Premiership Rugby’s desire to exert increasing influence over referees was behind Ed Morrison’s shock decision to quit his post as head of elite refereeing on the eve of the new season, The Rugby Paper can reveal.
Morrison’s departure came after he was informed of the RFU’s intention to create a new jointly-funded role, along with PRL, aimed at providing an additional layer of scrutiny for referees and their assistants – a move he vehemently opposed.
The Rugby Paper understands that role will be filled by former Premiership referee Geraint Ashton Jones, who was technical advisor to Harlequins between 2005 and 2012 and formerly represented the Royal Navy on the RFU Council.
In the meantime, ex-international and Premiership referee Tony Spreadbury will assume the widely respected Morrison’s duties on a temporary basis pending the job being advertised – if indeed it is advertised at all.
Matters came to a head last season when, following continual criticism of referees by Premiership coaches, a report was commissioned on refereeing standards, from which came a recommendation to create the new joint position.
Morrison opposed this, believing it would fatally undermine the authority of his elite refereeing department and its mandate to uphold IRB Law, but the Union chose to proceed forcing Morrison’s hand.
Sources close to Morrison describe him as “deeply disappointed and upset,” while officials are reported to be in a militant mood, with some senior referees and assistants considering their own positions.
One leading referee, who asked to remain anonymous, told The Rugby Paper: “The mood among referees is unhappy and we’re all disappointed with Ed’s departure. Premiership Rugby want control of refs and this is the first step.
“There’s an agenda at Premiership Rugby. Am I thinking of walking away? Yes, because I don’t like the way they or their coaches operate. I don’t think they genuinely understand how hard the Premiership is to referee.
“Coaches go on and on about how standards must rise, which is why they’ve created this ‘big brother’ job to monitor what we do, but if they stopped their players from cheating the game would be easier to referee, wouldn’t it?
“Everything is blamed on officials for producing a bad product, but they’re just passing the buck because it’s their players who ruin it.
“Ed’s a good man who made a great fist of what was an almost impossible job and he’s been forced out because he’s got principles. I can’t rationalise the thinking behind people at Premiership Rugby who think our refs aren’t the best in the world.
“As far as I’m concerned, they’ve made a huge mistake.”