The day John Smit wanted to KO referee Paul Honiss ...
By Mike Greenaway
ENGLAND captain Owen Farrell’s furious remonstrations with referee Pascal Gauzere on Saturday, for allowing a sneaky Wales try to be scored despite the Frenchman having just told Farrell to speak to his players about their discipline, reminded me of the day John Smit wanted to knock out Paul Honiss.
It was in 2004 and the Springboks were playing Ireland at Lansdowne Road and the same thing happened as in last week’s Six Nations game.
The Boks had been defending in their 22 for a long period when New Zealander Honiss, after awarding yet another penalty, called over Smit and warned him that his players were overstepping the mark and that the next penalty would be accompanied by a card.
“Go and talk to your players,” Honiss is clearly heard saying on the TV commentary, and that is what Smit attempted to do, beckoning his players to come to him ...
But while he was doing that, Ronan O’Gara rather slyly took a tap penalty and sauntered over for a try, with not a defender in sight.
About 40 000 Irishmen erupted in elation and Honiss, probably intimidated by the bedlam, forgot his instruction to Smit and awarded the try.
I was at the ramshackle Lansdowne Road that afternoon (it was knocked down three years later) and I will never forget the sight of the apoplectic Springbok rugby captain charging towards Honiss, blazing away in outrage.
Honiss, looking flustered and realising he had stuffed up, did not have the pluck to invoke the ire of the Irish by cancelling the try and simply held up a hand to Smit, policeman-like, and turned his head away.
Smit later said: “I lost it. I have never known such anger. I wanted to knock him out. I screamed at him like I have never done before in my life or ever since, but he just ignored me and held up a dismissive hand.”
The incensed South Africans lost their composure and went on to lose the match 17-12, largely thanks to that soft seven-pointer gifted to the Irish by the referee.
That tour was a rare one in that the Boks were playing all four home unions, so a Grand Slam was on the cards. The week before, the Boks had beaten Wales in Cardiff and were desperate to beat Ireland to continue the dream.
Unquestionably, the disappointment of that defeat contributed to a lacklustre performance in losing heavily to England the following week.
There was an amusing postscript to the incident a year later when the Sharks were playing a Super 12 match in New Zealand. Honiss was the touch judge and when the Sharks kicked a penalty to touch, Honiss mistakenly put out his arm for an opposition throw-in.
Smit, confronting Honiss, said: “Paul, this is not Lansdowne Road and they are not Ireland!”
After that match, Smit told me with a grin: “Childish, maybe, but it did give me a little satisfaction.”