It was another much anticipated weekend in Super Rugby as the long, drawn out (but shortened) season reaches its climax. It was a pity there was no South African team in the semis, but in truth, they have not been good enough. The Stormers had a home semi, and they could not even fall over the line at Newlands, being comprehensively outplayed.
The most consistent team in the competition, the Canes, were comfortable winners against the willing, but fatigued Brumbies. The Canes had too much ammo out wide for the Brumbies, in fact probably too much for most teams in this year’s competition. They have had some close shaves, but as I’ve said before, they were resolute and patient on defence, and when they were under pressure, they managed to get out of jail with turnovers and /or opposition errors. They do play very close to the offside line on defence, but their work post tackle is generally very good. The Brumbies had to travel, probably something that we have to acknowledge as being one of this competition’s severe downsides, and nothing will change. It hurt them. It hurts all teams whose preparation is interrupted by endless flights and the effect that west-to-east travel has on the human clock. To their credit, they didn’t whinge about it and never used it as an excuse. I didn’t hear so much as a whimper about the referee, Glen Jackson, and so he too will walk away from this season feeling that he has achieved something significant and a milestone of a very tidy semi-final.
The other semi-final between the Tahs and the Highlanders looked like it may be a tougher assignment and hence the appointment of Craig Joubert to ref the game. It was a game played with much intensity, ferocious tackling, fantastic line speed and generally good discipline (we will get back to that). In the end, the team called the Highlanders won by 5 tries to 1. Seems easy enough. Not really. With the score close at 20 -17, they were awarded a penalty try for a dangerous tackle, and Jacques Potgieter was sin-binned as a result.
This led to Phil Kearns, a really good guy off the field, spitting his dummy out and showing his true colours by claiming that the referee was having a shocker. He then tried to include Rod Kafer into the mix, who wouldn’t be drawn into the tirade. It was an appalling bit of commentary and must have left his employers red-faced at the degree of parochialism he was showing to an audience that deserved better. Not only did he display the petulance that cannot and should not be tolerated, but he misled the public (ignorantly I would say) about the actual events that were transpiring in the match. What a joke! And therein lies the issue … the networks are only too keen to get ex-players involved, some of whom only have the most basic knowledge of the laws of the game; and these characters are misleading the public and giving them a distorted view of events on the field.
When will the likes of Fox, SuperSport and Sky finally emerge from their slumber and get an expert who will be able to help the public get access to the correct information, information that they deserve as the paying consumers!! It needs to be someone unattached to any vested interest or organisation who can encourage and display independent thinking, who is prepared to say it like it is and thereby produce an offering that their customers have been craving! But for some reason, there is this delay. Why they think that an ex-player or ex-coach will necessarily be able to dissect a game better than an ex-match official is pure guesswork!
Back to the game: Kearns had a huge moan, became very grumpy and sullied a good performance by the referee and a deserving win by a Highlanders who, I said last week, would be licking their lips in anticipation of this type of fixture!
5 tries to 1.
Away from home.
They are deserving finalists.
Joubert’s decision was correct. He methodically went through the process, highlighting to the public his thoughts on the matter and then explained his decision very coherently to the Tahs’ captain and the guilty player. His reasoning .. but not for the action of the swinging arm, a try would most probably have been scored. Given that Osborne only ended up a few centimetres short, it was the referee’s judgment that he would have scored but not for the swinging arm. It seems fair enough, even though to some viewers it may have seemed like a tough call.
The only try that was definitely scored off a refereeing error in this game was the Tahs’ try when there was a very clear and obvious forward pass in the buildup, which was missed by Joubert and his staff. I didn’t hear Kearns jumping up and down when his team scored. I didn’t hear him having a full go at the referee! Just like the referee has a responsibility on the field, so the broadcasters and their staff have a responsibility to ensure that the public gets access to accurate information!
There were two other close calls that went in favour of the Highlanders. Aaron Smith appeared to be onside when he intercepted a wayward pass off the base of a scrum (excellent decision) and then Buckman seemed to be tackled by a few Tah defenders only to get up and go and score the Highlanders’ second try. He too was not held as he was falling to the ground (another good decision).
I get called by various NZ talk radio shows every now and again to offer some insights and opinions. I was called in week three and offered the following:
The NZ conference appeared to be by far the strongest and it wouldn’t surprise me if they had two teams in the final.
The Canes won two games on the road in SA and if they won their third, they would present formidable opponents to any team in Super Rugby. They duly beat the Force, and the rest is history.
Their work post tackle and the greater discipline that has accompanied their decision making on the field will stand them in good stead for a home final, which they will relish. The Highlanders have improved steadily under Jamie Joseph, and they too have weapons all over the park to hurt the Canes. I’ve been really impressed by their line speed on defence and the quality of their offensive hits on the weekend was first class.
Whoever wins, there is a wonderful story brewing. The losers, too, will be able to hold their heads up very very high!
I said a while ago that I thought Jaco Peyper was doing the best out of the referees this season. He has duly been awarded his first final, and I’m sure he too will enjoy his special day out in the middle.