The Springboks are getting the votes ahead of their opening World Cup match against old foes New Zealand. Photo: Steve Haag/Hollywood Bets
The Springboks are getting the votes ahead of their opening World Cup match against old foes New Zealand. Photo: Steve Haag/Hollywood Bets

The Springboks are a better team than the All Blacks on paper and on grass. I believe they will beat the All Blacks on Saturday. The only reservation I have is whether they will have 14 players or 15 players on the field.

The refereeing, the application of the Television Match Official and the interpretation of the law is what could determine so many matches at this World Cup, including the final.

I found it revealing that Bok scrumhalf Faf de Klerk would publicly say a refereeing decision would determine the result between the Springboks and All Blacks.

De Klerk said there was so little to choose between the teams and added that each team knew their controllable, but the one uncontrollable was the referee.

Wayne Barnes destroyed the All Blacks in the 2007 World Cup quarter-final and Jonathan Kaplan, running the touchline, missed the biggest of French forward passes that led to a French try. South African fans told the Kiwis to stop whinging and look at the scoreboard. SA fans mocked the Kiwis and said if their team was good enough, they would have beaten France and the referee.


Fast forward to 2011 and the whinging came from SA fans after Bryce Lawrence destroyed the Boks against the Wallabies.

In 2015 SA referee Craig Joubert incorrectly ruled a penalty to Australia in the last minute against Scotland. It cost Scotland a place in the semi-finals. World Rugby issued a statement to say Joubert got it wrong. It didn’t change the result.

So much in rugby is down to referee interpretation and none more so than the tackle law.

There is a guideline, but the guideline in the past few months has been so differently interpreted. One referee sees a red card, the other sees a strong tackle.

Rugby has become so sanitised because of player welfare and concussions. To quote former All Black captain Tana Umaga when he told a referee: “This is rugby and not tiddlywinks.”

To quote former Bok coach Heyneke Meyer: “Ballet is a contact sport. Rugby is about collisions.”

Too much about this World Cup will be determined by the referee, when the results should be about player performance.

World Rugby has already issued a directive to referees on the high tackle and the subsequent punishment, but if you apply this to every Test match you could end the game with a handful of players on the field.

It’s disconcerting when a game is governed by so much interpretation of the laws, as opposed to the laws.

It is also a minefield when there is no guarantee the game that starts with 15 versus 15, ends with 15 versus 15.

I want the best team to win the World Cup and I believe the best team is SA, but what will the consequences be if the Boks lose because of a referee mistake?

What justice will there be when the game’s custodians admit afterwards that the referee got it wrong, but the result still stands?

@mark_keohane


The Star

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