Refereeing blunders turn exciting match into a no-contest for Boks

2013-09-16 00:00

IT was billed as a classic, the cream of New Zealand and South African rugby clashing in a highly-anticipated international in Auckland on Saturday, but then up popped a Frenchman to hog the limelight.

The All Blacks were deserved 29-15 winners of this Rugby Championship international, out-scoring the Springboks by four tries to two in a display that highlighted their pace and ruthless try-scoring ability.

But, sadly, this contest between the two leading teams in world rugby was turned into a no-contest in the first minute of the second half when referee Romain Poite gave Springbok hooker Bismarck du Plessis a second yellow card (and an automatic red) for leading with his forearm and catching tackler Liam Messam in the throat.

It was, at best, a marginal call as hard- driving forwards routinely use their arms to fend off defenders in the close exchanges. But, significantly, it compounded Poite’s dreadful error in the first half when he yellow-carded Du Plessis for a hard, but patently legal tackle on Dan Carter.

The Springboks lost their best player on the night and, lest we forget, powerful flank Willem Alberts had to be sacrificed with him as Adriaan Strauss came on as the replacement hooker. The Boks, at a referee’s whim, were without two of their most physical players for 50 minutes and the stuffing had been effectively knocked out of their pack.

We will, of course, never know whether Poite’s decisions cost the Springboks a possible victory but they certainly eased the All Blacks’ path to victory and helped them pick up a crucial bonus point for four tries.

There had been ominous signs in the first half when the Springboks, superb in defence against the Wallabies a week earlier, started slipping tackles. Flyhalf Beauden Barrett, who proved a most competent replacement for the injured Carter, broke through Ruan Pienaar and Jannie du Plessis in a 55-metre run and lock Brodie Retallick scored their second try (14-3).

But, with Bismarck du Plessis back after his first yellow card, the Bok forwards started to find their rhythm and, fittingly, the burly hooker scored from an excellent lineout drive.

The Boks trailed 10-17 at the break and were back in contention, but only for a minute in the second half before Du Plessis and Alberts departed and the game, as a contest, ended.

The All Blacks finished with only 13 men with two yellow cards in the final 10 minutes when captain Kieran Read was dismissed for a lineout foul and Ma’a Nonu was sent from the field for a cynical, late shoulder charge on Springbok captain Jean de Villiers.

Replacement Pat Lambie showed good awareness in scoring a late try after Zane Kirchner had palmed back a high cross-kick but it was all too little too late.

While refereeing blunders caused angry South Africans to lose their heads (again), De Villiers kept his.

“It’s always hard when you play New Zealand, but when you play 50 minutes with 14 men it doesn’t make it any easier,” he said just moments after hostilities had ceased.

But he refused to condemn the referee, preferring to concentrate on the failings of the Springboks, particularly in defence.

“What a way to disappoint yourself, dishing up a performance like that. But I think we’ve seen how far we are still behind the All Blacks. Credit must go to them, the way that they played. They’re a fantastic team and we can learn a lot from them.

“Defensively we were very poor, we didn’t make our tackles and that’s something we pride ourselves on.”

Coach Heyneke Meyer echoed his captain.

“We don’t have any excuses. I thought the better team won on the day. That’s why they’re world champs. But you’re not going to play 14 men against the best team in the world and take them on. You can’t scrum. You can’t drive in the lineout. And it affects your defence as well.

“I don’t want to use that as an excuse. They played well. We’ll take it on the chin and move on.”

There is no doubt that the Springboks lost both their structure and their confidence when reduced to 14 men for 50 minutes of what was always going to be a taut, tactical contest.

A couple of Springboks emerged with credit. Bismarck du Plessis, in just half-an-hour, was the Boks’ most influential player while Eben Etzebeth and Duane Vermeulen battled valiantly. But the form of the backs was patchy with De Villiers the pick. Pienaar’s defence was again a problem and Kirchner battled bravely at the back on a difficult night.

If the superb All Blacks were to be beaten on their favourite Eden Park patch, the Springboks needed everything to go in their favour. Little did.

Saturday’s Rugby Championship scores and scorers: New Zealand 29: Tries: Kieran Read (2), Brodie Retallick, Sam Cane. Conversions: Daniel Carter, Beauden Barrett (2). Penalties: Barrett. South Africa 15: Tries: Bismarck du Plessis, Pat Lambie. Conversion: Morné Steyn. Penalty: Steyn. HT: 17-10.

Australia 14: Tries: Israel Folau. Penalties: Christian Leali’ifano (3). Argentina 13: Tries: Juan Leguizamon try. Conversion: Nicolas Sanchez. Penalties: Sanchez (2). HT: 14-3.

Next fixtures (September 28, home team first):

South Africa vs Australia

Argentina vs New Zealand.

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