SANZAR has dumped three Super Rugby referees following widespread criticism for poor displays.

Super Rugby referees boss Lyndon Bray has taken swift action by dumping three referees for poor form following a hail of criticism levelled at officials.

South African whistle-blower Lourens van der Merwe, Argentine Francisco Pastrana and Australian James Leckie were all culled from the 18-man SANZAR referees panel on Monday.

The trio have paid the price for sub-par displays as the governing body has taken a hard stance on improving the competition’s standard of officiating.

Bray last week indicated there would be a purge of officials at the end of the month but he’s wielded the axe a week early following continued on-field controversies.

The performances of van der Merwe and compatriot Stuart Berry, in South Africa, have sparked calls for a return to neutral referees.

Bray has dismissed the need for neutral officials but said decreasing the pool of officials would see more consistency with the very best handling more games heading into the finals.

SANZAR’s squad of central referees has dropped from 18 to 14, with South African Jason Jaftha also taken off the list due to a knee injury.

Van der Merwe was subjected to criticism for his handling of the Reds-Sharks and Force-Chiefs matches in the past fortnight and has been stripped of controlling this Saturday’s Blues-Highlanders clash in Auckland.

Cheetahs coach Naka Drotske was livid about Pastrana’s display in his team’s loss to the Blues on the weekend and the Argentine has been replaced by Nick Briant for Friday night’s Crusaders-Hurricanes game in Christchurch.

Leckie last refereed in round five two weeks ago when the Melbourne Rebels fell to the Crusaders.

Super Rugby officials deny Berry, who has been appointed to run the line in South Africa the next two weeks, has been dropped.

Berry remains in the 14-man group despite coming under widespread criticism – from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa – following the Lions’ past two wins in Johannesburg.

Queensland coach Richard Graham was incensed he penalised the Reds 17-4 as the Lions came back from 20-3 down to win 23-20 on Sunday morning (AEDT).

Berry also raised the ire of Blues coach John Kirwan after awarding a controversial Lions’ try the week before.

SANZAR says Berry is among four referees – including Australian trio Angus Gardner, Andrew Lees and Matt O’Brien – who weren’t scheduled for central appointments in the next fortnight but will be considered in the weeks following.