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LONDON - Saracens director of rugby Brendan Venter has launched a scathing attack on the refereeing of English rugby, saying that officiating at the key area of the breakdown has become a lottery.
Venter, speaking after his Premiership-leading Saracens were beaten 22-15 by Leicester on Saturday, said: "There is a problem and that is the game is determined by referees and not by teams.
"I am not accusing referees here of being dishonest but the confusion is almost total. I am trying to prepare teams but suddenly it seems pointless . you get a penalty, then they get a penalty."
Venter's comments will strike a chord with rugby fans up and down the country who have become increasingly bemused by the tackle and breakdown area.
So many offences are available to the referee that it is inevitable some will be picked up more than others by different officials.
The situation appears to have become so random that teams are opting for the safety-first option of kicking rather than running the risk of being penalised after taking the ball into a tackle.
"In the first half the penalty count was 9-3 to us. In the second half it was 10-4 to Leicester," said Venter.
"What happened to the ref? Did someone say something? I didn't say to my team: 'Look boys, we are leading, let's cheat more.' The referee seemed to have walked through a maze." MAN OF THE MATCH
The South African also said that after he complained to the Rugby Football Union's (RFU's) refereeing bosses about the officiating of the Saracens v London Irish game last month, assessor Tony Spreadbury agreed with him on 25 of 27 contentious decisions.
A World Cup winner with South Africa in 1995, Venter also criticised the growing trend of "preventative refereeing", where officials constantly talk to players, warning and guiding them and blowing the whistle only if the warnings are ignored.
"This is totally wrong. By the time the referee has told a player to stop offending, the ball is already slowed down and the defence is back in position," he said.
Venter, who took over at the London club at the start of the season and brought in a host of South Africans, is likely to be punished by the RFU for his comments but has already gained support in the media.
Stephen Jones, rugby correspondent for the Sunday Times, made Venter 'man of the match' for his comments and said that if he were to be fined, all rugby fans should chip in.
Jones said Venter had treated the media to "40 of the most well-founded, clinical and courageous press conference minutes that many of us have heard for decades." - Reuters