Gardner set to be first Aussie to ref Super Rugby final since 1996

Super Rugby
by Iain Payten

Leading referee Angus Gardner looks set to become the first Australian to handle a Super Rugby final since 1996 after SANZAAR announced the appointments of the match officials for this weekend's semi-finals.

South African Jaco Peyper was given the job for the Crusaders and Hurricanes match on Saturday in Christchurch and Kiwi Glen Jackson will be the man in the middle for the Lions-Waratahs clash in Johannesburg later that night.

The fact Gardner's name was left off the list is not a snub.

The whistleblower destined to do the final is often given the week off, and Gardner is easily the front-runner for the top job after capping a strong season with a widely-praised performance in the Waratahs-Highlanders' quarter-final.

After a furore about the excessive involvement of TMOs, and too-strong reactions to technical acts of foul play, Gardner handled the game superbly. He rarely used the TMO and didn't over-react to moments of off-the-ball contact between players.

Gardner, 33, has refereed 15 Test matches and if given the whistle for the Super Rugby as expected, will become the first Aussie to handle the decider since Wayne Erickson did the job in the first Super Rugby final in 1996.

The appointment would be a strong vote of approval for Gardner from SANZAAR after his decision to send off Frenchman Benjamin Fall against New Zealand in June was deemed "wrong" by a World Rugby-selected independent judicial committee.

Rugby Australia launched a strong defence of Gardner at the time.

"Angus is one of the best referees in the world and I've had a lot to do with Angus over many, many years and our view is he made the right call on Saturday night," Rugby Australia high performance general manager Ben Whitaker told Fairfax. 

"It's really unfortunate that a hearing then comes out and suggests he got it wrong. We feel pretty confused when we've been engaged and involved at the highest level of refereeing development, then you have this decision handed down. It's tough for Angus and we're 100 per cent behind Angus to make sure he gets back on the horse and continues to prove he is one of the best referees in the world."