Richie_McCaw_New_Zealand_v_South_Africa_Rugby_Championship_2015I went up to Zimbabwe to participate in Peterhouse’s 60th anniversary celebrations and referee their match against Falcon. Friday night was a wonderful occasion with Gary Teichmann the guest speaker and comedian Nik Rabinowitz providing the laughs for the better part of an hour.

It’s amazing to see how a strong sense of community can achieve such great results with such few resources. With all the parents lending a helping hand, ex-pupils coming to watch and those with a little extra cash pitching in, they created a day to remember! The highlight of the weekend was when one of the spectators came to me, thanked me for coming up and for my contribution, and then claimed that this was the best schoolboy game he had had the pleasure of watching. It’s irrelevant whether it’s true or not… it really makes the trip worthwhile when there is such gratitude! For the record, Peterhouse won 37-33 in a 10-try thriller.

With the main game out the way, it was time to watch the much anticipated test match between the Boks and the All Blacks. To say I was disappointed last weekend is an understatement. We have some good players who CAN play, but it seems that each week we are clutching for those dumb, numbing positives that we are sold to offset the pain of each defeat. This week was no different.

As you may well have guessed, I’m not in the camp of those sheep who are happy to accept the trivial pattern of cliched excuses that are being churned out ad infinitum. Before isolation, we had the proudest record of any rugby team in the world, but as with our economic status, and our bumbling politicians, we have become accustomed to and accepting of vestiges of mediocrity! We have the culture and the passion to be the best. We have some of the best players in the world. Yet we can’t seem to put it together to beat the best team in the world. We used to know how to do it. Every loss incurred, adds to the growing body of evidence that we are becoming also-rans… and I don’t accept it! We are not smart enough and we are not doing everything possible to win .

Some points from the weekend…

Let’s give some credit where it is due. The team played well in parts to dominate many areas of the contest. The scrum did well, better than well! They can be very proud of the work they have done on the practice field. They look strong. Our pattern of play, while predictable in parts, did put the All Blacks under pressure, and I thought our ball protection was good. Defensively, we were very sound, but helped by a French referee eager to reward those in the dominant tackle position, who had survived the clean out, but who were sometimes not anchored on the ball but rather the carrier.

Francois Louw was excellent again, Burger’s work rate was exceptional and Heinrich Brussouw… Well, I’m going to say it at the risk of sounding like a stuck record, what were they thinking by not choosing him for the last four years !?!? What a waste. Lood de Jager has stood up really well, Bismarck was excellent in lineout defence and the steal, and I thought our pack was excellent.

I think we have excellent centres, not sure how De Villiers is going to get back in on merit, and Pollard is doing all the right things to be classed as a special player.

So where did it go wrong?

For a start consider this… We take the ball through numerous phases just before halftime and Willie le Roux throws a speculative pass into touch. Patience. Game management. Management of the clock??? There is a minute or so to go until halftime. When will we learn from previous encounters that we need to concentrate to protect our lead. Going into the shed having played well and having a nice lead would have been handy. The All Blacks kick a speculative box kick that is easily taken by Cornel Hendriks, who only has to hold on to possession (we would have got the scrum), but he doesn’t. They win possession – really not good enough at this level – and we can’t even shepherd them towards the touchline, or even concede a penalty. No. They score a try from 85 meters out. That ladies and gentlemen is the ball game. It’s not like they were 5m from our try line with options both sides of the park… With tears in my eyes, I ask, how can this be allowed to happen? Dumb or naive, it simply cannot be allowed to happen if we want to be the best team in the world.

We’re up by 3, we get a scrum penalty. We don’t take the points on offer. We have numerical superiority and we are scrumming the best team in the world. Why would you pick the ball up at the base of the scrum when you have go forward and they have just conceded a penalty? There are no extra points for pretty tries. They are under the pump. We are playing at home. We have the ascendency. Who called that play?

We lacked leadership when we lost Koch through injury. The referee may well have assumed that both tightheads were injured, but WE should have taken the bull by the horns and insisted that Nyakane is well qualified to play in that role. He has, after all, played international rugby in that position. The referee would never have said, sorry Boks, an international tighthead can’t play tighthead. Uncontested scrums is the worst possible scenario for World Rugby after player safety (and given that Trevor has played tighthead many, many times that was NOT a factor as was expressed after the game). It’s not good enough to allow a competitive advantage to be nullified when we have them on the ropes. We got nothing for our superiority. I don’t mind forgoing the 3 points on offer. I’m all for backing yourself in those situations, but then don’t stop pushing the envelope. That is the difference between the cultures on display on Saturday.

So on to the McCaw try. As a receiver, he has to stand 2m away from the lineout. It is questionable whether he was. Moreover, he cannot move into the lineout to receive the ball until the ball has left the hands of the thrower. It is clear he does start moving before the ball has left the hands of the hooker. The referee never had a clue what was going on. One can see with his body language, that he was quite happy to award the try. Not even a referral! No TMO intervention either. And crucially, where was our leadership to INSIST that this important and defining score be verified. Now I really like Schalk Burger as a human being, and I admire him as a rugby player, so I don’t really want to be too critical, but these are the moments that matter. I’m not sure whether he was empowered to challenge, or whether he did at all, but we needed a result here and there was a window of opportunity to get it, and we didn’t identify it.

Gary Teichmann asked me why last week’s penalty against Heinke van der Merwe was given in the first place; what the difference was between that and much of what happened when the Wallabies were attacking. He stated that that was the greatest inconsistency of all. Picking a penalty at the end of a fixture, where the cleaner tried to remove a threat, versus the same thing that happened throughout the game. The defining penalty, which allowed the Wallabies to get possession again straight after they had coughed it up. A couple of years ago, Flip van der Merwe fell over his own feet and was penalised by Wayne Barnes for that, a penalty that Curtley Beale converted to win a test match. Teichmann is no fool. I couldn’t dispute his point.

I agree with Heyneke Meyer when he states that we are so close. It’s true. In our present state, we are round about right there. In our present state…

We need to embrace that we do not always play the smartest rugby, that our culture needs to morph and that we have to start using those small windows of opportunity that always exist on the rugby field in order to start getting results.

A Twitter follower asked about the citing of Michael Hooper for lashing out at an opponent in the Argentina vs Australia match this past weekend. The crux of his point was that if a player is held illegally, especially as a support player in the buildup or a strong attacking position (as evidenced in its worst format during the Toulon – Wasps semifinal this year, where the referee did nothing against the transgressor) what should referees be doing? They MUST be carding the transgressor. Every time!. It is a blight on the game, and we as referees have a responsibility to change that exact type of behaviour. I won’t condone Hooper’s actions, but I have huge sympathy for him. At the very least, the perpetrator must be punished. We aren’t living in the dark ages!

I met someone recently who thought I was a bit too critical in my pieces. Sorry boet, I’m not writing them to make friends or win popularity contests. They are there for the public first and foremost, who do not always have access to the best information. I’m never going to sweep important issues under the carpet, even if it doesn’t sit well with those who want to pretend that everything is, was, and will always be just dandy!