Gallo Images/Duif Du Toit.

Gallo Images/Duif Du Toit.

This weekend saw the finale of the Championship and we saw 2 very contrasting games. The All Blacks won the trophy… Again. Deservedly. The Pumas won their first ever fixture in this tournament, a historical moment and one they will never forget… I certainly won’t, but the highlight had to be the bromance in the coaches box after the game where their Latin exuberance, warmth and hot blooded nature got the better of some of them… Put it this way, there was lots of lovin!!

The Boks finally beat the All Blacks after coming quite close over the past couple of years. From a parochial SA viewpoint it was a great win. Even, I suspect from a neutrals point of view, it was good to see a team challenge the best team, and beat them. There wasn’t much to choose between the teams, and the respect between the players and coaching staff is evident for all to see. It is a beautiful thing of the sport of rugby union and one which we should cherish, as it doesn’t permeate through all sporting codes!

The Boks dominated the first half, the All Blacks the second. In the end, the game came down to a decision by the TV producer to highlight a misdemeanor by Liam Messam on Schalk Burger, which all the officials missed in real time. After finding the clip, and then replaying it over and over, eventually the match officials decided it was worthy of review, and correctly awarded a penalty to the Boks which Pat Lambie (who has oodles of BMT) converted to win the game. The TMO himself seemed a bit confused by referring to the fact that he thought perhaps arms were used in the tackle which was hardly the point. It was a swinging arm and a dangerous tackle.

If you are a Bok supporter, you will be saying we deserved it, and how many times it happened against us. The protocol and process will mean nothing. But there is an important point to make here. I doubt (very much) whether that clip would have been brought up on the screen by producers in Aus or NZ and replayed over and over. Is it right that someone outside of the domain of the match officials can affect the outcome of a major test match? And how neutral is he? In the end, it was his alertness that drew the attention of the crowd to the high tackle, they got into it, the officials then decided to take a look, and the resultant penalty determined the outcome.

I thought Wayne Barnes had a decent match. He walks a lot. He talks a lot. And I wasn’t that impressed when he penalized Serfontein for not rolling away when he could not (unplayable was the right call) or Jannie Du Plessis for side entry on the All Black line when his action had no influence on the play at all (he attempted a clean and missed his target) or the resets of scrum when Franks feet are so far back on the touch, that he is almost certainly hanging over the cliff (not supporting his own body weight) and the last penalty… A brave call! BUT, he let the game flow with the right amount of empathy and game management. He was even handed in his approach. He is a superior communicator. And he is smart! He showed his experience in this toughest of environments when the reffing in this tournament has been quite ordinary, and deserves credit for that (and he was excellent at my braai on Tuesday with his singing… Of bye bye miss American pie). So much for those people who regularly say the Northern referees are not up to it!

Argentina vs Australia

Argentina beat Australia 21 – 17 after being down 0 – 14. The worked hard for this win, and worked hard for each other in the fixture. Their carry was excellent and seemed to get rewards when they were in the Aus half. Their tries were well constructed and I am really happy for them that they have finally won a game. Hopefully they will become even more competitive in the years to come and win an away game or 2. Aus will bemoan the fact that they let slip a biggish lead, but the real story will perhaps be the 3 yellow cards that they received on match day.

Last week I was singing Nigel Owens praises after the match at Newlands. He has really shot to the fore after the 2011 RWC in NZ but I thought he was poor on Saturday. He was strangely hesitant in his decision making, once even asking the assistant referee whether there was hands in after he penalized Aus and had pulled his cards out already. He then put the cards back in his pocket. What was the point?

Not so lucky was Aus 9 Nick Phipps who got a card for a brilliant piece of play where he was the tackler and didn’t infringe at all. What should have been a turnover to Australia resulted in a yellow card which was a disaster for Aus who then conceded a penalty and a try in his absence. Not great!! They would have been spitting mad as that decision had huge consequences for this test match. Towards the end of the fixture, with the game still in the balance, the ref stopped the game when Hooper attempted a charge down, was airborne and in the process fell on top of Sanchez, the kicker. He was also carded (incorrectly, as there was little he could do once he was airborne). Argentina converted the penalty and wound the clock down to record a historical moment for them and the tournament. My opinion of Nigel hasn’t changed. To say he was poor would be an understatement, but I know from personal experience that we all have these days (I had my fair share), and he will bounce back. I do feel for the wallabies though and I thought they deserved better.

The Currie Cup

On the currie cup front, the Bulls dominated the pumas in Nelspruit where Peyps had an excellent game. They are back in the mix! The Cheetahs were very stiff against WP who somehow managed to hack through a loose ball and fall on it. To be honest, they shouldn’t have had a prayer at that stage of the game. The Cheetahs took a quick throw when the team were in the ascendency, instead of slowing everything down with a standard line out formation and drive and winding the clock down. That was far too adventurous for that stage of the game, and perhaps ended up costing them the game.

Griquas predictably smashed the EP Kings 45-25 as I thought they might. Quite simply, they are tougher and want it more.

It was a happy and sad night for Jacques Botes, the most capped player in the history of the Currie Cup. It was perhaps his last home game, and he was given a rousing send off by the crowd and by his fellow team mates. He is a model professional and a genuinely good guy. He made a huge contribution to the game, and earned his respect from teammates and opponents alike. He will be remembered as a workhorse who had an uncanny knack of appearing at the right place at the right time, scoring an inordinate amount of tries for a loose forward!

I thought Pro Legoate had a tough time on the night. He looked ill at ease and flustered, and most of the calls appeared to go the way of the home team. The decision to card Minnie with about 14 minutes to go was completely inaccurate as he complied totally with law. Pro could not have seen the incident clearly, and the net result is that the Lions were reduced to 14 players for the remainder of the game barring the last 2 minutes. I feel for Pro as he is one of the genuinely good guys on the circuit, but that effort simply is not enough at this level.

Rugby Championship ref wrap up

I have had a good look at the referees in the Championship and think they will concede that there is much room for growth :) even the best of them had an off day, so I will say the alarm bells are ringing, but not sure if anyone is listening… Yet!

My top 3 performances were :

  • Owens – SA v Aus at Newlands
  • Garces – NZ v SA in Wellington
  • Joubert – Arg v NZ in Buenos aires

I thought Gauzere (NZ v Arg) Clancy (Aus v SA) and Owens (Arg v Aus) had off days.

Is it not time for a revamp of the system to help these moments where refs are not having good days at the office? (rhetorical)