‘Crossed the line’ – ref Ben O’Keeffe on Super Rugby final abuse
Under-fire referee Ben O’Keeffe has responded to the abuse he received following the Super Rugby Pacific final won by the Crusaders against the Chiefs, saying some fans had “crossed the line”.
He added that he is worried about the direction the game is going in.
The experienced New Zealand match official posted a message on his Instagram page today featuring his reply to the abuse and threats highlighted by 1News yesterday, plus some of the messages he has received – many of which had to be blurred out by this organisation due to their offensive nature.
O’Keeffe, 34, and his two on-field officials were booed by some sections of the Waikato Stadium crowd as they received their finals medals on Saturday night following the Crusaders’ 25-20 victory.
The Chiefs, warned repeatedly by O’Keeffe for their offending in the first half, were penalised 15-8 and lost three players to yellow cards.
Among the messages reported by 1News yesterday were threats, and there were more in O’Keeffe’s post today along with a host of misdirected and confused rants.
“Unfortunately, as a union referee at the highest level, I have had to accept and grow accustomed to the post-match vitriol that fans normalise post game,” O’Keeffe wrote.
“It’s a sad reality that it doesn’t affect me anymore, but that doesn’t mean it’s ok.
“I think back to the Europa League Final [football] referee walking through the airport and his family getting chairs thrown at them – I hope my family is never subjected to this but the direction some fans are going now in rugby, I know we are closer than we have ever been.
“This is one of many recent examples when someone has crossed the line towards a match official in Rugby.
“Referees are part of the game, and we need support from players and coaches to have the tough conversations privately but to publicly back and support their officials – not criticise. This will change the way the fans treat us.
“Abuse is out there and for anyone going through it right now in any form please understand there is support there, people do love you, there is help available and if all else fails, send me a message and I would be happy to talk with you.
“Let’s celebrate the season, let’s celebrate what was a great final from the players.
“There were some excellent decisions, and some poor ones that I accept I made and need to improve on – continual growth is something that excites me to be better for the game.
“We need Rugby to be the best game in the world, on and off the field – let’s do it together.”
While many Chiefs fans were angry at the three yellow cards, Anton Lienert-Brown’s for a high tackle on Dallas McLeod has since been ruled to meet a red card threshold, with the Chiefs and All Blacks midfielder due for a video hearing today.
Loose forwards Luke Jacobson and Sam Cane were also sinbinned, the latter for a costly ruck offence late in the game.
Afterwards, Crusaders head coach Scott Robertson recognised the difficulty of refereeing such a high-stakes game, but Chiefs head coach Clayton McMillan, while not directly criticising O’Keeffe and his assistants, remained annoyed at a clear forward pass by the Crusaders that was not ruled as such.
McMillan added: “I don’t want to bag the referee – the crowd did that at the end of the game. Maybe that says something.”
A Super Rugby Pacific statement sent to 1News yesterday read: “The Super Rugby Pacific tournament does not condone in any way the abuse of match officials on any forum and [is] concerned to see some of the comments on social media following the Super Rugby Pacific final.
“Super Rugby Pacific will conduct the usual performance review of the match officials team in the coming days.”