Things get heated

2008-08-08 00:00

IN the wake of a second Bledisloe Cup game in so many weeks, the Tri-Nations has been marred by cheating claims, alleged judicial bias and refereeing controversies.

South African whistle-blower Mark Lawrence has come in for a bouquet from the All Black brains trust. Well, after all, he is one of the best, and proved it again on Saturday as the All Blacks defeated the Wallabies 39-10.

Because of the controversy from the first Bledisloe Cup game in Sydney a fortnight ago, I thought it important to touch on some of the controversial refereeing calls.

The first was that of the application of advantage that led to the first Wallaby try. It was in the sixth minute when Australia were on attack just outside the All Black 22-metre area. Australia knocked on and the referee called Advantage.

The ball was picked up immediately by Andrew Ellis (NZ) and passed to Mills Muliaina, who was under pressure and forced to kick downfield. As soon as he kicked, the referee called advantage over. Unfortunately for the All Blacks, the ball was caught by Lote Tuqiri, who ran in the first try for the Wallabies.

Was this sufficient advantage? No.

The Law:

ADVANTAGE IN PRACTICE

(a) The referee is sole judge of whether or not a team has gained an advantage. The referee has wide discretion when making decisions.

(b) Advantage can be either territorial or tactical.

(c) Territorial advantage means a gain in ground.

(d) Tactical advantage means freedom for the non-offending team to play the ball as they wish.

The mere fact that Muliaina was under pressure to kick should have prompted the referee to wait and see if the All Blacks gained any ground from the kick, which they did not as Tuquiri fielded cleanly under no pressure.

The game-breaking moment came in the 58th minute when there was an outcry by New Zealand for a penalty try. The score was 24-19 to the Wallabies and the game finely balanced.

The All Blacks were on the attack when Andrew Ellis lobbed a kick over a ruck into empty space well inside the Wallaby 22. As he kicked, Sivivatu raced in pursuit.

For the Wallabies, Ashley-Cooper and Hynes fell back to the ball, which bounced away from Hynes. Sivivatu passed Ashley-Cooper and got a boot to the ball sending it further across the face of goal.

Hynes was first level with Sivivatu and right up against him but stumbling. Sivivatu booted the ball again as Hynes tackled Sivivatu, who went to ground. The ball went into the in-goal and Tuqiri grounded it, and the referee ordered a drop-out from the 22.

New Zealand supporters were crying for a penalty try. There are two laws to remember:

Law 10.4 (f) Playing an opponent without the ball.

Except in a scrum, ruck or maul, a player must not hold, or push, or charge into, or obstruct an opponent not carrying the ball.

Penalty: Penalty Kick

Law 10.2 A penalty try must be awarded if the offence prevents a try that would probably otherwise have been scored. A player who prevents a try being scored through foul play must either be cautioned and temporarily suspended or sent off.

Having the luxury of the TV replay one would believe Hynes should have been penalised and Tuqiri would have grounded the ball before Sivivatu could get there. The fact that the referee did not act on any of the infringements is what concerns me. The referee did not call on the TMO either and the touch judges also had nothing to add.

The big talking point after Sydney was the coming and going of the two All Black scrumhalves, Jimmy Cowan and Andrew Ellis, and New Zealand accused of cheating.

Andrew Ellis started the game at scrumhalf and was replaced (tactically) by Cowan in the 43rd minute. In the 55th minute Cowan could not get up from a tackle and it would seem that his knee gave in. But the crafty All Black management claimed Cowan was bleeding so they could bring back Ellis as the scrumhalf position is a very specialised one. Cowan left limping and holding his knee.

Play was halted not long after Cowan left the field as there was some confusion over the reasons for the replacements. Herein lies the crux of the matter. Ellis was not injured and Cowan was apparently bleeding.

Because Ellis was not injured he was allowed to return, but only to take the place of a bleeding player. He could not replace a player who was injured, but he could replace a bleeding player.

The fact is Cowan was not bleeding to start with and was franticly trying to search for some sign of blood when he realised his knee was not going to make the grade. This is unfortunately not something for the referee to sort out, but the number three and four officials next to the field. It would seem the New Zealanders got away with some shrewd bending of the laws.

With all the controversy and criticism of the past month I am of the opinion that the two South African referees, Craig Joubert and Mark Lawrence, did a sterling job to rectify the perception that Tri-Nations referees were not up to scratch.

•Your views to refscorner@mweb.co.za

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

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