TOKYO, Sept 19 (Reuters) - South Africa coach Rassie Erasmus is convinced that referees favour successful teams but is hoping the close competition among the main contenders at this Rugby World Cup will encourage a more balanced approach to officiating.
The All Blacks, who the Springboks meet in their Pool B opener in Yokohama on Saturday, were often alleged by fans and pundits to have received favourable treatment from match officials during a decade-long reign at the top of the world rankings.
Erasmus said he knew from personal experience that 50-50 decisions were likely to go your way if you came into a match with a reputation or on a lengthy winning streak.
“If you’ve been there like we were in 2009 when the Springboks were the number one team in the world and in 1998 when we were on that 17-test match roll, you get a lot of support from fans, opposition, respect and also from referees,” he told reporters in Tokyo.
“There is certainly a time when you get that respect and even referees buy into that respect. Because you are playing so well, referees tend to almost find it tough to penalise you in 50-50 decisions.”
World Rugby chief executive Brett Gosper said on Tuesday that he believed the referees for this World Cup were better resourced and trained than officials at any previous tournament.
“This is the best prepared group of match officials we’ve ever had,” he said.
“Everything’s in place for as much consistency as possible.”
Three-times champions New Zealand were knocked off the top of the world rankings earlier this month after a draw with South Africa and a loss to Australia, with first Wales and then Ireland taking over as number one.
Erasmus believes the perception that as many as six teams will be in contention for the title could help.
“I think the way rugby has evolved in the last year or so, all teams are so close currently,” he added.
“The point is at this stage, it is tough to say. Now Ireland are number one, then Wales, then England and South Africa are number one. I just think that pre-conceived idea that this team can’t beat the other team is gone.
“This is a World Cup where any team can beat any team. That is the way it should be - referees should be open-minded going into test matches - which they are currently.”
Jerome Garces, who will referee Saturday’s clash between the southern hemisphere giants, is widely regarded to favour dominant teams at the breakdown and scrum.
The Frenchman has also handed out red cards to two All Blacks - Sonny Bill Williams in a 2017 British and Irish Lions test and Scott Barrett last month - as well as South Africa’s Damian de Allende against New Zealand in 2017. (Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Ian Ransom)