Game was a lottery … I’m not only talking about the weather — Smit

2010-02-15 00:00

SHARKS captain John Smit described it as a lottery and indeed it was, with the Chiefs’ lucky number coming up on the final hooter at a sodden King’s Park on Saturday night to earn the New Zealand team a 19-18 win in the Super 14 opener.

This was indeed a match which could have gone either way, and it did, in a frenetic final three minutes when the lead changed three times.

Finally, with the Sharks five seconds away from victory, New Zealand referee Keith Brown ignored a blatant Chiefs’ infringement as flank Liam Messam played the ball with his hands at the side of the ruck.

He then immediately penalised the Sharks for being off-side after scrumhalf Rory Kockott, trying to handle the untidy possession, fumbled at the base and Andries Strauss, in front of him, handled the ball.

The hooter had sounded by the time the cool Chiefs flyhalf, Stephen Donald, silenced the cat-calling crowd by booting the easy winning penalty.

The Sharks paid a heavy price for their poor discipline, with John Smit yellow-carded midway through the first half for persistent infringements at the breakdown and then, crucially, the hot-headed Bismarck du Plessis sin-binned for a totally unnecessary late shoulder charge with seven minutes remaining.

“Both Plum (Sharks’ coach John Plumtree) and I went through the same emotional ride in those final minutes,” said Chiefs’ coach Ian Foster, “just in a different order.

“It was a tough match to lose, but a fantastic one for us to win, in the Shark cage in February,” he said.

The crazy final moments also brought out the worst in the crowd, with a plastic container hurled at kicker Donald as he lined up one of his late kicks and then various objects, including a fizzing beer can, along with loud boos, directed at the referee as he left the field.

Foster was diplomatic in his comments on the boorish King’s Park crowd.

“The throwing of missiles is not something you want to see at rugby games, and it has happened to us here before, but it does show the passion of the Sharks supporters and they were obviously disappointed.”

The Chiefs were lucky to come away with the late penalty, he said, but they had “created more opportunities in attack and our flyhalf (Donald) read the game well”.

“We like to keep the ball in hand, and it was not a typical Chiefs win, but we showed real character in coming back in the last quarter, after trailing 15-6.

“I think you could say we won because we adapted better to the referees’ interpretation at the breakdown, while the two yellow cards for the Sharks were also a factor.”

The composed Sharks coach, John Plumtree, who seems to keep his head while everyone is losing theirs, admitted he was gutted by the late defeat.

“You can’t afford to lose games like that. We paid for the yellow cards and the referee did make some harsh, really big calls during the game. But we also have to adapt to new referees with their different interpretations.

“There is no doubt that their flank (Liam Messam) committed the first offence at that final ruck and should have been penalised.”

Plumtree said the injury to lock Gerhard Mostert was also a massive blow for the team. Mostert, who came on to replace Johann Muller, who was injured at the kick-off, lasted just 10 minutes before he was helped from the field after aggravating an old shoulder injury.

“It doesn’t look good and he could be out for the Super 14. Johann is battling with a neck injury, but he’s a tough customer,” said Plumtree.

He said he was heartened by periods of pressure rugby played by the Sharks in the second half — after they had been heavily penalised in the first — and the scrummaging.

Both teams made liberal use of the boot in the persistent rain, but both coaches said the weather had not been a major factor.

“We expected a hot, humid night and a slippery ball. We got a warm, rainy night and a slippery ball, so there were not too many adjustments,” said Foster.

Smit, biting hard on his tongue, said the game had been a lottery and “I’m not only talking about the weather”.

And what did Foster think of referee Brown?

“I think he gave a very good refereeing performance,” he said.

But as notorious callgirl Mandy Rice-Davies once famously remarked: “He would say that, wouldn’t he?”

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