Barnes than all other referees (minimum 3 games). Despite being more penalised against Barnes, the Wallabies’ average points differential away from home is an enormous +15. We also average almost 4 tries per game in away fixtures under Barnes.
So Wallabies’ fans would love to have Barnes officiating a game in the later rounds of the tournament. Unfortunately, referees such as Joubert and Owens tend to be more highly favoured for the blockbuster games.
So, overall the Wallabies have mixed results under different referees. As supporters, we should be encouraged by our record under Pollock, Joubert and particularly Barnes. However, our poor match and scrum record under Poite poses a real concern for the acid test against the English at Twickers. The Welsh are also incredibly tough, and given our tendency to be on the wrong side of the penalty count under Joubert, our progress may depend on the performance of Welsh sharpshooter Leigh Halfpenny. Even if we get through our pool, a likely match up under the Wallabies’ bogey man Nigel Owens awaits in the quarter or semi-finals.
However, this is a new Wallabies in 2015. The Wallabies have shown significant improvement in the set piece, and are playing with tremendous self-belief under Michael Cheika. So, I’m backing them to take the referee out of the equation and survive the Group of Death.