Botching the blow Barnes style

2008-08-22 00:00

These last two weeks have seen just about the worst display of refereeing this year.

While we lost to a superior All Blacks side at Newlands last Saturday, Australian referee Matt Goddard’s decisions were just about as bad as those of the Boks.

It all started the previous week with the inept performance of Wayne Barnes of England when the Boks played the Argentinians at Ellis Park. (By way of an aside, any referee that runs on to the park in a pair of running or hockey shoes should be taken outside the playing enclosure and shot).

As I mentioned last June in my first assessment of Barnes, he just does not look the part. He made critical errors in judgment and allowed the Pumas to get away with an astonishing amount of play on the ground, which frustrated Bok captain Victor Matfield. At one stage, you clearly hear Barnes call “hands off” at a ruck with the ball emerging on the Springboks’ side.

The Pumas, perhaps not really understanding the English as she is spoke, ignored the referee and grabbed the ball as Januarie was about to pick it up. Then you heard Barnes’s “play on” to the annoyance of the Springboks. His lack of consistency led to a breakdown of trust between the referee and the captain. If it was not for superior backline of the Boks, the score might have been much closer. Let’s not forget that Barnes was the very referee that cost the All Blacks the World Cup quarter-final against France, yet the IRB continues to rate him highly.

Matfield was accused of losing his composure with Goddard last week at Newlands. I personally cannot blame him as it was the second week that he was confronted with a referee who did not apply the laws of the game. Yes, Richie McCaw might have been man of the match, but he was the big culprit when it came to the use of illegal tactics at the tackle. In the post match analysis, we saw plenty more turnovers in the tackle by the All Blacks than the Boks, but they fail to mention how many All Blacks found themselves on the wrong side of the tackle and remain there. The law is simple:

The tackler — (a) When a player tackles an opponent and they both go to ground, the tackler must immediately release the tackled player. (b) The tackler must immediately get up or move away from the tackled player and from the ball at once. (c) The tackler must get up before playing the ball.

Now, as much as we admire the strength of the All Blacks at the breakdown, I believe they are constantly infringing. On Saturday, they often tackled the Boks back and remained on the Springboks’ side and made no attempt to move.

Under the ELVs, this is a free kick, but on Saturday it was the norm and went unpunished.

The fact that the tackler does not make an effort to roll away was the big reason for the downfall of the Boks. Matfield was visibly upset with Goddard as the Springboks lost valuable possession every time they were about to cross the goal-line. This frustration boiled over later in the match as fellow Blue Bull Fourie du Preez got just as upset at the breakdown. Here we missed the leadership of John Smit, as his calmness and accurate description of his frustration may have nudged Goddard in a different direction.

A few interesting decisions this past fortnight need to be highlighted. Offside in general play: In general play a player is off-side if the player is in front of a team mate who is carrying the ball or in front of a team mate who last played the ball. Off-side means that a player is temporarily out of the game. Such players are likely to be penalised if they take part in the game.

The Springboks have been guilty of this a couple of times in the past two Test matches. On more than one occasion, we saw a Springbok’s knock-on and his team-mate in front of him picking up the ball.

The referee has no option but to penalise the player, but only if he picks up the ball in front of an opponent and prevents him gaining possession. If there was no opponent to gain advantage from the knock-on, the referee will only blow for knock on.

There was a moment of indecision by Matt Goddard in the 17th minute of the first half of the match when Bok flyhalf Butch James scorched a deep drop-out into the All Blacks in-goal area.

Mills Muliaina forced the ball down immediately and Goddard pointed to the All Blacks 22-metre line for the restart.

An ever-alert McCaw then convinced Goddard that the law has changed and that the correct decision is a scrum on the Springboks 22-metre line. And he was correct.

It seemed to me that McCaw knew more about the laws than Goddard did, which merely confirmed my view of the referee.

•Your views to

•MICHAEL KATZENELLENBOGEN is a former Test referee and lives in Pietermaritzburg.

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