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Referee Lawrence retires after pressure from critics

Bryce Lawrence's retirement is a victory for some South African rugby fans

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Article Published: Wednesday 17 October 2012|

New Zealand referee Bryce Lawrence has retired from the game of rugby as a match official and taken a parting shot at those who hounded him out of the game.

Forty-one-year-old Lawrence, orginally from Tauranga, called time on his career as a match official on Sunday after his 200th first-class match and 15 years after he blew his first match between Bay of Plenty and Taranaki, in July 1997.

Lawrence became the fourth New Zealander to reach the 200 match mark after Paddy O'Brien (221 matches), Paul Honiss (220) and Steve Walsh (210) and will now take up a role as the New Zealand Rugby Union high-performance referee reviewer.

At the highest level Lawrence was in charge of 25 Test matches and was involved in two Rugby World Cups, 60 Super Rugby matches, including last year's final and was also in charge of six Ranfurly Shield challenges, and four national provincial championship finals.

Lawrence followed in his father's footsteps as a referee as his dad Keith was an international referee, from 1985 to 1991.

Last year's New Zealand referee of the year had retirement forced upon him after the vitriol he suffered following the fall out from the Springboks Springboks' loss to the Wallabies in last year's Rugby World Cup quarter final.

The hatred from rugby fans was considered to be too much for him to travel to South Africa in order to take charge of matches and it has eventually ended his career.

"It got pretty bad," Lawrence told the Bay of Plenty Times.

"Not really threats on my family as such, there was a concern, but it was mainly aimed at me through social media. On Facebook they launched a 'get rid of Bryce Lawrence' site and it was pretty nasty.

"They were even from middle-aged women and it has carried on since then. It was disappointing to get them from local people in Tauranga, who I didn't know. "

"To my credit, I didn't reply to anyone until one day I relented and replied to a guy from Papamoa, which I regret because he kept egging me on with more stuff.

"That was absolutely the reason for my career change."

Lawrence admitted that mistakes were made in the Rugby World Cup quarter final between South Africa and Australia but also revealed that outside inflence from Australian Chief Executive John O'Neill got to him.

"I went into the game knowing it was a massive match and I didn't want to overly influence the outcome and that was in the back of my mind. The way that transpired was I didn't make decisions and if I had my time again I would just go out there and do what I normally do, which is just referee and back myself.

"I had four really good games at the World Cup and then I had that. I had outside pressure from pretty senior people from rugby countries behind the scenes that really created my mindset of lacking confidence to deliver what I normally do.

"There was some pretty nasty political stuff going on about that appointment. I refereed Australia versus Ireland and Ireland had won but behind the scenes guys like John O'Neill were kicking up a massive stink. I knew a bit about that and it was enough to affect me, and it probably made me freeze on the biggest stage."

Lawrence also admitted that the match wasn't the first time that outside pressure had got to him, "At last year's Super Rugby final between Crusaders and Reds there was massive media pressure around me being a non-neutral referee and I let that affect me going into that game."

"Again, I didn't make decisions and let the outside pressure change what I do."

Going into the Rugby World Cup Lawrence was highly regarded but after the quarter final performance everything changed.

"I got told at the end of the World Cup that I would have a break from test rugby for the Six Nations and I could totally accept that as there has to be a consequence for poor performance.

"I was told I would be brought back in the middle of this year, as I was ranked in the top three or four referees in the world. But because of the political reaction from rugby unions like Australia and South Africa behind the scenes, they dropped me.

"SANZAR used me but not in South Africa, so eventually they said it was getting tough having you in the draw, because we have to keep making changes to keep you in the system when you are not going to South Africa, so see you later."

"So I knew I was not able to referee at the level I needed to be re-contracted, really - all because of that one game."

Lawrence will start his new job with the New Zealand Rugby Union in January and will commute to Wellington from his Tauranga base when he is required to do so.

"It will be a big change, as I have had 10 years basically running myself and now I will be working for the NZRU reviewing, coaching and selecting referees. I am keen to do it but it is something that might just take me a while to find my feet."

Lawrence said that the highlight of his career was the first test between the Springboks and the British and Irish Lions in Durban in 2009

"This clash between two heavyweights was my biggest appointment and probably my best ever performance at this level. I felt great going into the game and certainly was well prepared. The match had a huge atmosphere but throughout the 80 minutes I felt at peace and in the zone.

"My performance got huge feedback from players and rugby people. I felt proud that my peers recognised it as a top international performance. My bosses at the IRB and NZRU all agreed I'd had a good day at the office, which was very satisfying."

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