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ESPN SCRUM / ESPNscrum Columnist
Greg Growden
Greg Growden | Columnist Index
After more than 30 years with The Sydney Morning Herald and Fairfax Media in Australia, Greg Growden now writes exclusively online for ESPNscrum. Never afraid to step on toes, you can expect plenty of compelling insight from one of Australia's most renowned rugby writers.
The Growden Report
Baseball shows rugby value of entertainment
Greg Growden
March 24, 2014
South African referee Stuart Berry claimed his share of headlines in Super Rugby round six © Getty Images
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What a relief to attend a sporting event that was an occasion, had the crowd's interests at heart, and was not ruined by inept officials. Sunday afternoon at Sydney Cricket Ground witnessing the historic Major League Baseball opener revived one's belief that sport can cure all ills, after that belief had been severely dented due to the torture of excruciating Super Rugby matches in which bungling behavior had been championed. Thank you, baseball, for once again reviving my spirits. I needed a serious lift as my flagging morale had been slugged right out of the park through watching the Western Force-Chiefs and Lions-Queensland Reds Super Rugby matches.

It wasn't a case of the football being bad in Perth and Johannesburg. Far from it. There were numerous bright moments by all four teams involved. So what turned one into a raging loon throwing notebook, pen, pipe, slippers, anything, at the television screen? Diabolical refereeing; it was laughable in Perth and affected the result in Johannesburg.

The level of refereeing in the Super Rugby ranks has been poor all season but it hit an all-time low on the weekend, when South African referee Stuart Berry bamboozled all - in particularly the perplexed Queensland Reds, whom he whistled off the park.

The Lions got the better of the penalty count against the Reds in Johannesburg (Australia only)
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And Berry's fellow countryman Lourens van der Merwe won't enjoy watching a replay of the Force-Chiefs game, as his mistakes were endless. Apart from numerous crucial Force knock-ons ignored in the final minutes, his breakdown interpretations blew with the breeze during the match. The Chiefs deserved to lose as they were ham-fisted, but the Force were still given the most charitable of leg-ups from a poor whistle-blower. No wonder SANZAR referees chief Lyndon Bray has spoken about conducting a purge.

This is not an attack on overseas referees, as New Zealand referee Glen Jackson was outstanding in the Brumbies-Stormers match, and several Australian officiators have this season made almost as many clangers as Berry and van der Merwe. It is about the bigger picture - as it cannot be avoided that the refereeing has nose-dived this year while the general standard of Super Rugby football has risen. And it is time for SANZAR to do something about it.

Last week, SANZAR officials were huffing and puffing about how they were going to cull under-performing referees. If they don't do something immediately about Berry's unacceptable performance, and take the whistle off him for an appreciable amount of time, they are having everyone on.

The Reds have every reason to howl at the moon about Berry: apart from belting them 19-4 in the penalties, and sending two of their players to the sin-bin in the final minutes, a succession of his decisions were clearly wrong. All these decisions went the Lions' way. This all came one week after the Blues fumed over strange rulings made by Berry when they played the Lions.

So imagine the delight, after being forced to endure such subjective mumbo-jumbo that extends to the referees asserting their authority onto every scrum, turning games into snore-a-thons, when you head off to a sporting spectacular at which public pleasure is paramount.

Those dinosaurs and networkers who run rugby would have learned a lot if they had attended the Los Angeles Dodgers-Arizona Diamondbacks matches at the SCG. Unlike rugby, which is dominated by a bewildering law book that gives referees too much power and fails to understand that endless dead, dull punctuation marks turn the fans away, baseball embraces those in the terraces.

Here the umpire is part of the act, not a disturbance.

Young baseball fans found plenty to entertain at Sydney Cricket Ground over the weekend © Getty Images
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On Sunday, the home base umpire provided great theatre. He announced a strike with gusto, flicking his right index finger to the crowd. When he got hit in the hand by a wayward pitch, waving away the pain before resuming his spot behind the catcher, he received a round of applause from the crowd.

When has that happened to a Super Rugby referee? Instead, crowd derision.

Even more importantly, baseball provides a distraction during those punctuation marks. There are spruikers in the crowd, seven-inning stretches, players constantly interacting with the fans, and there is always something happening on the big screen. The spectator is constantly drawn in.

Near the Diamondbacks dugout on Sunday, one Dodgers fan with a deep Southern accent kept yelling to those around him: "Be loud. We're at the baseball, not the movies."

And we responded.

All together now …

"Take me out to the ball game, take me out with the crowd … "

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Join the conversation with Greg on Twitter @GregGrowden

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