Johannesburg – Despite going down to New Zealand in a controversial Rugby Championship match in Auckland on Saturday, Springbok captain Jean de Villiers is still upbeat and confident his side can win the competition in a few weeks time.
The Boks have slipped to second on the points table after their 29-15 defeat, a match which was marred by French referee Romain Poite’s yellow-carding of Bok hooker Bismarck du Plessis for a tackle on Dan Carter which he adjudged to have been high and late.
Du Plessis received a second yellow card later in the game and was subsequently sent from the field. He will face a disciplinary hearing on Tuesday.
On Sunday the International Rugby Board (IRB) stated Poite was wrong in his decision to give Du Plessis a yellow card for his tackle on Carter.
“Just as players and coaches make mistakes, the decision was an unfortunate case of human error by the match officials, who, having reviewed the match, fully recognise and accept that they made a mistake in the application of the law,” the IRB statement read.
Saru deputy president Mark Alexander said on the team’s arrival in Johannesburg on Sunday night that Jurie Roux, Saru CEO, had already written to the IRB about the officiating.
“We can’t have Test matches where cards like this affect the game,” said Alexander. “It changed the game. The first yellow card ... and even the second one, was questionable, when you look at how some players lead with the arm (Du Plessis’ second yellow was for a stiff arm to the throat of New Zealand flank Liam Messam).”
Alexander called for the world’s top referees to be in charge of such high-profile games such as Saturday’s. “When you have the top players playing the game, you need the top officials blowing the games ... that goes without saying.”
De Villiers said his team had plenty of work ahead of them ahead of their next match, against Australia at Newlands on Saturday, September 28, before taking on the All Blacks at Ellis Park on October 5. “We need to ultimately put Auckland behind us, but we must also first look at the game and rectify the mistakes we made.
“We’re still in a positive frame of mind, and still believe we can win the competition.”
If the Boks win their next two games they should be crowned champions of the southern hemisphere. New Zealand are four points ahead of them on the log and face Argentina away before coming to South Africa for the Ellis Park showdown. “At this stage, we’re only looking at Australia. If we don’t pull through in that one, the Ellis Park match doesn’t mean much. The focus now is on Australia.”
While De Villiers said his team needed to fix many aspects of their play in the next two weeks, he admitted it was difficult to judge his side’s performance last Saturday after they’d been reduced to 14 men for a large chunk of the match. “It’s tough to judge the performance. But we didn’t start well and when we got back into the game, the first yellow card came. And then, after we’d clawed ourselves back, then Bissie got sent off.
“The result was disappointing. I thought, though, we played well against Australia, and also at times against New Zealand. But there were things that we didn’t do well.
“Defensively we weren’t good, we slipped too many tackles and gave them too much momentum. But I’m looking forward to the next two games.”
Ian Schwartz, the Bok team manager, said the spirit in the team was still “excellent”. “The guys know they’ve got two games to come and when you look at the points table, you know they can still win this competition.”
The Boks will get together again next Monday, with the only change to the squad set to come at scrumhalf where Fourie du Preez will return for the next two Tests, in place of Piet van Zyl.
The outcome of Du Plessis’ hearing will also have an impact at hooker.