Friday’s match, won 38-37 by the Hurricanes in New Zealand, could so easily have been a four-point win for a visiting team that was superior in every facet of the game barring the ultimate scoreboard.
Seldom has a South African team more deserved a win in New Zealand only to be thwarted by refereeing that seemed to be geared to doing anything required to get the Hurricanes over the line. Australian Nic Lees seemed to get swept away by the Hurricanes fight-back from what appeared to be a certain defeat. In five minutes of extra time, is it conceivable that the Hurricanes did not commit a single infringement in their avalanche of attacks on the Sharks’ line?
I lost count of how many penalties went the way of the Canes in that five minutes of extra time. Is it honestly conceivable that the Canes could play five minutes of desperate rugby and not once transgress?
I am not accusing the ref of cheating, I just feel that sometimes referees get caught up in the spirit of a team’s desperate fight to freak a win, and it is my opinion that the referee blew only for the Hurricanes in those last desperate minutes.
For this writer it was déjà vu of what happened in that dramatic ending to the Sharks v Bulls Super Rugby final in Durban in 2007.
Once Frans Steyn missed the conversion of Albert van den Berg’s try that should have won the Sharks the title, and thus opened the door for the Bulls to win via a converted try, the Bulls bravely attacked with everything they had and eventually scored the winning try.
New Zealand referee Steve Walsh missed/ignored uncountable Bulls infringements in those last minutes, culminating in a way offside Danie Rossouw scooping the ball back from a ruck the Sharks appeared to have won, with Bryan Habana scoring the winning try from that possession.
But enough of what could have been, other than to say the Sharks have got to learn to take the final minutes out of the control of the referee and the opposition and close the game out. That was a painful lesson.
The Sharks brought back just seven points from their tour – losing bonus points against the Brumbies and Hurricanes plus five points against the Blues - but perhaps more importantly they have brought back the belief that they can beat anybody.
The Sharks were poor in two matches in Australia and then broke off the shackles of disbelief in their ability and scored that century of points in NZ. They smashed the Blues; were terribly unfortunate to lose in one-sided injury time against the Canes, but they return to Durban with a moral victory. The heads will not be down and they will be confident going into Saturday’s match with the Bulls at Kings Park .