Blowing the Whistle: What the Dickinson?

2008-07-11 00:00

What a weekend of controversy in all the main matches. It all started on Saturday morning, when Stuart Dickinson (Australia) claimed to be unsighted for the blatant and disgusting spear tackle on the Springbok skipper, John Smit, by Brad Thorn.

This all happened in the opening minutes of the Test match and set the tone for the rest of the game. Conrad Jantjes gathered the ball on the halfway line and was high-tackled by Rodney So’oailo. A ruck ensued and Thorn joined the ruck and delivered an elbow on an unsuspecting Jantjes. Smit saw this and took exception to the act of foul play. Dickinson blew his whistle to award a penalty for the high tackle, only for Thorn to pick up Smit in front of Dickinson and “spear” him into the ground after the whistle.

This was followed by a free-for-all. When calm was restored, Thorn was pointed out as having initiated the brawl and only given a verbal warning. When Smit asked why not a yellow card for the “spear” Dickinson replied: “I am not sure it was [a spear]”.

What absolute rubbish! It is extremely frustrating watching someone knowingly sidestep the obvious. Thorn should have been carded and in my opinion he would be deemed lucky if he only received a yellow card. To make matters worse, Thorn got cited for the incident and was later found guilty of conduct unbecoming and given a one-week ban. That’s an even greater farce by the Sanzar judicial system.

Dickinson went to the press on Monday apologising to both teams for the mistakes he made. He then claimed he did not see the Smit/Thorn incident and that he should have yellow-carded Thorn.

How do you not see two 115-kg men turn one over the other when you’re standing next to them? Sorry, I just don’t buy that.

The game deteriorated after the incident as each player was looking for some means of retribution. The ELVs did speed up the game, but the Springboks were muscled off the ball far too often and failed to control any aspect. The IRB or Sanzar should seriously consider restricting the use of the ELVs as rugby will lose the fundamentals of what makes the sport different to all others.

Talking of speeding up the game, the new protocol on the use of the TMO for assistance to the referees was put through its paces on Saturday evening at Loftus Versveld. Here, Michael Cupido (TMO) and JC Fortuin (referee) conspired in producing one of the worst illustrations of the use of the TMO we will see this year.

Not only did they produce the longest top-class game in history (105 minutes), but virtually all the calls were wrong. These two individuals managed to undo all the good work that led to the extension of the TMO powers beyond in-goal decisions.

I will select a few examples that stood out for me. In the 32nd minute, the Bulls were on the attack. The ball was spread wide as Tiger Mangweni scored for the Bulls. Fortuin then asked for Cupido’s help as he suspected a forward pass between Wynand Olivier and Mangweni. On the replay the pass looked suspiciously forward, but in my opinion the giveaway was Christie du Preez (touch judge) who was in line with play. He stopped and called it on the communication system and then continued with the play.

Cupido for some reason was looking at the grounding of the ball and replied that the try should be awarded. When prompted by Fortuin as to the Olivier pass, Cupido said the pass was fine. It came across that Cupido never looked for the forward pass.

Then there was a bizarre incident in the 65th minute when Cupido called for the TMO when it seemed John Mametsa was held up in the Sharks’ in-goal area. Fortuin referred it to Cupido and asked also to adjudicate on possible foul play by the Sharks in the build-up. After a lengthy look Cupido contrived that Jannie Du Plessis punched someone and that Mametsa was held up.

Fortuin then went back to the 10-metre line close to halfway and awarded a penalty against the Sharks. Two things that concern me with the decision are that the Bulls surely would have preferred a scrum five metres from the goal-line rather than a penalty close to halfway and that for the life of me I could not see what foul play Cupido was referring to on the TV replay.

Thirdly, there was the bonus point try by Francois Hougaard in the dying seconds that occurred after Fortuin had stopped the game for a scrum.

The ball seemed to bounce back into the hands of Hougaard after the Sharks spilled it forward and he dived over the goal-line. Fortuin, having realised he had blown too quickly, referred the matter to Cupido who would not disappoint. Cupido awarded the try to the Bulls and with it their bonus point.

The salient fact here is that Fortuin had stopped play and actually acted outside the protocol as Hougaard picked up a “dead ball”. It often happens that a referee ends a ruck or a maul, as the ball becomes available and that’s just bad luck. Here it was more than that as Cupido and Fortuin showed their incompetence in adjudicating a Currie Cup fixture.

The worst news I received this past week is that Cupido has been appointed by Andre Watson as a selector with Saru referees. Again Watson appoints a nobody to an important position. Cupido has virtually no credentials as a referee and it showed on Saturday as he brought disgrace on the already fragile Saru referee’s office.

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

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