Francisco Pestrana will make it three straight matches he officiates for the USA this coming Friday, and if I were USA Rugby’s CEO Nigel Melville, I would ask for a different man to carry the whistle.
Despite my own personal promise not to harp on the ref going into Saturday’s game between the Eagles and Ireland, I found it impossible to avoid. This was mostly because everyone else was harping on the ref, and the frustration coming from many knowledgeable rugby people was palpable.
Pestrana did not have a poor game. He had his standard game. He refereed exactly the same way he did in the USA v. Canada game, although with one or two changes because of the opposition. And the way he referees - his philosophy - hurts the USA and hurts the game.
1. The scrums were a shambles. Players on both sides were complaining that he was lining up the front rows too close, and that his Crouch, Touch, Set! cadence was far too slow. He didn’t care. The results were predictable – much time wasted setting up, discussing, and re-setting scrums.
2. Pestrana decided, as have many refs before him, that the more established nation will henceforth be blameless for all but the most obvious (early engagement) infractions. Ireland clearly collapsed the scrum on purpose, and received kickable penalties for it. When Ireland wheeled or shoved and the US scrum fell apart, penalty against the USA. When the USA scrum wheeled and the Irish pulled away, no penalty (actually a turnover to Ireland). Early release by an Irish player? No penalty.
3. Pestrana made no attempt to get help from his touch judges (both from Canada … did he think they couldn’t do the job?) in assessing who was at fault in scrum collapses.
4. Pestrana now has a history of allowing ball-killing activity in front of the tryline. I think he just believes it’s acceptable. He might give a penalty, but he won’t yellow card. Canada did this twice, and so did Ireland. No yellows, or even warnings, were issued. The USA got a warning after Scott LaValla came through the ruck, stopped, was told he was OK, defended himself against being hit by an Irish player, and then was penalized. Maybe if he had been trying to stop a try he would have been given a prize.
5. Pestrana’s English is not good enough for him to communicate what he wants to communicate.
6. His support of game-slowing tactics played right into Ireland’s hands.
It is clear that he helped Ireland win on Saturday – certainly we wouldn’t suggest he did that on purpose; more, we would suggest that his philosophy that killing the momentum of a game is what he supports as proper rugby. He appreciates a defender illegally preventing quick ball when a try is on, and thus doesn’t punish it appropriately.
I think he was actually disappointed that the USA v. Canada match produced a try!
So what bothers me about this is, we’ve seen it twice now, and Pestrana will officiate the USA v. Tonga match Friday night. He needs to change his approach to the game. He needs to police the offside line. He needs to get all players to roll away faster, and he needs to learn what happens in a scrum. He’s got four days.
As Elliot Garfield said, "Personally, I don't think it can be done."
Why was this not a penalty? Why was this not a yellow card? Robbie Henshaw tackles Brian Doyle in the air.