Mind Games: It’s unacceptable for a team to play a man down

2013-09-23 10:00

As far as enraged public outcries go, you would have to go some to top the hullabaloo caused by the double carding and sending off of Springbok hooker Bismarck du Plessis in last weekend’s test in Auckland.

With supporters now able to vent their wrath on any number of social media platforms – a Facebook petition against French referee Romain Poite had topped the 65?000 mark in “Likes” the last time I checked – the sinking of Bismarck seemed, for a while at least, to be more serious than any of the other weighty issues South Africans are strained with daily.

There’s little doubt that the referee was wrong, and the International Rugby Board has conceded as much.

But the truth is that as much as we rail on about it, nothing more can, or will, be done by rugby’s officialdom – and that is the most infuriating aspect of it all.

More than 40?000 fans at Eden Park were denied seeing what had the makings of an epic second half because the Springboks, sans one of the best tight forwards in world rugby, in spite of All Black coach Steve Hanson’s stupefying comment that it “made no material difference”, were just not the same without Bismarck.

The difference, in fact, was substantial.

This because at times it meant the Springboks not only had to toil with 14 men against 15, but also had to deal with the concurrent loss of an influential player such as flanker Willem Alberts who, because of rugby’s front-row safety regulations, had to make way to bring on a replacement specialist hooker in Adriaan Strauss.

At times they also had to deal with the loss of a specialist scrum half when Ruan Pienaar had to throw the ball in at some line-outs.

That is some handicap against the world’s best side.

The last time the Boks had a tight forward red-carded – Jannes Labuschagne against England at Twickenham in 2002 – they conceded a record score of 53-3, and the loss of a lock is not nearly as disruptive as losing a hooker.

Worse still, a potential full house at Ellis Park on October 5 has been robbed of what might have been a match to decide The Rugby Championship.

The match may now be a damp squib because there is every chance the All Blacks could arrive in Joburg with the competition already settled or in a virtually unassailable position at the top of the log.

It has long been evident that rugby’s disciplinary processes are corrupted and as TV scrutiny of matches has intensified since 1996, it has been clear to all but the game’s controllers that a complete overhaul is needed.

The incidence of a team having to play a man down has to be looked at again because it is unacceptable that one poor decision by a referee could skew the outcome of an entire competition.

I have always held that the disciplinary process should be in the hands of respected former players and perhaps it’s time to consider a “punishment penalty” right in front of the posts worth, say, five points awarded to a team when a player is sent off for foul play, with the offending side allowed to bring on a substitute to ensure a fair contest.

What of a referral system as in tennis and cricket, in which the captain of a team will be empowered to call for a review of a disputed decision?

There are many ways to improve the system, but sadly the one thing that has again been seen is how inconspicuous SA rugby’s top leadership were when exactly the opposite was required.

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