Pollock is no 'Pollck'

2008-04-05 00:00

ON Saturday, the Sharks played their last game at home for a while and came away with a less than impressive win over the Reds. It was a game that made the Sharks supporters wonder if they got the new laws under control or not.

In South Africa, the name Pollock is synonymous with great sportsmen of our generation who ooze class, ability and talent. The same cannot be said of Chris Pollock (New Zealand), who refereed the game at the Absa Stadium last week. He was clearly out of his depth. He started off fidgety and nervous and when he spoke to the players, he lifted his eyebrows and forehead in such a way that showed he was obviously not comfortable on the field.

It also showed in the game, as he made some puzzling calls that frustrated me as a spectator. The first was in the 16th minute, when he penalised Ruan Pienaar for breaking away from the scrum before Kankowski picked up the ball. Now this was a full-arm penalty and cost the Sharks three points. The fact is that in the Super 14 the backs have to be five metres back from the scrum, but if the attacking backline encroaches on the five metres, the opposing backline may also close the space down. There seems to be a different set of rules that apply to the scrumhalf. He may now not break away from the scrum before the ball has left the scrum.

Pienaar broke away from the scrum and Kankowski picked up the ball from the base of the scrum and fed the ball wide to Pienaar, who sped away in what seemed to be a well-planned move. Pollock stopped them in their tracks and blew Pienaar for offside. A perplexed-looking Johan Muller could not understand what had happened. For my own sanity, I phoned a top Super 14 official and asked him for some clarity. I was told that the referees were made aware this past week that if the scrumhalf breaks away before the ball has left the scrum, he must retire to the five metre offside line. Nice for Sanzar to let the referees know, but not the players or coaches.

This was not as frustrating as the constant lack of policing of the offside lines at the scrum. At one stage, the TV replay picked up that the flankers of the Reds were not even bound to the scrum the majority of the time throughout the match. What possible freedom would the backs have had if they got the space to run at the Reds? There is no doubt that the Sharks must have the best loose forwards in the Super 14 and it was so frustrating not to see them being able to play their natural game.

Pollock failed in every way to police this area of the game and has done so in all of his previous efforts this season. Although the Sharks won, we cannot accept such an inept performance, because we will encounter him again this season and the shoe might just be on the other foot.

The other controversy from last week was that the Reds claimed that the Sharks played with 16 men for more than two minutes when Craig Burden was allowed to enter the field of play in the 68th minute of the match and affected a try-saving tackle on Chris Latham before order was restored.

The Reds have now appealed to Sanzar and are hoping to get a bonus point from the match. The other consequence is that the Sharks might even get fined by Sanzar for contravening the laws of the game. The last time a team was fined for the same offence was England in the 2003 World Cup, where they picked up a hefty Aus$20 000 fine.

A lot of administrators want to blame the fourth and fifth officials for the infraction, but my experience is that in the last quarter of the game, the sideline traffic becomes virtually unmanageable. It still remains the responsibility of the team managers to ensure there is no miscommunication between the officials and the teams. However, some overseas managers are a law unto themselves. My experience with the Sharks manager, Trevor Barnes, is that he is well-prepared and extremely thorough and this might just have been a refereeing error.

Well, if you got frustrated with Pollock, spare a thought for the Bulls last week as they got robbed of a great victory over the Blues in Auckland by some dubious refereeing by James Leckie of Australia.

The two Blues tries were controversial and have provoked numerous arguments over the past week.

Even Andre Watson, manager of referees at Saru, openly criticised Leckie for his performance. It comes a bit late as I last year already complained bitterly about Leckie in my column and now his performance this past weekend cost the Bulls the match.

•Michael Katzenellenbogen is a former Test and Super referee and lives in Pietermaritzburg.

•Your views to refscorner@mweb.co.za

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