Rugby comes second to dodgy refs, TMOs

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Referee Romain Poite of France ruined the Boks' game against the All Blacks at Eden Park. Picture: Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images

Cape Town – With the All Blacks ending with a 100 percent record and the Chiefs winning Super Rugby, it should really be remembered as the year of the Kiwi, but the New Zealand achievements were rivalled for attention and at times even overshadowed by the TMO and refereeing incompetence that blighted 2013.

It is a sad irony of the modern game that the technical advances made in the cause of removing the howler have contributed to making the match officials even more of a talking point than they were before.

“I’ve got some additional information for you” are words that irritate the fans even more than they must do the coaches, as over-officious TMOs go through each try-scoring movement with such a fine-tooth comb and with such attention to detail that you wonder sometimes whether there is any point to celebrating a try when it is first awarded.

Time and again this past season we saw instances where TMOs appeared to vindicate the theory that if you look hard enough to find a reason to disallow a try, you will find one.

The Damian de Allende score disallowed in a Currie Cup match between Western Province and the Lions in Joburg is a case in point, but an even better example came in the recent Test between the Springboks and France in Paris.

Bok coach Heyneke Meyer prefers to be diplomatic – as it suits his bank balance to be so – but he and his fellow management members were privately fuming after the Stade de France match at the two scores that were disallowed. Both of them appeared to be perfectly legitimate, with even the French appearing to be surprised when the ruling went against the Boks.

It’s got to the point where you wonder if the crowd at the game should rather wait the interminable time it takes for the TMO to go through all the footage and actually make a call, before applauding and celebrating the score. Of course that will take much of the spontaneity out of the game, but then that is happening already with all the time being taken up.

The sport has been professional for nearly 20 years now and it is right that every effort be made to remove errors from the game, but at the same time it feels as though rugby is being over-sanitised and slowed up, and it is losing its appeal because of it.

And with new scrumming laws not completely alleviating the time wastage that happens because of the setting and re-setting of scrums, such as when the Boks played against Wales in Cardiff, a match is edging towards a point where it could soon take more than two hours to complete a game supposed to last 80 minutes.

There are no prizes being offered to those who guess that Romain Poite’s eccentric refereeing of the Championship match between New Zealand and South Africa in Auckland takes pride of place when it comes to refereeing incompetence ruining a good contest. The IRB even admitted as much afterwards, though it didn’t change the result, nor consequence to the rest of that competition.

By picking up a full house of five log points against a Bok team down to 14 men for much of it, the All Blacks left the South Africans with too much to do in the return game at Ellis Park if they wanted to lift the trophy. Meyer and his charges decided that chasing silverware was more important than the morale-boost that would have been brought about by a win over Richie McCaw’s team, so they played an attacking game that suited the All Blacks and gave them little chance of actually winning.

Full marks though to the All Blacks for winning a third consecutive match on the Highveld, and their third in succession there where they had to put in a strong second half. They showed great mental strength to overcome a 20-minute period where they were down a man on the Boks because of yellow cards, which brings up another point: Is it really good for the game that we so frequently see situations where there is an imbalance of numbers? Surely rugby is supposed to be 15 against 15 and when it is not that, the paying spectators and television viewers are being sold short.

Clearly there is much for the game’s decision-makers to think about, as the matches mentioned were far from the only ones where either cards or referee/TMO error made a big difference. Jaco Peyper’s walkabout in the promotion-relegation match at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium is still being blamed in Port Elizabeth for the Southern Kings’ exit from Super Rugby.

And the TMOs that worked out of Melbourne during the Super Rugby season added to the challenge for visiting teams, with the Rebels profiting against the Stormers from officiating that was abysmal in the extreme.

The Stormers were the only team to lose because of it, but others who visited Melbourne conceded tries that shouldn’t have been awarded, or had tries disallowed that should have been allowed.

So who says technology solves all problems? Well, it could have saved the Wallabies from their one defeat on their recent northern hemisphere tour. An England player stepped on the touchline just metres from his own tryline in the second half when the Aussies were up, but it wasn’t picked up by referee or TMO, and a minute later England scored the try at the other end that changed the momentum of the game.

Talking of Australia, they had only one rival for the team/nation/ union who experienced the most upheaval during the year – that being the Sharks.

The Wallabies offloaded Robbie Deans after the series loss to the British and Irish Lions, while the Sharks dumped both their coach and their long-serving chief executive in a way that suggested that the union that invented professionalism in this country was trying to reinvent amateurism.

Regardless of the merits of the changes that were made in Durban, in the professional era it is just not on for employees to hear of their fate from the media.

The unpopular new administration of the Sharks salvaged some pride when their team produced one good 80-minute performance to win that rapidly depreciating piece of old tin known as the Currie Cup, which probably explained the demonstrative, childish way some of them celebrated afterwards.

Some coaches refuse to go on to the field to celebrate a triumph on the grounds that the glory should belong to the players, so for a provincial president to go onto the field, as Graham McKenzie did afterwards to hog the trophy while the players ran ahead, is poor form and not the behaviour you would expect from a real rugby man.

Weekend Argus


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