Last week there was a short hiatus in the Championship and even though the Currie Cup is in full swing, the main game on the calendar was probably the schools derby between Paarl Gym and Boyshaai. I have done three of those fixtures, and they are always sell-outs and fantastic occasions. Not only for the boys themselves, but for the masses who attend the game. Usually very tight affairs, the past few years have been dominated by Gym. This year Paarl Boys won. It was tough. It was quick. It was a typical schools derby between these famous schools and credit to Sean Erasmus and his team who have come through this year as the most consistent team in schools rugby. Some very narrow wins en route, but luck counts!
It was the weekend of the Pumas! First, the ones from Nelspruit (generally) showed what they are capable of when they comprehensively beat the Sharks who seems to be rebuilding a squad for the future. Was it a surprise result? I’m not sure. The Pumas have really impressed with their players, their style and their determination to prove that they can mix it with the best the Currie Cup has to offer. It may well be a very watered down competition as a result of our best players not being a part of it, but it is still quite special for me every time I watch. The Bulls, with Francois Hougaard very impressive, (he really needs to play 9) were outstanding and look like finalists already! The Lions and WP also had resounding wins against overmatched opponents and should be in the mix as well. I thought Quinton Immelman had a very good outing in PE, and Marius vd Westhuizen was excellent in Bloem … Definitely referees to watch in this year’s competition!
I didn’t watch the championship decider as I was running the Brackenfell 21km with my mate Craig Horwitz, my 8th half marathon of the year. Nothing remarkable about that, but I did trip on the way to the start and had a steep tumble on to the tar, bruising my ego with many onlookers having a good laugh (as Craig counted me out as I lay prone). After a hobbling start, we had a lekker plod and came home smoking a pipe!!
The Wallabies may have been fortunate against the Boks in Brisbane, but they have improved the longer they have been together and got the result they deserved. They have made a statement before the RWC and it will do wonders for the confidence of the players to know that they can beat the best team in the world. They are in a tough group in the World Cup, but they should progress and they have the weaponry to hurt any team. They box smart and will be competitive. The ABs will be back. They are the class team of world rugby and will have already analysed where they need to improve, often just a few subtle or sometimes unsubtle areas that require tweaks.
I knew the Pumas would beat the Boks one day. It’s not my first prize, I will always support my country and our team. They are not playing well as a whole and need to gel all the parts that make up a top performance. Tthey do silly little things, and some that are really frustrating for supporters. But that’s sport. If you support, you do so through thick and thin.
But I loved watching the passion the Pumas displayed from well before the opening whistle. The tears that flowed during their anthem showed me at least that they were up for this game. They had the squad of ’65 in front of them while they were singing, and I even had a lump in my throat! It was one of the best countries to visit when I was active, and besides some very pretty girls, they have such passion and warmth as a nation!
The Boks started poorly, failing to read a set play off a lineout. We were behind by 7 in no time. Referee Poite and his crew failed to detect a clear forward pass to the try scorer, which is not good enough at this level. Romain is a top bloke, I have said this many times, a genuinely good man! I’m not sure if that’s relevant in this instance, as the average neutral rugby man will never get to meet him. They are only interested in competence and consistency. You have to ask why no referral? No AR intervention and no TMO input prior to the award. Why did none of our players show any interest in suggesting a TMO referral?
The first penalty to the Pumas for holding on was incorrect. Leguizamon balanced past the ball first and then attacked it. This is not interpretation, it’s an error. He is not allowed to balance himself past the ball before attacking it; instead of potentially 3 points, that inaccuracy cost the Boks field position, and more importantly, it led to players being uncertain as to what the referee was going to do when they were attacking.
I thought the Pumas’ scrum was magnificent on the day. They pride themselves on their work in this facet and it showed on match day! Personally, I thought the ref could have done more to ensure that Ayerza’s angle was more parallel to the touch lines, and perhaps get Creevy a little higher. These are important points, but we got monstered on the day. We need to accept that sometimes we cannot rely on the referee sanitising everything for us, and we need to toughen up and make our own destiny. I thought we scrummed really well against our two previous opponents so perhaps this was just a learning curve for our players.
As a supporter, I must say it wasn’t ideal to see how we were going backwards in this facet! I agree with our scrum coach when he asks world rugby referee boss, Jutge, for clarity in certain decisions, one of which was for a clear slip which was nonsense and the other for our whole front row going down was highly questionable (look at how low Creevy’s head is prior to engagement). But all this said, they were dominant, superior, smarter and more experienced. This laid the foundation they needed to win and they thoroughly deserved it!
And so on to another contentious moment in the game. Poite awards a penalty to the Pumas. A player is injured. Poite calls time out. I didn’t hear him go to our captain and ask him to speak to our players. He then calls time on without looking around him on the field. The Pumas tap and score uncontested.
A few points:
- Is it relevant that the medics are still on the field as our commentary team erroneously mentioned? Not at all! Why is this even brought up? It misleads the public!
- Did the Pumas do anything wrong? Not at all.
- What about Poite? He is entitled to call time on and time off as the referee. It appeared that he allowed the player to get treatment and then called time on. Technically, nothing wrong. We were caught napping. We need to accept responsibility for that. But I think as a referee, it’s a good idea to check that you have a platform for a fair contest. Perhaps notifying the Boks that he was about to restart play may have been a better outcome for the sake of that fair contest. And in addition, if he did ask De Villiers to talk to his team, then the decision is a shocker. It happened against Ireland a few years ago, when Honiss lost concentration for a brief moment, but I would like to give Poite the benefit of the doubt here, as I didn’t hear him say anything to our captain over the comms.
Incidentally, we are not the only victims of this. Rolland did exactly the same thing to France when they played the All Blacks in the last RWC when he called time on with most of the French team having a drink. I thought that was grossly unfair and didn’t allow for a fair contest. I think the question really is: “Shouldn’t the referee have a better understanding of what is happening around him to ensure a fair contest, even though he may well be technically within his rights to call time on when he sees fit?”
I thought Poites decision to disallow Reinachs try was a poor call. Quite clearly the place of penalty is at the place of infringement, not in the exact place the referee happens to be standing. Reinach took it from the correct place or close enough and didn’t appear to be ahead of the place of infringement. We see this every game with a quick tap where the half back anticipates where the referee is going to give the mark. For example, in the case of a penalty from a line out he will tap on the 15m line well before the ref gets there as he knows where to restart from. The same applies for a scrum. The 9 either throws to the 8 who taps and goes or goes to the back of the scrum and does it himself.
I think it was poor judgement from the referee and denied the Boks a perfectly good try… not that it would have changed the outcome of the game.
The Pumas deserved to win. We weren’t at our best. It was a beautiful moment for World Rugby and it has been a long time coming (I thought they were very unlucky a few years ago, when Louis Koen got us out of trouble with a dubious last-minute penalty in PE ) and as difficult as it is for our proud rugby nation to lose (three in a row) we should really be celebrating with them!
Some pics from my run on the weekend: